Recently, I’ve had a few people ask me to clarify my understanding of “Faithful Realism.” Here are some of my thoughts on the term:
As a classification of Mormon literature, “Faithful Realism” came into vogue in the late twentieth century. Both Eugene England and Richard Cracroft used the term to describe Mormon fiction that placed a greater emphasis on depicting the concrete world, rather than supernatural experience, while approaching and presenting Mormonism from an essentially “faithful” perspective. They did so to set contemporary literary efforts apart from the earlier works of the “Lost Generation” of Mormon writers, like Vardis Fisher and Virginia Sorensen, whose writings arguably conveyed a less-faithful (or “lost”) perspective.
The more experience I get with “Faithful Realism,” though, the more uncomfortable I am with the term. As I’ve argued elsewhere, I disagree with the practice of classifying Mormon writers and works by the degree of testimony they espouse—or seem to espouse—because doing so asks us to privilege one approach to Mormon belief over another and draw firmer lines than are necessary and desirable between the works of writers who are practicing Mormons, cultural Mormons, and all the other kinds of Mormons in between. One reason I like the term “Home Literature” over other classifiers is that, despite its historical associations with missionary work and Mormon propaganda, is the way it posits Mormonism as a home writers write from and to. Both “Lost Generation” and “Faithful Realism,” however, suggest a kind of fall and redemption of Mormon literary output—leading the reader and critic to approach them as such at the expense of richer, more nuanced readings.