“A Conversation about the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” Ensign, Dec. 1990, 69–71
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a project and title approved by the First Presidency and published by Macmillan Publishing Company, is nearing completion. Although actual printing will not begin until next summer, the writing will be done by the end of this year. To learn more about the encyclopedia, the Ensign talked with Daniel H. Ludlow, editor-in-chief.
Q: What exactly is The Encyclopedia of Mormonism?
A: The project, initiated by Macmillan Publishing Company of New York City, will be a five-volume encyclopedia. The first four volumes will contain articles having to do with pertinent Church topics. The fifth volume will basically be the triple combination: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, the footnotes, index, and other helps found in the LDS edition of these scriptures will not be printed in this fifth volume. This will be the first time the Church has ever let an outside publisher print the scriptures; but in preparing the encyclopedia, it became apparent that it was essential to have the scriptures as part of the project.
The idea for the encyclopedia project was presented to and approved by the First Presidency more than two years ago. Because Brigham Young University is a Church-sponsored educational institution, it was given the responsibility for the encyclopedia’s contents.
Q: What kind of information will be included in the encyclopedia?
A: The encyclopedia will consist of more than eleven hundred articles of varying lengths. The articles will be listed alphabetically in the published encyclopedia, but for purposes of organization they have been divided into five major areas: history, institutional Church, scriptures, doctrine, and culture and society.
The list of articles to be included was developed by the board of editors, which includes myself, three senior editors, and ten editors. We had our first meeting in August 1988 and spent an entire year planning and outlining the encyclopedia before the first word was even written.
First, board members checked all the basic reference books of the Church, including several Church histories, the Topical Guide, and several encyclopedias on religion. Next, we consulted individually with more than two hundred faculty members of BYU and LDS seminaries and institutes and with the staff of more than thirty Church departments. Finally, approval for each article was given by the president of BYU and the publisher.
Macmillan allotted one million words for the encyclopedia, to be distributed among the various articles in the first four volumes. This word limitation does not include the encyclopedia’s fifth volume (the triple combination), nor does it include other items basic to an encyclopedia—such as the subject list, name list, glossary, map index, chart index, illustrations, and main index. Because the articles cannot be exhaustive, almost every article will also end with a bibliography for further reading.
There will also be a number of biographies included in the encyclopedia. The biographies for all Presidents of the Church in this dispensation are included. Other biographies were included only if the person made a very significant contribution to the Church. No living person’s biography is included except for the current Church President.
Q: How were authors for each article selected?
A: Potential authors, both LDS and non-LDS, were suggested by the board of editors and were cleared by the president of BYU and Macmillan.
After an author was selected, Macmillan sent him or her a contract with a “scope description,” supplied by us, for the assigned article.
The scope description gives each author the article word limit and outlined what we want covered in the article. So we wouldn’t duplicate information, the scope description also gives authors a list of other articles in the encyclopedia that relate to what they are writing about. Also included is a key bibliography to get the writer started.
After an author completes his or her first draft, he or she sends it to the “supervising editor” for that article—one of the ten editors on the board. The supervising editor and author work together to refine the article before it is submitted to a “refinement stage.” At this point, other editors on the board read the article and make further suggestions. The supervising editor and author then consider those suggestions, incorporating the ones they think are valid. The article is then submitted to me as editor-in-chief.
I am a firm believer that in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established, so every article that is submitted at this point is read by all three senior editors and myself. We make further suggestions and then sit down with the supervising editor and review the article. Finally, the finished article is sent to Macmillan. Thus, every article goes through several stages, and each article has been read by several people.
This encyclopedia will have been produced, from beginning to end, in three years. Macmillan has never published an encyclopedia in that amount of time before. It can take ten years or longer. It usually takes that much time because the list of contributing authors for those projects is relatively short and many authors will write fifty or more articles. But we decided at the beginning to show that we are a lay church. Therefore, we determined that no author would write more than four articles. So, while we searched to find the author best qualified to write on a particular subject, we also had a wide range of authors to from which to choose. We considered professors at the Church schools and universities, teachers in the Church Educational System, professors at many other colleges and universities, and other Latter-day Saint scholars and writers.
That’s why we will be able to produce the encyclopedia in three years without sacrificing quality, whereas it normally takes much longer to complete a project of this scope. We used more than 700 authors to write approximately 1,100 articles.
Q: What is the encyclopedia’s purpose?
A: The encyclopedia has been written at the educational level of a high-school graduate and will have as its primary audience those who are interested in learning more about the Church. We have assumed that the reader will have no familiarity with Church history, organization, scriptures, doctrine, or culture; therefore, needed background will be provided within the entries themselves. Because of Macmillan’s reputation as a publisher, the encyclopedia will most probably be found in college and university libraries, as well as in many high-school and municipal libraries.
The encyclopedia will also be beneficial for members of the Church. We anticipate that the encyclopedia will become one of the major resources available for Church members. It will be of special help to new members in familiarizing themselves with the heritage and perspective of the Church. The extent of this project is so broad that all Church members can learn a great deal. For example, one of our senior editors, who has served as the dean of Religious Instruction at BYU, mentioned how much he has learned by reading these articles.
Q: When is the encyclopedia scheduled to be published?
A: BYU will have all articles content-edited and sent to Macmillan by the end of 1990. The publisher has agreed to have the encyclopedia on the shelves by October 15, 1991. Macmillan has also agreed to make available to members of the Church a four-volume set, minus the fifth volume (the triple combination) since most members of the Church already have the scriptures available.
We’re negotiating about the price and about whether or not the BYU Bookstore can distribute the books. So far, Macmillan has never had anyone except its own sales force sell their encyclopedias. The estimated cost will probably be about $60 per book, or approximately $240 for the four-volume set.
All in all, the project is exciting, and we’re giving it our best effort. I think it may be many years before the Church has an opportunity to produce this type of publication again.