Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies

By Green, Spencer | Cultural Analysis, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies


Green, Spencer, Cultural Analysis


Latter-day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies Edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press. 2013. Pp. xi + 591, introduction, notes, bibliography, contributors, sources of previously published chapters, index.

Austin and Alta Fife's Saints of Sage and Saddle, published in 1956, is still seen by most scholars as the most comprehensive treatment of Mormon folklore, However, Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies stands firmly as a long-needed update to the Fife's seminal work, offering a great retrospective of where Mormon folklore scholarship has been, and pointing to some promising places it can go next. Given such breadth, Latter-day Lore offers a fairly comprehensive--but by no means exhaustive --collection of Mormon folklore, covering a wide breadth of topics, genres, and themes. If a topic is not included in the collection, chances are it can be found in the "notes" or "bibliography" sections in the back. As such, it provides a great "where have we been?" of Mormon folklore scholarship and will surely take its place next to the Fife's work as a cornerstone of Mormon folklore.

The book is divided into six sections covering the Mormon Cultural Region (MCR), customs and traditions, supernatural folklore, Mormon history, humor, and, finally, international Mormon folklore. Each section opens with an introduction written by the editors and filled with a collection of previously published articles and chapters from prominent scholars of Mormon Folklore. The organization may seem arbitrary since it mixes genre, theme, topic, and geography as organizing principles; however, the introductions ground each section in Mormon history even as it echoes the history of Mormon folkloristics. The sections are then comprised of chapters of previously published work from prominent and emerging scholars famous in and outside of Mormon folklore. The section introductions provide concise historical overviews that help contextualize the succeeding chapter within Mormon history and folkloristics. This is a great strength of the collection and could have been even more emphasized. One way to do this would have been to incorporate original publication dates of the chapters more prominently. Because Latter-day Lore does want to show where the scholarship has been, foregrounding the original publication dates would help emphasize the historical contexts of each article within Mormon folkloristics. In addition to addressing the history of Mormon folkloristics, the section introductions also discuss key tensions within Mormonism and Mormon folkoristics. Some of these tensions are at the heart of chapters, such as the tension between superstition and belief, the sacred and the supernatural, and belief and skepticism. Other tensions are explored more within and between articles, such as the tensions between official doctrine and vernacular traditions, history and historical memory, and humor and social anxieties. In exploring these tensions, Eliason and Mould's joint editorship, as well as contributions from "Mormons of various levels of belief and commitment and members of other faiths or no particular faith" (19) help Latter-Day Lore benefit from both insider and outsider perspectives. Whatever their affiliation, the chapters included in Latter-day Lore mix some compassion with their insightful analysis of Mormon culture in both etic and emic approaches.

Perhaps no aspect of Mormon folklore is better known, more iconic, and more lamented for being overemphasized, than Three Nephite legends. Inevitably but appropriately, Eliason and Mould begin by addressing these legends. Because the collection is dedicated to William A. "Bert" Wilson, it is fitting to begin with the Three Nephites--as Wilson did--and encourage scholarship to move beyond the traditional borders of Mormon folkloristics: Utah, rural populations, America, the supernatural, etc--as Wilson also did. Echoing Wilson's call for where Mormon folklore research should go can be seen as a critique of Mormon folkloristics, since it suggests that folklorists have yet to follow through with Wilson's 1989 call to focus more on Mormon's daily lives rather than the fantastic and supernatural. …

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