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Introduction to 2006 Don Yoder Lecture in Religious Folklife

The 2006 Don Yoder Lecture in Religious Folklife was delivered by Don Yoder on "Folk Religion and
the Pennsylvania German Broadside" at the AFS Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 19, 2006. The lecture was sponsored by the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section.

Margaret Kruesi (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress) offered the following introduction:


Dr. Don Yoder is Emeritus Professor of Folklore and Folklife and Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a very active schedule of lecturing, writing, and traveling.

Dr. Don Yoder received his B.A. in History from Franklin and Marshall College in 1942 and his Ph.D. in American Church History from the University of Chicago in 1947. He taught at Union Theological Seminary, New York City; at Muhlenberg College; and at Franklin and Marshall College before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as Assistant Professor of Religious Thought in 1956. He taught within the newly formed graduate department in Folklore in the 1960s and soon expanded the discipline to include the study of folklife, based on his knowledge of European scholarship in folklife and regional ethnology. He was chairman of the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania from 1966 to 1969, and co-chair from 1969 to 1971. He was promoted to full professor of Folklore and Folklife in 1975, and was named professor of American Civilization in 1990. He has continued his distinguished career teaching and researching American ethnic and regional cultures, American immigration history; genealogy, particularly of German and Swiss families in Pennsylvania; folk religion, sectarian cultures, religious folk music, folk medicine, folk costume, folk cookery, foodways, folk arts, and material culture after his formal retirement from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996.

Dr. Yoder was cofounder and a director of the Pennsylvania Folklife Society beginning in 1949. He served as co-editor of the Pennsylvania Dutchman, 1949-1958; and of Pennsylvania Folklife, 1958-1962, when he became editor, serving until 1978. He was elected Fellow of the American Folklore Society in 1972, and elected president of the American Folklore Society from 1981 to 1982. He was elected to membership in the American Antiquarian Society in 1988, and is a member of many historical and folk-cultural research societies.

Dr. Yoder testified before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare of the United States Senate in 1970 in favor of the establishment of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. From 1976 to 1978 he served on the first Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center. His was one of the strong voices that supported the idea of creating the American Folklife Center, where I have the privilege of working today. In 1980 he was co-director with Wayland Hand at the Washington Conference on American Folk Custom at the Library of Congress, and lectured there on Fraktur in 1986. At the American Folklife Center, we hold the valuable field recordings made by Dr. Yoder of Pennsylvania spirituals. The Don Yoder Collection of Wire Recordings has recently been digitized and while listening to this fascinating collection of Pennsylvania German hymns that Dr. Yoder recorded in the early 1950s, I felt as if I had a transcendent experience, when I heard him interviewing a practitioner of Pennsylvania German powwowing, a healing tradition. At the time, 1952, she was 82, and she describes learning this tradition as a young woman in the nineteenth century.

His academic travels have taken him to every major archives and institute of regional and ethnic culture in Western Europe and Latin America. In this, he has been a pioneer in developing scholarly contacts between international folklife scholars and folklife scholars in the United States.

As one of his students, I can attest to the extraordinary gift Dr. Yoder has for teaching. He received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. He has directed more than 50 dissertations in four academic disciplines – Folklore and Folklife, Religious Studies, American History, and American Civilization. And best of all, generations of his students, including me, benefited from the unforgettable field trips he has led in the Pennsylvania countryside to Amish farms, Mennonite churches, historic graveyards, and to meet Pennsylvania German artisans.

Dr. Don Yoder’s publications, numbering in the hundreds, include Pennsylvania Spirituals, 1961; American Folklife, 1976; The Picture-Bible of Ludwig Denig: a Pennsylvania German Emblem Book, translated and edited by Don Yoder, 1990; Discovering American Folklife: Studies in Ethnic, Religious, and Regional Culture, 1989, reprint 2001; Discovering American Folklife: Essays on Folk Culture and the Pennsylvania Dutch, 2001; Groundhog Day, 2003; and recently, The Pennsylvania German Broadside : a History and Guide, 2005.

We look forward to Dr. Yoder’s lecture today, especially, we look forward to his slides, and on behalf of my co-chair Leonard Primiano, who made this lecture possible by arranging it with Dr. Yoder earlier this year, and on behalf of all of the members of the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section of AFS, we congratulate you on receiving the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award of the American Folklife Society.

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