Encyclopedia of Mormonism

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First of four volumes of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is a well-known semi-official encyclopedia for topics relevant to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church; see also "Mormon").

Published in 1992, the Encyclopedia contains nearly 1500 articles including several short un-attributed entries (the equivalent of Wikipedia stubs) in four volumes. The text is approximately one million words, and over 1850 pages including pictures, maps, charts, index, and appendices. The title for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism was chosen by Macmillan, the secular publisher which initiated the project. "Mormonism" is the most widely-understood name of the religion even though it's an unofficial term and sometimes considered a slur.

There were over 730 contributors from a wide variety of fields. However, most contributors had LDS and academic backgrounds. A large number were professors at Brigham Young University, the flagship LDS Church-owned university. Most individuals contributed only one article and few submitted more than three or four. Notable contributors include Mormon historians Leonard J. Arrington, and Thomas G. Alexander, former Salt Lake City mayor Ted Wilson, noted non-Mormon LDS historian Jan Shipps, authors Steven R. Covey, Gerald N. Lund, and Richard Eyre, respected scholar and apologist Hugh Nibley, and a few members of LDS hierarchy like Paul Evans, H. David Burton, and Jeffery R. Holland.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism's editor Daniel H. Ludlow strove to make the volume as professional as possible. Most of the articles are written by Ph.D.s in their respective fields. This is remarkable given that the LDS Church is led by an unpaid lay clergy and thus has no dedicated theological scholars. LDS General Authorities (the spiritual leaders of the church) therefore wrote little of the Encyclopedia. Indeed, most contributors from church hierarchy were only tapped to write articles on the publications or institutions they directly administer or lead. For impartiality and perspective, several non-Mormons were asked to write important articles. For example, Jan Shipps wrote on the outsider's interpretation of Mormonism, and Richard P. Howard, historian of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ), wrote on his branch of the Latter Day Saint movement.

As would be expected, the Encyclopedia includes lengthy articles on core LDS subjects like LDS Church history and doctrine, but the work also includes many topics that are only generally related to Mormonism. For example, articles on Constitutional law, Sports, Science, and Freedom discuss LDS perspectives and contributions to various fields.

Ludlow also sought to make the encyclopedia accessible to non-Mormons. To this end an optional fifth volume was printed containing the "Standard Works," LDS scriptures that are heavily cited in the encyclopedia.

Although the LDS Church cooperated in the production of the book, particularly by setting aside Brigham Young University (BYU) resources, the Encyclopedia was meant to be independent and unofficial in the church. Ludlow highlights this in his concluding preface remarks:

Lest the role of the Encyclopedia be given more weight than it deserves, the editors make it clear that those who have written and edited have only tried to explain their understanding of Church history, doctrines, and procedures; their statement and opinions remain their own. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is a joint product of Brigham Young University and Macmillan Publishing Company, and its contents do not necessarily represent the official position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. – Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. lxii.

In spite of these comments and the non-Mormon publisher, the Encyclopedia is referred to as an official or at least semi-official publication by many outsiders of the Church. This view has credence because LDS Church-owned BYU was contractual author of the work. Furthermore, six general authorities, though not credited editors, worked on the project including Dallin H. Oaks, Neal A. Maxwell, and Jeffrey R. Holland (president of BYU when the project began).

Content in the Encyclopedia is thought to express a faith-promoting view of the church. In addition to established LDS apologists like Hugh Nibley, many other LDS apologists contributed including John Gee, William Hamblin, Louis C. Midgley, Daniel C. Peterson, Noel B. Reynolds, Stephen D. Ricks, John L. Sorenson, Melvin J. Thorne, and John W. Welch. No article of so-called Mormon historical revisionism is found in the Encyclopedia, which is unsurprising because after the Encyclopedia 's publication, several such scholars were excommunicated including some members of the 1993 "September Six".

Critics charge that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism glosses over difficult but important subjects to be faith-promoting. Although issues like Blacks and the priesthood are covered, such articles do not dwell on the obvious controversies involved. The historical entries are likewise thought to skip over uncomfortable subjects. For example, the entry on revered pioneer-era Apostle Orson Pratt doesn't mention his famous doctrinal disagreements with Brigham Young even though it recounts at length on his life otherwise. Plural marriage is also thought to receive insufficient coverage.

However, the Encyclopedia was designed to serve as a general reference, not as a primer of LDS polemics. Thus, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism remains a useful resource as the first and only encyclopedia on its subject.


  • Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992) ISBN 0-028796-02-0

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