Despite sharing a first syllable, polyamorists (“lovers of many”) and polygamists (“married to many”)—and those who research the two populations—have functioned mainly in isolation from each other. But not so for Santa Clara adjunct lecturer Michelle Mueller, who began researching both in conjunction years ago.
As an undergraduate active in the Philadelphia LGBTQ scene and alternative religions, Mueller says she was familiar with an assumption many within polyamory held: that polygamy is always oppressive towards women. “I was wanting to investigate those claims of moral superiority,” she says. “I was coming at it from this perspective of, ‘I’m not so sure we in the LGBTQ community are inherently so much better.’”
Last summer, she focused on compiling case studies of the polygamy-side of the coin for a forthcoming book on the relationship between non-monogamy and religion, and portrayals in popular culture. Awarded a Joseph H. Fichter Research Grant, Mueller spent a month on location in north-central Utah interviewing members of various Mormon polygamist communities. She also presented a summary of her findings at the American Sociological Association (ASA) conference in August 2019.
Among the 50 or so polygamist community members she’s spoken with were the families living in Rockland Ranch, the subjects of the British-produced docuseries “Three Wives, One Husband” now on Netflix.