Which hymns are sung most often in General Conference? My impression is that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is always opening Conference with “The Morning Breaks,” and every other congregational hymn is “Redeemer of Israel,” but I’ve never actually looked to see if that’s true.
I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.
The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.
There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.
Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.
If you look back through Church statistical reports released in every April Conference (and who hasn’t?), you find that it’s not exactly the same information that gets reported each year. I don’t mean that the numbers change; I mean that which categories of numbers even get reported change. There has been less change in recent years, but if you look back to the 80s, you’ll find lots of categories of information that used to be reported that aren’t anymore. For example, you’ll find number of babies blessed (last reported in 1988), number of boys and men who hold different priesthood offices (1986), number of proxy temple ordinances (1984), marriage rate (1983), and number of women in the Relief Society (1977).
I thought it might be interesting to look at what categories of information have been reported in statistical reports at different times, as well as how many total categories of information have been reported. This first graph shows how many line items (separate numbers representing different pieces of information) were in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.
This graph shows the number of line items in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.
I blogged a few days ago about which books of scripture Quorum of 15 members cite more or less frequency in Conference. BethSmash asked to see results for women leaders.
Unfortunately, getting trends over time for the women leaders requires more work than I have the energy for right now. I would need to get not only distribution of citations by book of scripture for each person, but for each person in each year. Sorry, BethSmash! But I did get counts of citations for each person ignoring when the talk was given, and I’ve done the same adjustment I did for the Quorum of 15 members in the other post, adjusting for the prevailing citation norms at the times the people were in their callings. I’ve put these in this post, in case they’re of any interest.
I looked in the LDSSCI for citation counts for all members of a Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary General Presidency since the mid-1970s. I didn’t look back any further because if I remember right, women didn’t speak regularly in Conference before the 1980s, and there weren’t General Women’s meetings (which the LDSSCI includes) before the late 1970s.
Here are counts for all RS, YW, and Primary Presidency members who had at least 10 scripture citations in their talks (regardless of how many talks it took them to use that many references). There are 42 women who meet this criterion. I’ve put them in order by calling year.
Thanks to the handy LDS Scripture Citation Index (LDSSCI), it’s easy to get data to answer this question. I looked up each of the current members of the Quorum of 15 to see how often he cited the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price in his Conference talks. For example, for President Monson, the counts are 332, 818, 184, 255, and 32, respectively. Here are counts for all Quorum members:
Next, to adjust for the fact that Quorum members differ in the total number of scripture citations they put in their talks, I converted the counts of citations to percentages of all citations by the member. Using President Monson as an example again, this means dividing each of his counts by book (332, 818, 184, 255, and 32) by his total (1621) to get his percentages. Here are percentages for all Quorum members:
(Note that the percentages do not add to 100 for some members because of rounding.)
Finally, I did one more adjustment to account for the norms of how often the different books of scripture are cited in Conference by all speakers during the years each Quorum member served. What I mean here is that at different points in time, different books of scripture were cited more or less by all speakers in Conference. Because members have been in the Quorum for different amounts of time, some of the differences between them can be accounted for by the different norms in Conference at the times they were giving talks.
The biggest shift in the time current Quorum members have served has been an increase in citations of the Book of Mormon. Here’s a graph showing the percentage of all citations of scriptures in Conference that came from each of the five books of scripture since 1942 (as far back as the LDSSCI has Conference talk data).
Note: I was unaware of it at the time I wrote this post, but there’s a much more in-depth look at these terms, as well as some additional ones like “plan of redemption” at the blog Nearing Kolob.
When I was growing up and I learned in church about God’s plan to get people back to live with him, the plan was always called the “plan of salvation.” But sometime between my childhood (1980s) and now, this plan has come to be described more often as the “plan of happiness.” The two terms are clearly used to refer to the same thing. For example, here’s Elder Nelson in an April 2013 Conference talk:
The Book of Mormon . . . explains God’s great plan of happiness—the plan of salvation.
I don’t recall when the change took place, though. So I did some digging in the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. The corpus goes all the way back to the 1850s, but it looks like the first usage of “plan of happiness” didn’t even take place until 1979. And it didn’t really become popular until 10-15 years later. I’ll make a graph to show you some more complete data.
Back in November, the Church announced a new General Women’s Meeting that will occur the weekend before each General Conference. This meeting will include girls who are eight to eleven years old in addition to women and teenage girls. I saw a number of people on the Bloggernacle suggest that the result would be that either the talks will be over the youngest girls’ heads and therefore boring to them, or the talks will be aimed at them and therefore boring to the women and teens. For example, on the first possibility, here’s Rebecca J at BCC:
Why would you include eight-year-old girls in a women’s conference? . . . Perhaps inviting 11-year-old girls would not be inappropriate—girls on the cusp of Young Woman-hood, as it were. . . . But what do our leaders have to say to grown women that could possibly be relevant and not mind-numbingly boring to eight-year-old girls?
This question got me to wondering whether I could measure to what degree Conference speakers were pitching their talks differently to differently-aged audiences. I’m sure there’s an in-depth way to answer this question that requires analyzing the actual content of Conference talks. But as you can probably guess, I didn’t go that route. Instead, I took a shortcut and looked at a related question that I could answer more easily. I looked at whether Conference talks differ in how difficult their language is, depending on which session they’re given in, and therefore the age of the audience they’re aimed at.
I think it’s fascinating to look at the stories that General Conference speakers choose to tell. The subtexts, or the messages they convey without stating them explicitly, are particularly interesting. A couple of years ago, I blogged about a couple of stories Conference speakers told where the subtexts provoked particularly strong reactions in me. In this most recent Conference, two more stories stood out to me again in the strong reactions I had to their subtexts.
As you’ve probably heard, Elder Christofferson’s Conference talk a couple of weeks ago originally included a swipe at “some feminist thinkers,” who he claimed “view homemaking with outright contempt.” This statement was edited in the printed version to be aimed at a more nebulous “some” who view homemaking with outright contempt. This change seems like a clear win for feminists, as the written record, which will likely be referred to far more often than the audio and video recordings of the spoken talk, now no longer has an explicit mention of feminists in a negative light.
But I think an even more positive outcome of the edit is what came out of the explanation for it. Here’s Peggy Fletcher Stack quoting Ruth Todd, Church spokesperson:
Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”
Okay, so call me a cynic, but I thought that Elder Christofferson’s original intent was to do precisely what Todd’s statement says he wanted to avoid: put down all feminists while using the word “some” to maintain plausible deniability. I really doubt, then, that the edit originated with Elder Christofferson. But whether or not I’m right, the important point in Todd’s statement is that whoever originated the edit did not want it to be thought that Elder Christofferson was putting down all feminist thinkers. This suggests that there are some other feminist thinkers who the editor of the talk thought should not be put down. I think this is huge! Since when has any word from the general level of the Church had anything positive to say about any feminists or feminism? I thought President Packer’s view of feminists as one of the big three enemies of the Church reigned supreme, with others like Elder Nelson clearly subscribing to the view that feminists oppose all that is true and right in the world. Ruth Todd’s statement gives me a glimmer of hope that some GA somewhere does not want all feminists to be painted with a broad negative brush.
What was your favorite General Conference talk? Was it President Uchtdorf’s, where he said this?
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Or perhaps Elder Holland’s where he said this?
If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.
Geoff Nelson at Rational Faiths wrote an interesting post a few weeks ago where he looked at how often General Conference speakers say “I know” versus “I believe.” Hooray for more data analysis in the Bloggernacle! Anyway, he found that usage of “I know” has been increasing relative to “I believe” since the early 20th century. I found this kind of surprising, because I would have guessed that the rise of Correlation would be associated with any change over time, but the pattern he found is different than what you would expect to see if that were the case. So I thought I’d look at the data a little bit myself.
A couple of months ago, my co-blogger Beatrice pointed out that lds.org applies handy topic labels to General Conference talks. I thought it might be fun to look through these to see which topics have been addressed most frequently in the last 40 years.
In the discussion of the Let Women Pray movement, one of the comments I heard most frequently was something along the lines of “I never noticed women weren’t praying in Conference.” In a few cases, the context suggested that the statement was being made as a marker of being more righteous than thou, but in most cases, it came across to me as a genuine statement of surprise. Heck, I probably said something similar at one point. I don’t think I had ever really thought about the question until I read Cynthia L.’s post on the issue at BCC a couple of years ago.
Even for all of us who sincerely hadn’t noticed that women weren’t praying, though, I think a lot of people drew the wrong conclusion. Specifically, they concluded that because they hadn’t noticed, then it must not be a problem and must not need rectifying. I think this is completely backwards, though. The fact that so many of us hadn’t noticed this very public and constantly repeated instance of institutional sexism means that sexism in the Church is a huge problem.
Soon after I finished my most recent post, I realized that it would be fairly easy to assess how often men and women are quoted and how often stories are told about men as opposed to women in General Conference. I decided to analyze the most recent conference (April 2013) to get the most up-to-date data. From the April 2013 conference, I randomly selected two talks from Priesthood Session and two talks from the General YW Meeting (and by random, I mean truly random. I assigned each talk a number and used a random number generator to select talks for me). I also randomly selected two talks by men from the main sessions of conference and analyzed the only two talks that were given by women. Continue reading
I have heard anecdotal evidence that men are much more likely than women to be quoted during LDS church services, and that stories about men are more often shared than stories about women. It is not surprising that this trend would exist given that the majority of scripture stories in the LDS canon are about men and that the majority of modern-day conference speakers are men. In light of this anecdotal evidence, I decided to collect some data to get a better idea of the percentage of times men vs. women are quoted and the percentage of stories that are told about men as opposed to women during a typical church service. Continue reading
After April Conference, I was asked by someone in the fMh Facebook group to check whether this Conference had featured an unusually large number of references to Heavenly Parents. The answer is yes, it did.
A few months ago, I was working on a project that required me to look through a lot of search results at the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. I was surprised to find that some speakers not only told the same stories and made the same points in multiple talks, they frequently used exactly the same phrasing in doing so. In other words, they were clearly copying and pasting parts from one talk to another. Not that I blame them. I know GAs are busy people, so in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.
This got me to wondering, though, whether some Conference speakers use this copy-and-paste strategy more than others. I hit on an easy way to measure how often they do this while reading Brian Christian’s fascinating book The Most Human Human. The book is about the author’s preparation for participating in a Turing test, where his role is to serve as a chat partner for judges who are trying to distinguish between computer programs and people, and his goal is to win the award that is the book’s title, by convincing the most judges that he is a human and not a computer. One issue Christian discusses is redundancy in language. For example, when we’re reading, we can predict with accuracy far better than chance what word will come next in a sentence, and our accuracy goes up as the sentence goes on. More importantly for my purposes, compression software also works by spotting redundancies in language.
At a recent FAIR conference, Joshua Johanson spoke about how he has negotiated the conflict between his same sex attraction and his religious faith. Something that struck me about this talk was a comment he made near the beginning about his wife’s relationship with the feminist movement and how it is similar to his relationship to the gay movement. He stated: Continue reading