Book Notes: Latter-day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies, by Eliason and Mould

10.03.2014 | Blair Hodges

Studies of American folklore have been going on for more than a century now and few groups have received more attention than Mormons. What are folklore studies? Why has the field focused so often on Mormonism? What can folklore studies contribute to our understanding of Mormons? What does the future hold for such studies? The editors of an impressive new anthology of “Mormon Folklore Studies” have addressed these questions by compiling landmark articles from the 1940s to the present. Thus, Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould’s landmark Latter-day Lore is both culmination and catalyst.

The collection is divided into six parts, each focusing on a particular theme which folklorists of Mormonism have studied including regional (Utah) studies, the supernatural, humor, and pioneer stories. Each section is expertly framed with a brand-new introductory essay. The editors shed light on how folklore studies can better acquaint Mormons with their own tradition, as well as how folklore approaches can improve the work of historians who too frequently overlook “vernacular religion” in favor of the institutional structure. The editors also identify some of their collection’s lapses in hopes of spurring further work on topics like gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and class.

But Latter-Day Lore reaches a wider audience than Mormons and their historians. It also serves as an overview of the development of folklore studies in general, making it a vital contribution to the wider field of Folklore Studies. It is perfectly executed for the benefit of scholars and lay readers alike—without question it’s the definitive book on the field of Mormon folklore studies.

In addition to the book, Eliason and Mould also published an article called “The State of Mormon Folklore Studies” in the Mormon Studies Review. They trace the field from its earliest manifestation in 1892—making it perhaps the oldest academic tradition of Mormon studies—to the present. According to Eliason and Mould, Mormon folklore involves more than fantastic stories about the Three Nephites or J. Golden Kimball anecdotes. “Folk” does not mean merely “false” or “sensational.” Instead, the study of Mormon folklore aims to understand some of the most pressing beliefs, values, hopes, and fears of Latter-day Saints as expressed in the stories they tell about themselves.

In order to give you a glimpse at Mormon folklore studies, the editors of the Mormon Studies Review just posted the full text of Mould and Eliason’s article on the Maxwell Institute’s website here.

PS- A digital subscription option for the Mormon Studies Review will be available shortly!

Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould, Latter-day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2013), 591 pp.