- Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition by Tom Mould
We all occasionally experience a sense of urgency or warning that we choose to act on, or not. The Mormon faithful interpret these promptings, whether subtle or overt feelings, as divine messages that they, too, may choose to act on. Church members often share and reflect on these personal experiences in a multitude of settings, creating a vibrant narrative tradition. This book explores the personal revelation narratives that are ubiquitous within the Mormon faith. The extensive body of oral and written accounts of Mormon revelations provides a rich cache for a folklorist to hear, record, uncover, read, examine, and analyze. Tom Mould is that curious, respectful, and probing researcher illuminating a tradition of sharing faith-based personal revelation narratives. Throughout, Mould weaves social and Church history, trends and development, to give a broad background for the material. His work analyzes the complexity of experiences, performances, contexts, histories, and meanings, and leaves the reader with a greater understanding of the power of the spoken word.
The content comes primarily from Mould’s longitudinal fieldwork with individuals, families, leaders, missionaries, and lay members as well as documentation at myriad church meetings. These sessions are captured by Mould’s impressive ability to document conversations, discussions, full interviews, and performance sessions in writing. But, unlike many works using case studies, the reader won’t skip to and from the original content but will be drawn into Mould’s discussion and analysis.
Mould’s fieldwork is combined with his research using extensive folklore collections provided by generations of folklore scholars and students in Utah, and with historical archives and published sources, underscoring the prevalence and importance of these narratives. Mould provides a review of recent academic scholarship—anthropology, religious studies, linguistics, and performance, and American studies, Mormon history, and folklore. The author incorporates the work of others who have studied narratives, personal experience narratives, and Mormon narratives. He stretches the existing analysis, explains where previous work falls short, and sets the stage for his own research and analysis. Providing a mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, Mould is up-front about the inherent difficulties of both, and provides methods to resolve these challenges.
Mould assumes the reader has the capacity to learn and comprehend, and he writes about the topic in a personable and concise manner [End Page 96] without patronizing. His writing takes the reader on a shared journey, changing course, discovering, and adapting. The content informants help Mould by supplying their own analysis of scripture and experiences, and it is clear that the author's conclusions were generated throughout the research process.
The chapters have a sensible and consistent order and can be read sequentially or separately. The introduction provides a compact history of Mormonism from its founding in 1830 to the present day, a short review of current narrative literature, and a concise and fresh definition of folklore geared to non-folklore academics and the general public. Chapter 1 explores narrative within a lay church and provides a full definition of the genre, asserting that the primary goal of personal revelation is to provide guidance and blessings, and that the retelling of the experience reinforces and informs belief. Chapter 2 brings in performance theory to explore why people share personal revelations, and provides a thorough account of variations within Mormon personal revelation performance for evaluation. Mould cleverly negotiates the interpretation of dualities—an individual feeling or a sacred message, a common or a divine experience, keeping it private or going public. Shared values are outlined as the principle topics for personal revelations, and Mould designs a cyclical and symbiotic system for interpreting and framing narratives.
Chapter 3 supplies the data and structural analysis moving from the experience through interpretation and into the retelling. Utilizing both cultural source and experience source theories to interpret supernatural experiences, the data illustrate a uniformity of structure and defined story types that are...