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Sunstone Symposium starts Wednesday in Salt Lake

The 30th annual Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium and Workshops will be Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 12-16 at the Sheraton Salt Lake City, 150 W. 500 South, and will focus on "The Contribution of Women to LDS Church and Culture."

The 2009 Symposium will feature more than 160 presenters, five workshops and more than 100 different presentations, according to its preliminary program schedule.

"It's hard to single out sessions when there are so many excellent ones to choose from," Mary Ellen Robertson, director of Sunstone Symposia and Outreach, said. "This year's theme focusing on Mormon Women's Contributions to Church and Culture brought in some really interesting presentations. Plus, our usual smorgasbord of sessions on scripture study, theology, historical subjects, social issues, books and Mormon literature, sociology, blogging and feminism."

The Smith-Pettit Lecture on opening night (Aug. 12) will feature Mary Farrell Bednarowski, professor emeritus at United Theological Seminary in Minnesota, speaking on "The Achievements and Ironies of Women's Religious Creativity."

She's the author of "The Religious Examination of American Women" and has written a textbook on religion.

This is a free lecture. The cost of Sunstone ranges from a $85 a person advance registration to $60 for a first time attendee, to $30 for students; or $30 for a full day.

A panel discussion Friday, Aug, 14 (4:45 p.m.) will focus on "Religious Tribalism in the Larger Society" and will include Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

Shipps will also serve as the moderator for another panel discussion, "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith — Assessing the Impact 25 Years Later," Saturday, Aug. 15, 7:30 p.m., during the symposium's banquet.

A sampling of some of the more intriguing sessions by title include: "Supporting Special Needs Children and Young Adults in the Church" (Friday, Aug. 14, 11:15 a.m.); "The Changing General Conference Rhetoric of Latter-day Saint Prophets" (Saturday, Aug. 15, 8:45 a.m.); "Sacred Sci-Fi: The Fiction of Orson Scott Card as Mormon Mythmaking" (Friday, Aug. 14, 10 a.m.); "If Toyota Ran the Church: What a Car Company can Teach Organized Religion" (Thursday, Aug. 13, 8:45 a.m.); and "Cross at the Cross: LDS Contempt for the Christian Symbol" (Friday, Aug. 14, 3:30 p.m.).

Does Sunstone have any more widespread acceptance by church members these days than in the past?

"I'd like to think Sunstone is more accepted by Church members," Robertson said. "We have our share of critics, but what organization doesn't?"

She also noted that Sunstone and other Mormon Studies forums are much more accessible than they once were.

"The people who visit our Web site to look up back issues of the magazine or download audio presentations are pleasantly surprised with the depth and breadth of our offerings. With nearly 35 years of Sunstone magazine and 30 years of symposia, we've covered a lot of territory in Mormon studies."