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
Kent Larsen at T&S has a great list of possible effects of the changes in minimum missionary ages that President Monson announced in Conference. Many of the effects discussed are straightforward and closely tied to missionary work (e.g. enrollment at BYU), but others are more weakly tied and more speculative (e.g., divorce rate). I want to push things out even father, and guess about other possible changes in the Church that are completely unrelated to missionary work, but that might be made more likely by the missionary age change. Continue reading
Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young man for a period of time. She cared for him very much, and she was desirous of making their relationship more serious. She was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Continue reading
Often what I remember best about General Conference (other than controversial bit that are later argued in the Bloggernacle, of course) is the stories speakers tell. This probably isn’t surprising. A vivid story is likely more memorable for most people than an abstract discussion of Church doctrine or practice. But what might be unusual is that I’m frequently more struck by the subtext of a story than by its text. (By subtext, I just mean what is implied by the story’s content, or what is conveyed without being explicitly said.) Continue reading
In last month’s Conference issue of the Ensign, (PDF complete–note it’s 6 MB) for the first time I can remember, the pictures were all in color. Not just the pictures of the speakers, but the candid shots of people in and around the Conference Center and Temple Square, and watching Conference in other parts of the world. I’ve always really enjoyed these candid pictures, and I appreciate the work of the photographers who I assume must take hundreds or thousands of pictures each April and October to be able to pull out and publish such fun and interesting ones. I’m going to miss the black and white format of the pictures, though. I don’t know the first thing about photography, but it does appear to me that black and white photographs can emphasize interesting patterns of light and dark in ways that are overwhelmed by different colors in color photographs.
What do you think about having ordinary Church members speak in General Conference?
A fun concept in Catholic teachings is the notion of the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful.” The idea is that the work of the Spirit guiding the church can be found not only in the teachings of ecclesiastical leaders, but also in the beliefs and experiences of the members of the church, the community of faith. Theologian Roger Haight explains that it includes “an active charism of discernment, a power of practical and possessive knowledge belonging to the body of the faithful by virtue of their concrete living of the faith.” He clarifies, “This does not mean that in every matter of detail a majority of even a consensus of opinion in the Church at any given time is theologically sound. But it does mean that the experience of the faithful is a source for theology.”1 Continue reading
- Roger Haight, “Sensus Fidelium,” The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. Richard McBrien (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 1182-3. [↩]
If you have any thoughts about General Conference, please take them elsewhere. Move along.
And here are a few free-response questions that you can answer in the comments.
Who is your all-time favorite General Conference speaker?
What is your favorite topic of General Conference talks?
What is your least favorite topic?