Dialog dancing in Utah
By Garett M. Brownlee
October 25, 2006 | Are you married or engaged? How
is your relationship with your family? Do you drink
coffee? Outside of Utah these are simple and direct
questions, but if you're a student at Utah State University
these questions could obtain a deeper meaning.
According to the Salt
Lake Tribune, 74.5 percent of Cache County's population
are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-Day
Saints. Since this creates a majority and minority in
the community, behaviors from both subgroups produce
inventive ways to categorize people as either being
LDS members or not simply by the culture that lives
As Jewish men wear yarmulkas to practice their faith,
members of the LDS church
also can express their membership in external clues,
such as wearing CTR (Choose the Right) rings.
However, such applications are not practiced by all
members. So often times there are not clear cut signs
that show membership in the religion, which creates
ways of questioning that is frequently indirect. Out
of a survey of 110 undergrad students only .06 percent
of students were unfamiliar with this categorizing process.
The survey allowed participants to answer openly about
their experiences with the indirect questioning process.
The results broke down into 15 different categories,
with missionary service as the most frequent response
at 32 percent. The LDS church highly recommends members,
especially male members to serve the church by taking
a two year sabbatical to be a missionary. PBS.org
mentions that missionaries from the church cover over
120 nation and territories, and over the history of
the church, they have sent more than 600,000 young men.
Questions in this category made references to knowing
a foreign language, taking two years off school, and
even calculating the years in college to the age of
Other popular responses regarding the LDS church's
principles were questions about Sunday activities, party
life (smoking and drinking), and involvement in the
church's institute programs. Some participants in the
survey wrote they would throw out buzz LDS words, and
see there response. Words like "wards," "callings,"
and "FHE," are commonly understood by members, so the
responses of these from conversation would tip them
off in knowing if they were members or not.
Twenty-five percent of the responses had nothing do
with the church's doctrine, but more of the church's
culture. These questions were primarily about personal
behavior, like marriage, coffee preferences, family
relationships, and why did they come to USU. Answers
to these questions can trigger certain values that can
relate to the LDS religion, but also many other religious
or non-religious beliefs and attitudes. For example,
what if George came to USU because of the beautiful
campus, has a great relationship with his family, is
married at the age of 25, and prefers cold coffee treats
on summer afternoons. If someone was trying to figure
out George's religious preference they would have to
ask him questions about the LDS church's doctrine, not
just assumptions formulated by the culture.
Indirect questioning is a safe and common in many
cultural settings. "An important technique used by researchers
to mitigate the effects of social desirability bias
is indirect questioning," Robert J. Fisher Social
Desirability Bias and Validity of Indirect Questioning.
The real danger is when the participants in the discussion
generalize the answers as truth, instead of realizing
that they are just dancing around the subject.