Monday, December 20, 2010

Catching up: Mormon Media Studies Symposium

In November, I had the opportunity to fly to Utah to moderate a panel discussion, titled "I Am a Mormon Woman: Female Latter-day Saint Identity on the Internet" at the first Mormon Media Studies Symposium at BYU. The panel members included Lisa Butterworth of Feminist Mormon Housewives, Neylan McBaine of The Mormon Woman Project, and Kathryn Soper of Segullah. It was such a great opportunity to meet and talk with these fabulous women and to be in a scholarly LDS environment. I wanted to recap some of the interesting presentations I went to, other than the one in which I participated.

I went to a panel where I discovered all kinds of resources available on different LDS blogs. For example, LDS Media Talk summarizes resources for the whole family that can help us live the gospel. talks about projects being developed by the church. And Life on Gold Plates is an interesting blend of philosophical and historical thoughts about the church. At this panel, one of the more interesting comments was from Blair Hodges, author of Life on Gold Plates, who talked about the tension in digital media right now because of its potential to bring together and its potential to divide. There's the possibility for both right now for church members as well. It'll be interesting to see in which direction we go. Kathy Soper also talked in this panel about the direct relationship between the level of candor among church members and the level of caring: before we can help carry burdens, we need to share them. Many do so using digital media right now.

The most interesting presentation I attended was from Teryl Givens, who is LDS and a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond. He talked about 3 public perceptions of Mormons: fraud, philandery, and football. In the first phase, fraud, people mocked the messanger and in so doing, evaded the message. In the second, once again people reduced Mormonism to humor in order to easily dismiss and not engage the message of Mormonism. Givens says we're currently still in phase 3, which began at the end of 1893 when the Tabernacle Choir became popular at the World Fair. People love the choir, people love our humanitarian work, people love our football players. But people still believe as Dickens did when he said, "What Mormons do is mostly excellent. What they say is mostly nonsense." Givens says that the church has achieved accommodations by making cultural considerations, but we still aren't taken seriously as a belief system. Givens believes that for Mormons to move into the next phase, we need to frame the discussion ourselves rather than wait for others to question us. He used Parley P. Pratt as an example of what to do: rather than wait for someone to question him about polygamy, Pratt said, I'm going to give you something equally challenging to discuss but infinitely more productive--the concept of deification. Givens said, let's talk about our powerful message, the differences in our doctrines, rather than focus on how we are the same as other people and how what we do is excellent. Let's talk about how what we believe is excellent as well.

I also went to Daniel A. Stout's session on research trends in media and religion. He talked a great deal about cultural religion, how people have "numinous" experiences in pop culture online. These numinous experiences offer people a ritual, a community, a deep feeling. It's not a religion, but it's a religious mindset. Stout said that it will be interesting to see in which situations these numinous experiences will replace versus enhance religious commitments. He also said isolation is not a strategy for protecting the family anymore. Instead, media literacy will aid us in relation to our youth.

Interesting stuff! I also had a great time getting together with my brothers, minus Tom, for lunch at BYU, and with my mom and sisters for dinner/shopping one night.


draeves said...

Thanks for posting your recap--I would have loved to have gone! I read one of Terryl Given's books in grad school (one about the book of Mormon) and I'm hoping to get to some of his other work at some point. (He was the former bishop of one of my roommates in grad school; and my brother got to work with him and Richard Bushman one summer). But if I can't go, hearing the recap is almost as good . . .

BHodges said...

Thanks for the mention. :)