The Theory of Culture of Folklorist Lauri Honko, 1932-2002: The Ecology of Tradition

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Lauri Honko (1932-2002), the Finnish professor of folkloristics and comparative religion was a prolific and multitalented researcher, whose topics of research ranged from the study of folk beliefs, folk medicine and Ingrian laments to the general theories of culture, identity and meaning. He studied Finno-Ugric mythologies, Karelian and Tanzanian folk healing, and South Indian oral traditions. In this book we aim at explicating and analyzing his methodological assumptions as well as his specific theoretical contributions in the study of religion and folklore. Our central focus is on Honko’s tradition ecology, an approach to cultural systems that exposes their dynamic and functionalistic features. We compare and contrast tradition ecology with other theories in religious studies and folkloristics, especially with those theories that stem from the evolutionary and cognitive paradigms. Furthermore, we will explicate Honko’s programmatic model of the folklore process, by means of which the dynamics of religions and folklore can be conceptually captured. We argue that Honko constructed a coherent theory of culture, where functionalism played a central role. Furthermore, we argue that in Honko’s theory, religious studies needs methodological support from folkloristics as well as from other fields of cultural studies.


“With his interdisciplinary approach combining folkoristics and fieldwork with the history of religions, Honko was able to bridge disciplines, confront important questions, and break new ground. Furthermore, he succeeded in passing his interests on to his students, and we have since been enriched by their theoretical, methodological and empirical work.”

Prof. Armin W. Geertz,
Aarhus University

“He organized numerous international conferences and seminars, where he often assumed a dominant role in introducing brave and unexpected new viewpoints on folklore materials.”
Prof. Ulf Palmenfelt,
Gotland University, Sweden

“Lauri Honko was the leading folklorist of his generation…this is a valuable retrospective on the work of a prominent twentieth century folklorist.”
Prof. John H. Mcdowell,
Indiana University

Table of Contents

Preface by Armin W. Geertz
Chapter 1. Theories as Tools
Combining theoretical resources
Siri epic
Testing Hypotheses
Chapter 2. Functionalism, Systems and Processes
Functionalism in Geisterglaube
Cultural actors as functional entities
Functionalism and actualization
Health behaviour system
Process thinking
Chapter 3. Pool of Tradition and Systems of Culture
From tradition to culture and cultural identity
Elements in the pool of tradition
Chapter 4. Tradition Ecology
Origins of Tradition Ecology
Examples of Tradition Ecology
Chapter 5. Tradition and the theory of memes
Genes and memes
Evolutionary Standpoint
Replication, variation, and differential fitness
Chapter 6. Issues in folkloristics
Concepts of genre
Concepts and theories in the study of oral epics
Mental text
Textualization and performance theory
Individual and collective tradition
Honko as a cultivator of folkloristics
Chapter 7. Cognitive paradigm in the study of religion and folklore
Themes in cognitive research
Cultural model
The cognitive paradism as an eclectic framework
Chapter 8. Genre analysis and folklore process in the study of religion
Migration of cultural contents
Folklore process and religious contents
Chapter 9. Safeguarding folklore and the folklore process
Applied research
Safeguarding folklore
Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage
Paradox of Karelian village
Praasniekka feast
Complexity in Safeguarding
Textualization as a part of the folklore process
Concluding remarks

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