Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Utah State University Faculty Honor Lectures


The Faculty Association, Utah State University

Publication Date



Not long ago I was asked to entertain some of my colleagues at a faculty gathering by telling stories about J . Golden Kimball, that crusty old Mormon divine who salted his sermons and public statements with a liberal sprinkling of cuss words and earthy metaphors. Because I know a fair number of these stories and enjoy telling them, I agreed. The event was a tolerable success. At least most people laughed, and no one threw brickbats. Still, as I drove home, I wondered if I had not done more harm than good. I had, I feared, simply strengthened the notion, held by many, that the study of folklore might provide interesting material for after-dinner speeches but certainly could not be expected to increase our understanding of the human condition.

This evening I would like to rectify that impression. The night I told J. Golden Kimball stories I played the role of folklore performer. Tonight I will play the critic. My argument will be that the performance of folklore- whether it provides us with delight and amusement or causes us to fear and tremble- is one of our most fundamental human activities. The study of folklore, therefore, is not just a pleasant pastime useful primarily for whiling away idle moments. Rather, it is centrally and crucially important in our attempts to understand our own behavior and that of our fellow human beings.


This work made publicly available electronically on August 16, 2011.