’s Rebuilding an Enlightened World: Folklorizing America
(Indiana University Press, 2018) advances the idea that we are entering a post-enlightenment world increasingly characterized by alternative facts, fake news, and doubts over the “objective” truths of science. Faced with the failure of data-driven social sciences to explain these phenomena, and to anticipate the behaviors of the American voter in 2016 or the middle-class-teenager-turned-ISIS-fighter, Rebuilding
advances folklore as a potential alternative to preserve the Enlightenment’s progress and potentially make good on its promise. Drawing on the work of seminal figures of American folkore’s recent past, including Richard Dorson, Americo Paredes, Archie Green, Ralph Rinzler, and Henry Glassie, rebuilding examines the a range of phenomena including the 2016 presidential election, Black Panther
, the rise of fake news, and Story Corps for a way to recognize and value alternative knowledge systems. The path forward is anything but clear, but perhaps folklore, with its focus on myth, legends, festival, vernacular beliefs, and modest listening, can provide tools for this complicated future.
Timothy Thurston is Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. His research examines language at the nexus of tradition and modernity in China’s Tibet.