John W. Welch, introduction to Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), v–vi.
Many books and articles in the popular press present journalistic accounts of the Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. Typically, these distant views accentuate interesting but obsolete practices (such as polygamy, which was abandoned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over a century ago after the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of federal laws prohibiting this religious practice) or external, objective factors (such as speculations about the wealth of the Church, most of which happens to be tied up in properties used for religious worship or humanitarian service). When Latter-day Saints read these popular accounts, they scarcely recognize themselves in what is being said, for it so often fails to describe the heart and soul of what it means to be a committed follower of Christ in the tradition of the Latter-day Saints.
The articles in this collection attempt to correct that deficiency. These articles strive to give to students of religion a sensitive introduction to the religious life of Latter-day Saints as seen by observant academicians themselves.
When the editors of the Macmillan Publishing Company approached Brigham Young University in 1987 with the proposal of producing an Encyclopedia of Mormonism, they wanted to create a resource that would guide unfamiliar readers into an understanding of Mormon history, scripture, doctrine, organization, lifestyle, and culture. They insisted that the articles to be written by creditable scholars who were also trustworthy articulators of Latter-day Saint feelings. Justifying this plan, Macmillan explained that if they were to publish an encyclopedia on Catholicism they would want to get as close the Pope as they possibly could. Accordingly, in order to know what Mormons believe, it seemed sensible to ask the Latter-day Saints themselves.
The following selection is a fraction of the 1,300 articles in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. Several of these entries were planned as “road map articles,” giving the big picture of key topics that are central to the beliefs or characteristics that Latter-day Saints most fervently cherish. These articles point readers to further articles in the Encyclopedia and in other reputable sources, which students are encouraged to consult.
Latter-day Christianity adds a valuable dimension to the spiritual landscape of the religions of the world in the twenty-first century. For the people in hundreds of lands who embrace its tenets, Mormonism offers a compass that points the way to joy and confidence through community with fellow Saints and communion with modern revelations. It is hoped that these articles will be a useful compass guiding students of religion to an understanding of that way of life.
John W. Welch
Professor of Law and Editor