Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore

By W. Paul Reeve; Michael Scott Van Wagenen | Go to book overview

Foreword

Elaine Thatcher

IT IS SIGNIFICANT THAT HISTORIANS, whose work is to gather facts to chronicle and interpret the past, have chosen to better understand the history of Mormons in Utah by looking at their folklore, including their expressions of the supernatural. This interdisciplinary approach, combining the methods of history and folklore studies, adds a new and useful dimension to Mormon studies. Some historians might have viewed these legends as peripheral to the main story of the church and its members, but here we see that they help fill out and give form to the story.

Folklore is the informal web of beliefs and practices that we learn from our parents, our friends, our coworkers, and other associates. We all have folklore. It influences how we react to, and interact with, our environment, the people we encounter, and the ideas to which we are introduced. It affects how we greet someone new to us, and how and what we choose to celebrate or revere or fear. It is integral to everyone’s behavior, whether they realize it or not, and it is an aspect of each group with which they associate.

Without awareness of this informal culture that surrounds each of us, it is difficult to understand the many events affected by it. The formal history of a place or people generally depends heavily on documents— legal documents, business documents, newspapers, and others. Personal writings, such as letters and diaries, are also important sources for historians, but even these may not give a complete and accurate picture of what people are thinking when they act. The historians in this book have plumbed other resources—student collections of folk stories, online chat groups, oral histories—in addition to the more conventional ones. The ideas in these alternative sources are more ephemeral, but they have been

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