An Introduction to Vernacular Knowledge

Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

Ülo Valk [+-]
University of Tartu
Ülo Valk is Professor of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu. His publications include the monograph The Black Gentleman: Manifestations of the Devil in Estonian Folk Religion (Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2001), co-edited volumes Vernacular Religion in Everyday Life: Expressions of Belief (Equinox, 2012), Storied and Supernatural Places: Studies in Spatial and Social Dimensions of Folklore and Sagas (Finnish Literature Society, 2018) and other works on folk belief, vernacular religion, and folk narrative. He is the editor of Numen: International Review for the History of Religions (Brill).


The introduction discusses knowledge, belief and authority as entangled concepts, and their relationship to the study of folklore, religion and worldview. Proceeding from Leonard N. Primiano’s ideas about vernacular religion as a contested realm of ambiguity, power and creativity, it addresses vernacular knowledge in comparison to institutionally grounded and organised systems of knowledge, such as science and religion. In contrast to the latter, vernacular knowledge is loose, non-systematic and oriented to the practices of everyday life. Vernacular knowledge can be characterised as an expressive strategy and the product of that strategy, which appears in verbal and non-verbal forms: in oral, written, and printed genres, but also in arts, music, material culture, ritual, and behaviour. It can be imbued with elements from institutionally grounded knowledge but often it challenges, confronts and erodes the officially established authoritarian truths. The article argues that the authorisation of vernacular knowledge relies on tradition, traditionalisation and the evidence of personal experience.

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Valk, Ülo. An Introduction to Vernacular Knowledge. Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. Date accessed: 19 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29205. Oct 2022

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