The Elusive Concept of 'Tradition Science' in the Nordic Institute of Folklore under Lauri Honko’s Directorship



Finnish and Nordic folkloristics, ethnology, tradition science, tradition research, Nordic Institute of Folklore, Nordic Council of Ministers


The Nordic Institute of Folklore, internationally well known by its abbreviation NIF, left a lasting imprint on the history of Nordic and international folkloristics despite its relatively short operation period of less than four decades. The present article, first in a series of forthcoming articles on NIF, examines Lauri Honko’s directorship in the 1970s and 1980s and focuses on the changing of the institute’s field of operation from folkloristics to ‘tradition science’. The term ‘tradition science’ (traditionsvetenskap in Swedish, perinnetiede in Finnish) was never clearly defined in NIF, but was used – and it has continued to be used in folkloristics and ethnology in Finland – in three meanings: an approximate synonym for folkloristics, a joint term for folkloristics and ethnology, and (in plural) an umbrella term for an unspecified number of fields in the study of history, vernacular religion, and culture. The possible earlier history of the term is beyond the scope of this research, but there are indications that the term came into use in both Finnish-language and Swedish-language folklore research in the early 1970s, while the similar term ‘tradition research’ (traditionsforskning in Swedish, perinteentutkimus in Finnish) has a longer history. The term ‘tradition science’ was adopted into NIF’s statutes around the same time as the Nordic Council of Ministers – through which the inter-governmental funding of NIF was administered – initiated the expansion of NIF’s profile to cover folk culture “in its entirety”, suggesting specifically the extension of NIF’s field of operation to include ethnology. Whether NIF implemented this expansion or not, and to what extent, is a matter of debate, and the topic of this article.


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