Q: I was wondering if the Church has a specific meta-theory they employ when doing research? Is it perhaps mostly pragmatic for the case at hand? Or that the choice of meta-theory the researchers apply is up to themselves? Or is it just implicitly positvist?
A: Armand Mauss responded:
My knowledge and experience with the Research Information Division (now very far out of date) has suggested to me that the RID staff are engaged mainly in so-called “evaluation research,” which tends to be a-theoretical, no matter which institution is doing it. Meanwhile, on the basis of some of my own earlier experience, here is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoirs that might be relevant to the question:
A person at the managerial level in the RID once offered me a revealing anecdote, which might be apocryphal, at least in part, but nevertheless illustrative: During preparations for a major longitudinal research project on conversion and retention, the in-house research team was asked for a progress report by Elder Bruce R.McConkie, one of the most conservative apostles. After he had listened to a recital of all of the variables that were to be measured as “predictors” of an investigator’s ultimate conversion, McConkie responded (in effect), “Well, all this talk about variables that will predict conversion is very interesting, but where in the conversion process have you made room for the influence of the Holy Ghost, which Moroni teaches is the power that really does the converting?” One of the researchers might have anticipated such a question, for he quickly replied (in effect), “Moroni instructs those who receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon to seek the confirmation of the Holy Ghost after they have pondered and prayed, and what we are studying as social scientists is the process that gets investigators to the point where they are motivated to ponder and pray for divine confirmation.” This partnership between research and revelation seemed to satisfy the apostle, and it illustrates well the pragmatic Mormon approach to managing the tension between the two in Church governance more generally.