Spirit Babies and Divine Embodiment: PBEs, First Vision Accounts, Bible Scholarship, and the Experience-Centered Approach to Mormon Folklore
Eric A. Eliason, a BYU Professor of English who specializes in folklore, explores the phenomenon of prebirth experiences (encounters with spirit children not yet born) and how this folk tradition is deeply enmeshed with official LDS doctrines. Encounters with spiritual beings are reported more frequently in the general population than the more academically respectable mystic or transcendent states of notable people in various religious traditions. In fact, rather than sensationalizing a mystic experience by presenting it as tangible, scholars find that people more likely to obfuscate or "mystify" what were originally straightforward meetings with personlike beings. Eliason suggests that an experience-centered approach to studying spiritual realities can help us understand foundational Mormon reports of encounters with spirits, such as Joseph Smith's First Vision and Moroni's appearances.