Preview of Sunstone 2011 Utah Symposium

The Sunstone 2011 Utah Symposium convenes August 3-6 in the Shepherd Student Union of Weber State University in Ogden.*; the theme is “Mormon Artifacts and Material Culture.” (Yeah,that theme isa good one. I’ve liked it ever since I thought of it at last year’s symposium and suggested it to the symposium director, and I’m glad she went with it. I also like the theme for 2012, which I came up with as well: “Mormons and Mormonism as a Political Force,” which has the distinct virtue ofcovering just about EVERYTHING you can possibly think of.)

There are many sessions related to the theme, including

  • Games Mormons Play
  • Practicing Stewardship in a Consumer Culture
  • Mormonism and the Prosperity Gospel
  • “Prophet” as Artifact and Material Culture
  • Embodying Gender: How Mormon Material Culture Reflects and Shapes Gender Perceptions
  • From Diversity to Unity: The Transition of LDS Meetinghouses from Beautiful to Functional
  • Jon McNaughton, Mormon Artist/Right-Wing Propagandist
  • Basketball Under the Steeple: The Strange Design of Mormon Chapels
  • Redefining Kinship: Ancestor Worship in Mormon Culture
  • Habits of Being: Mormon Women and Inherited Material Culture
  • “I Am a Mormon” and “I Am a Scientologist”: Recent Marketing Efforts in Mormonism and Scientology
  • Mark Hofmann: 25 Years Later
  • Joseph and Emma Smith’s Nauvoo Mansion House: History and Mystery
  • The Changing Message of Kirtland Temple Tours 1830-2011
  • Made-Up Missionaries, Fake Faith, and Concocted Conversions: The Alchemy of The Book of Mormon Musical

There are also some sessions focusing on Mormon theology and belief that should prove interesting:

  • Dare We Question Scripture? (this devotional is presented by Dale E. Luffman, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in the Community of Christ. Based on what Ive heard from Dr. Luffman–who is identified as “Dale” rather than “Elder Luffman on the CofC website–I strongly suspect his answer will be yes. Imagine Packer saying such a thing.)
  • Theologizing in the Presence of Burning Children: Mormon Theology and the Absurd
  • Material Improvement: Explicit Statements on the Matter of Heavenly Mother
  • Do They Still Teach That?
  • Very Careless in his Utterances: Editing, Correcting, and Censoring Conference Addresses

And then there are sessions that aren’t quite on theme but still sound terrific:

  • Mormonism, Desire and Popular Romance: Constructions of Gender, Relationships, and Power
  • Long-Haired Preachers Come out Every Night: Mormonism’s Role in the Joe Hill Case
  • Millennial Mentality and Religious Relevance
  • Passive Aggression among Latter-day Saints: Evidence from the Wasatch Front
  • The Mormon Sex-Ed Project: Creating a Gospel-Based Resource for Healthy Sexuality
  • Mormon Wikipedia Content
  • Why Mormonism Can Abide Gay Marriage
  • Pursuing Truth Through Fiction:The Assassination of Governor Boggs,a Historical Novel

as well as a few of the requisite sessions on Joseph Smith, polygamy, etc.

The plenaries should be especially good this year. Thursday evening is dedicated to comedy; the session is titled “Parody Never Faileth: The Role of Humor, Satire, and Kitsch in Mormon Culture” and will include a slide show from the LOLDamuz for anyone unfortunate enough to not already know this thread.

Wednesday night is the Smith-Pettit lecture, an event that is always free and open to the public and must involve a speaker who is not Mormon. This year’s speaker is Dr. Colleen McDannell, who will speak on “Creating a Religious World of Things.” (Dr. McDannell’s book Material Christianityhas a chapter on garments that is really informative, insightful and useful.)

Saturday night’s banquet should be excellent. The topic is “Treasures of Earth on Heaven: The Impact of Mormonism’s Missing, Repudiated, Rebuilt, and Museum-Sequestered Artifacts.” Here’s the abstract:

A supremely important artifact to early Christians was the cross; slivers of it were cherished as the most valuable of relics. Over time, this object has been repudiated by Utah-based Latter-day Saints, who mark their most sacred buildings with a statue of Moroni rather than the symbol of the cross.

Arguably the most important artifact of Mormonism, the object on which its existence rests, is missing. We do not have the Golden Plates, and only a dozen men claimed having seen them (a servant woman who claimed Moroni showed her the plates was never taken seriously). Valuable because of their material, their age, and their content, the Golden Plates have been replaced by a mass-produced book valuable because of its content. Additional artifacts key to the Book of Mormons translation, the Urim and Thummim, are also missing.

Other artifacts and aspects of Mormon material culture were lost or abandoned as the Saints migrated from place to place. In recent years, however, some of these historical edifices have been rebuilt. A temple was constructed on the site of the first Nauvoo Temple; its exterior matches the original, though the interior does not. Historic Kirtland is a meticulous reconstruction of a community that includes a sawmill, a store, a schoolhouse, and an inn. And while some Latter-day Saints retain and cherish family heirlooms and personal items so imbued with spiritual significancepeep stones, or handkerchiefs or canes blessed with the power to healthat they become religious artifacts, such items are increasingly sequestered in museums.

What do these missing, rebuilt, repudiated, or sequestered artifacts mean to a people profoundly interested in documenting and preserving their material culture? How is meaning created by these objects? How do we understand the various meanings when the objects we’ve created are damaged by moth or rust, or stolen by thieves? How does meaning shift when those objects are lost and replaced by something elseleather-bound and gilt-edged Books of Mormon replacing the Golden Plates, for instance, or a modern LDS temple built on the site of a much older and very different building? How do these treasures of heaven on earth help us understand both heaven and earth?

Dr. McDannell will moderate the discussion. Dr. Luffman will discuss the absence ofGold Plates; Allen Roberts(a senior pinrcipal architect with CRSA and one of the original founders of SUNSTONE) will discus recreated Mormon buildings; D. Michael Quinn will discuss personal artifacts and items with religious significance that end up in museums, sequestered away from the uses that made them valuable; Michael G. Reed, who has a book forthcoming on the topic,will discuss the cross as a repudiated artifact in Mormon iconography.

There are also workshops available on Wednesday on topics ranging from “Losing Our Religion: Mormonism’s Vanishing Christology” to “A Crisis of Faith and Attachment Injuries in an LDS Marriages” to “Our Rich Meetinghouse Heritage: An Ogden Tour of LDS Architecture.”

Pre-registration ends July 29th. If you can’t attend the entire symposium, you can buy a ticket for one day or even one session. Please come!



*Yes, this is the first time the symposium has been held in Ogden. Sunstone’s traditional venue double-booked its space, and Sunstone was forced to move. Despite the difficulty of finding a new space on fairly short notice, there are some very nice things about the Weber location, including free childcare and wifi throughout the entire conference space, plus really cheap accommodations thanks to the availability of dorm rooms. I hear the 20-somethings are planning to party well into each and every night.

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2 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    I so wish I could attend this year!!! Maybe next year…

  1. August 9, 2011

    […] quite a bit of discussion this week about our physical bodies! (Perhaps in honor of Suntone’s material culture theme? BTW, check out these cool Mormon artifacts! Did anyone else get awards like […]

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