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Thinking About Sunstone Symposium

by Jessawhy

I’m contemplating attending the Sunstone Symposium this year. It’s August 6-9th at the Sheraton Salt Lake City. Jana and Caroline recommended it to me, so I’ve been doing a little research. The theme this year is “The Spirituality of the Rising Generation.” I don’t have any experience with Sunstone, the publication or the blog, so I was pleasantly surprised when I recieved a prompt email response to a question I left on their blog. Rory Swenson, member of the Board of Trustees, gave me details of the event and described the symposium as a “good opportunity to meet a varied and interesting group.”

As a bonus, my husband seems relatively interested in going, which surprises me a bit. Perhaps it would be nice for us to do something like this together. So, I’m using this post a little selfishly, to find out about other people’s experiences with Sunstone Symposia.

If you’ve gone, what’s it like? Did you enjoy it? Have you gone back? What speakers or presenters would you recommend? Do you stay for the entire event, including the Banquet? Will I meet people from the bloggernacle? What expectations should I have in going? Is there a lot of change in attendees from year to year, or is it the same core group? Are you going this year?

If you haven’t gone, have you considered it? Why or why not?

Thanks in advance for your comments and reviews.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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No Responses

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I blogged about Sunstone last year, so you may
    find that helpful:


    I’m planning on attending Saturday only (I have
    a conflict the other days).

  2. Paula says:

    Hi Jessica, I have gone several times. I don’t usually stay for the whole thing just because of the length of time. I wish I could go longer. I do enjoy it. Things I don’t like:
    Last year the hotel was kind of miserable. Too hot, bad restaurant. But Mary Ellen Robertson, new director of symposia, assures me that the hotel’s under new management and that they are aware of the problems and they’ll be fixed.
    Another problem: cliquishness. A few years ago, new folks could expect to be basically ignored. But Dan W. and John Dehlin (John’s now left) made a lot of effort to set up events so that new folks could feel welcome and it worked.
    Another problem– boring sessions. It’s true, some have been pretty bad, but I always try to sit where I can sneak out easily rather than being trapped.
    Accommodations: Sunstone is the same week as the big outdoor convention. If you don’t have someone to stay with in town, you better start looking for a place to stay now, and it’s probably too late. Airfares might be miserable already too.

    As for what it’s like– I do enjoy it. Partly because of the people I see. Participation has grown and changed over the last few years. A lot of bloggernacle folks do come, and it seems as though every year for the past few years, more of my friends have decided that it’s a good idea to come. I think that’s because quality of sessions has gone up, and it’s much more organized. It’s hard to recommend speakers and sessions since I haven’t seen the full program yet, but I hear that will be out in the next couple of weeks. If it’s your first time, you’ll probably want to go see some of the famous folks that you haven’t seen ever before, but I’m kind of at the stage where I seek out presentations by new people. I am going this year, and am on two panels, possibly both on Saturday.

  3. Paula says:

    I just realized that my prior comment probably sounded much more negative than positive, but I didn’t mean to. Just wanted to give you the downside clearly. For me, the good definitely outweighs the bad, and it’s a spiritual and mental recharge. (Just be sure you can slip out of the sessions that turn out to not be as good as promised on the abstract. And frequently, I’ve found that those are from some of the biggest names there.)

  4. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for the comments.
    I have been a little concerned with cliquishness, as it always happens with groups of people who know each other.
    That’s too bad about the hotel problems. I do hope it goes better this year. We have lots of friends and family in the area (another reason for us to bring the whole family for the week). And, after camping last weekend, I was pleasantly surprised at how well my kid (even 7 mo baby) did in the car. Thank heavens for portable DVD players.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    I do remember reading your thread last year, but I had forgotten it this morning when I wrote the post. Thanks for the link. I might be mistaken, but wasn’t there an incident with a female blogger being thrown out because of tables or chairs? I seem to remember some incident that was elicited an official response. Maybe that was something else.
    Thanks again.

  6. Kaimi says:

    Hi Jess,

    Definitely come to Sunstone. I’m going to be speaking on a couple of panels. Two talks by me — what more could a person ask for? 😛

    Seriously, though, I’ve gone to a couple of these, and they do tend to be a lot of fun. There’s lots of interesting people to talk to. Last time I went I saw Kristine, Janet, BiV, Jana, MikeInWeHo, MCQ, Margaret Young, John Dehlin, MaryEllen Robertson, Kevin Barney, Armand Mauss — seriously, like a thousand people I generally only talk to on blogs. It’s a lot of fun listening to people talk, the sessions I’ve attended have been (mostly) good. And hanging out, having lunch, bloggersnackers, and so on, is even better.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about cliques. Jana knows everybody, and so do Paula, Kevin, and so on. So really, you’re already _in_ the in-group. 🙂

    (Actually, there’s probably some amount of standoffishness, but I don’t know if it’s intentional. Most Mormon studies geeks are far too geeky to really form cliques. However, you might not have much conversation with the Mormon studies geeks if they don’t know you — not because they don’t like you, but because they’re Mormon studies geeks, and not great at talking to new people. Just hang around near Jana for a few hours, and you’ll do fine, and get to know everybody there.)

    And don’t worry about tables or laptops — that was another conference, not Sunstone.

    See you there! 🙂

  7. DavidH says:

    I believe FAIR is holding its annual conference at the same time. If one of them becomes boring, a person could just go to the other–bouncing back and forth.

  8. Ann says:

    I went last year, and it was great. I met some wonderful people and had a terrific time. By the end though, I was positively MORMONED OUT. I had thought about going this year, not because of the symposium so much, but because so many people I like will be in Utah at the same time. I decided that’s not a good enough reason to drop $1000 (airfare, hotel and meals…yikes).

    There are always enough things to choose from that you can find something to attend that you’ll like. And if the thing you choose sucks, just pretend to get a call on your cell phone.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    I’m not sure how I can miss it this year if I’ve been personally invited by not one, but two of the panelists.
    Good to know it’s worthwhile. I’m sure I could converse with the geeks. I tend to listen much better when someone is telling me stuff that is way out of my league. I don’t interrupt with, “Oh yeah, my kid pooped on the floor, too!” or something like that.
    DavidH, my husband would probably like the FAIR conference. I’m not sure about me, some of the stuff I read from there makes me a little crazy.
    Yeah, we really need to make a trip to UT. We miss our friends and family up there. We got married in Bountiful, and we’ll have our anniversary while we’re up there, so that would be cool.
    Good to know about being MORMONED OUT. I can see that happening to me, too.
    Well, thanks again for all of your comments and advice!

  10. Go! Go! I’m presenting this year! I’m giving a presentation on Mormon’s and home birth, and I’m on two panels, one on spiritualism and one on the FLDS raids.

    Sunstone is simply brilliant – you wont regret it!

  11. Kaimi says:


    I was just thinking my last comment made it sound like Sunstone is just a big party. And while that’s true, to some extent, it’s incomplete.

    Sunstone is fun, and it is a good chance to see friends (sometimes, for the first time). But I ought to mention that it’s also a really good chance to learn new things, attend talks, talk with scholars.

    You’re likely to see Margaret and Darius, who recently released the documentary _Nobody Knows_ about Black Mormons. You’re likely to see Todd Compton, who authored a well-known book on Joseph Smith polygamy, or Armand Mauss, who has written very important articles and books about race and the church, or Richard and Claudia Bushman, Richard being the foremost biographer on Joseph Smith and Claudia being an important historian of Mormon women. And so on, and so forth. I mean, where else can you sit down with your sandwich for lunch, realize that you’re sitting next to Armand Mauss, and have a casual, over-lunch conversation about the sociology of Mormonism?

    So yeah, it’s a lot of fun, as a social event. But the social-event part often blends with the academic side — you find yourself chatting a ZD blogger about Mormon universalism, or with Janet about feminism in slave narratives, or with Russell about online communities.

    And Ayla, I hope that I get to attend some of your talks — those sound very interesting.

  12. Dora says:

    I went a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed it. My favorite sessions were those dealing with women’s issues, and the “Why I Stay” session.

  13. Paula says:

    Oh, by the way, I think Jana’s only there for Saturday this year. I’m there on Friday and Saturday, if all goes according to plan.

  14. Kiri Close says:

    i would actually love 2 go, but never had the time nor money 2 do it in the past. The next few years should be better in that way for us. I would also like to attend the Rocky Mountain sessions.

  15. Kaimi says:

    By the way, the preliminary program is now out. It’s at https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/images/stories/preliminary2008.pdf .

    The conference looks to be a good one. Talks by Claudia Bushman, Margaret Young, Armand Mauss, Kris Hanglund, Greg Prince, Todd Compton, Darius Gray, and many more interesting folks. Plus, a screening of _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_ (which is a great film).

  16. Kaimi says:

    I can’t type today — that’s Kris _Haglund_.

  17. Lynnette says:

    I went to Sunstone a couple of times in the 1990s, and I’ve also attended the last two years. As others have said, it’s very much a mixed bag–some sessions are fabulous, others are a bit dull, and others are just completely off-the-wall.

    The first time I went was in the early 1990s, and I was only high school age. (My sister Eve invited me to go with her. What a blessing it is to have sisters who will introduce you to heresy at a young age. 😉 ) I found it simply amazing; I was blown away to hear Mormons actually talking about all of these fascinating topics. I’d never seen anything like it. Of course, that was pre-Bloggernacle; I suspect that those whose first experience at Sunstone comes after years of Mormon blogging aren’t likely to find that aspect quite as unusual.

    But I’ve actually found Sunstone more fun since getting involved with blogging, because there are a lot more familiar names there. Like Kaimi, last year I met a ton of people from the blogs (including Kaimi, who shared with me some fun tidbits about legal aspects of polygyamy), and though my introverted self was a bit overwhelmed by it all, I also really enjoyed putting faces to a lot of names that I’d encountered so often online.

  18. Jessawhy says:

    Kaimi, thanks for the link to the program.
    I had no idea it was such a big event! It took me forever to read through the pdf doc. I’m also super excited to see the screening of Nobody Knows. I’ve been wondering how I was going to see that here in AZ.
    I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed Sunstone in the past, Lynnette, but you didn’t indicate if you’re going to attend this year. (say yes, please please please!)

  19. Lynnette says:

    Jessawhy, yep, it looks like I’ll be there this year, so I’ll look forward to getting to meet you! (And with any luck, I’ll manage to bring a couple of other ZDs with me.)

  20. Mary Ellen says:

    I showed up to my first Sunstone symposium in 1992 and I’ve been going ever since. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the program this year and it’s fun to meet people in person after getting acquainted with their writings on line.

    There are several meet-and-greets scheduled at mealtimes so first time and seasoned symposium-goers can get to know each other. We’re always glad to have new faces in the crowd.

    Hope you’ll enjoy your first Sunstone and keep coming back!

  21. Jessawhy, I’d love to meet you and your husband, so I hope you come. I look forward to the SLC symposium every year. I think you’ll have a great time.

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