I attended my first Sunstone Symposium a week ago Saturday in Ballston (a neighborhood in Arlington, VA). Although I've known about Sunstone for years, I haven't had much to do with them besides read an occasional paper they published. However, since the co-organizer of the symposium is a friend of mine, and has nudged me into the arena of religious studies a bit, I thought it would be interesting to attend-especially since the sessions looked intriguing.
I only attended two sessions and the movie that evening. I missed Matt B's sessions, and I would've liked to attend Allison Pond's session on the Pew Survey that was released last year. However, the sessions I attended were very thought provoking.
The first session was "We are all going to have to live it someday: Is Polygamy really a higher law?" by Carrie Miles, a Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University. She began her paper by talking about the example of some polygamist women who left their husbands have complained that LDS Bishops told them to return to their husbands because we are all going to live it someday. Using her experiences in Africa with modern-day polygamists there, she told us about polygamy used there, talked about what needs are met in a pre-industrial society, and then used references in the Old and New Testament to show us her answer if it's really a higher law. (Law of Moses of the Old Testament: Lower Law. Jesus Christ's Law in the New Testament: Higher Law)
The next session I attended was Seth Payne's presentation called, "Keeping the Covenant, the Role of Expression in Modern American Political Discourse." As a political junkie, and a fan of political theory, I thought this would be interesting. The first part of the presentation was kind of dry, but then it got better. Seth used social contract theory, and some Mormon theology to talk about the LDS role of expression in Modern American Political Discourse. I asked for a copy of his paper (hopefully I get it soon) so I'm going to wait to elaborate on it, but he and I agree about the proper form of Political Discourse in Society. He talked quite a bit about those who demonize one party or idea, and the unfortunate influence the far right and far left have had in American political discourse.
The movie shown was Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. The movie was phenomenal, and personally, there were a couple of points raised in it that answered some questions I've had about the now-defunct policy of banning African Americans from the priesthood. The documentary did a wonderful job of addressing the subject matter honestly and telling the whole story-both the bitter and the sweet. Afterwards, two of the producers spoke about the movie and answered questions. The documentary was well made and I would recommend it to anyone.
Personally, I felt at home at Sunstone. I knew quite a few of the people attending the sessions which was fun, and I appreciated the open discourse and analytical discussion.