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.
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.
In a recent discussion in a Facebook group, I guessed that one way the Church might have improved recently in its treatment of women is in GAs using more gender-neutral language in talks. My memory is that President Hinckley, for example, when he quoted scriptures talking about men, would sometimes explicitly point out that it included women as well. But I’ve never actually studied the question systematically. Until now.
While the Proclamation on the Family was nominally written by all 15 men serving in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at the time it was issued, it seems likely that some of them were more central to the project than others. For some reason, I’ve always thought it was Elder Nelson’s baby, although I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s just because divine gender roles seems to be his favorite topic.
In any case, the writers aren’t likely to tell us who was most and least involved, but I wonder if they might have revealed this information to us indirectly. It seems reasonable to assume that those who were most enamored of the project would quote from and refer to the document most often. So I went back and checked who has referred to the Proclamation the most.
We just finished talking about the war chapters at the end of Alma a couple of weeks ago, in my ward’s Sunday School anyway. Discussion of these chapters sometimes brings up an argument about whether all scriptures are equally valuable, since of course if you don’t believe they are, these chapters are perfect examples to cite.
I got to thinking that it might be fun to try to answer this question empirically. To do so, I looked at how much time the Sunday School manuals spend on each chapter of the scriptures. This can tell us how doctrinally important each chapter is. Of course it’s a pretty crude measure and it’s just one class in church, but at least it’s a starting point.
A recent article at Slate described blogger Renee DiResta’s idea of looking at what people think of different states by typing the question beginning “Why is [state] so” into Google and checking what the top autocomplete search suggestions were. I thought it might be fun to try this with religions.
Over at Doves and Serpents, Heather Olsen Beal recently blogged about a Friend article in which a four year old girl learns the importance of not wearing clothes that show her shoulders. The article was also discussed at fMh, and Heather, Erin Hill, and Chelsea Fife were guests on a Mormon Matters podcast, where they used the article as a jumping off point for discussing how modesty is taught (and could be taught better) in the Church.
In the discussion, following Heather’s post, she raised the question of whether this focus has changed over time, whether the practice of drilling even prepubescent children on modesty of dress is a new thing:
I think the rhetoric we were getting from church leaders and publications 20 years ago was much more sane and reasonable. I feel like it’s gotten ratcheted up to the nth degree. It’s no longer a modest position; it’s extreme.
That modesty is being pushed harder and with more detail now than it used to be is my impression too, but I wondered whether I could find any data that would support or refute this conclusion.
A recent discussion at fMh turned, as so many do, to a discussion of whether Church teachings about marriage emphasize more that the husband should preside or that the husband and wife should be equal partners. Given this question, I thought it might be interesting to look at whether the “presiding” part or the “equal partners” part of the Proclamation on the Family had been quoted more.
In Mark Brown’s post “Mormon Buzzwords” (“on words and phrases we don’t need”) at BCC last month, a number of people suggested that our frequent use of appositive phrases beginning with “even” used to describe Jesus or the prophet is particularly annoying. Here’s an example from President Uchtdorf’s otherwise excellent talk “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down,” given in April 2009 Conferece:
I have witnessed with my own eyes and joyfully testify that in our day, God speaks through His prophet, seer, and revelator, even Thomas S. Monson.
So who started this usage of “even”? And who’s perpetuating it among current General Authorities?
A couple of years ago, a friend gave my family a copy of Bookcraft’s The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families. My wife and I have been reading it with our kids. It has a lot of useful features that make it more appealing for kids: it’s an oversized book with pictures, maps, subheadings within chapters, big print, and definitions of difficult words in the footnotes.
In a recent post at T&S, Kaimi suggested
it seems to me that church members (and leaders) tend to de-emphasize the use of the single-name description Jesus. We regularly use the name Jesus when it is associated with the title Christ. However, when we use a single-word name, LDS speakers — unlike speakers I’ve heard from other denominations — tend to use the name Christ, not Jesus.
I think he’s probably right, but I thought it might be interesting to gather a little data to check. Continue reading
As a follow-up to my last post discussing who in the Quorum of the Fifteen would likely be Church President at some point, I made some figures that show Quorum members’ changing probabilities over time for the last 60 years. (A description of where these probabilities come from is in the previous post.)
Who among the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is mostly likely to eventually become President of the Church?