“Faithful Realism” is a term Richard Cracroft coined for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992) to describe the works of “Mormon writers [who] are both faithful Latter-day Saints and skilled writers.” Several years later, in his introduction to Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature (1997), Eugene England “adopted” the term “to characterize” all of Mormon literature since 1960, developing Cracroft’s somewhat rudimentary definition to embrace all works that “are realistic and even critical about Mormon experience but profoundly faithful to the vision and concerns of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” (xxiii-xxiv, xxxiii).
I dislike the term “Faithful Realism” for a number of reasons. For one, like Edward Geary’s notion of “Mormondom’s Lost Generation,” it suggests that these works take a single identifiable stance towards Mormonism and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In reality, works of “Faithful Realism,” like the works of the “Lost Generation,” tend to be more nuanced towards Mormonism than these terms give them credit for. Besides, in my opinion, efforts to identify a Mormon literary work’s level of “testimony” ultimately speak more to our discomfort with dissident voices and very little about the literary work itself. What are we trying to prove or claim, after all, when we say this book is “faithful” and that book is “lost”? Are we simply trying to claim some sort of cultural credibility for our world view or approach to “essential” Mormonism? Or is it somehow simply a soft censor—a passive way to police what “is” and “is not” real Mormon literature?
Part of my problem with the term also has to do with the fact that Cracroft and England use it to refer to two different understandings of Mormon literature, which causes confusion when we wrongly assume that Cracroft and England were always on the same page when it came to Mormon literature. As is apparent in his “Attuning the Authentic Mormon Voice,” Cracroft believed that real Mormon literature was that which was true to the “essence” of faithful Mormon belief. England’s writings about Mormon literature, however, reveal that he was open to stretching the boundaries of that “essence” to welcome more works into the fold.1 I’m not sure this important distinction has ever been fully articulated.
Despite my dislike of the term, I think it has a kind of value—especially when we consider its historical context. As Armand L. Mauss recounts in The Angel and the Beehive (1994), the late 20th century saw a drift towards social conservatism in Mormonism that closely associated “faithful” Mormon practice with “conformity, unquestioning obedience, and a proof-texting approach to religion” as well as “austere religious styles, fleeing from ambiguity to the seeming safety of the most conservative extremes in doctrine, gender roles, health practices, and other observances” (167). Mauss specifically connects this drift to the rise of Correlation and an attitude of “retrenchment” among leaders who wished to see more distinct identity markers between Mormons and the rest of the world (see 80-81, 167).2
To a certain extent, I see Cracroft’s desire to identify a faithful “essence” in Mormon literary works as an attempt to reconcile his efforts in promoting Mormon literature with retrenchment ideals. I’m not suggesting, to be sure, that Cracroft meant to promote a literature of conformity or austerity as authentically Mormon; however, I am suggesting that he privileged a literature that would not unsettle the Mormon retrenchment and its adherents’ notion of “faithful” Mormon identity. Eugene England, on the other hand, sought something more expansive. He seems to have understood that writers like Levi S. Peterson, Linda Sillitoe, Douglas Thayer, and even Orson Scott Card were engaged in a project of resisting definitions of “faithful” Mormonism, particularly when these definitions needlessly marginalized those whose experiences in the Church seemed to fall outside of emerging retrenchment ideals. For him, the “Faithful” in “Faithful Realism” seemed to present an opportunity for deconstruction rather than an unambiguous affirmation of belief.
My point is this: “Faithful Realism” is a problematic term because it misleads us into thinking that works so classified can ultimately be boiled down to simple testimonials of Mormonism’s truth. Following England, we should think of the “Faithful” in “Faithful Realism” not in these terms, but rather as a challenge to assumptions about Mormonism and Mormon identity. For us, “Faithful Realism” should be less a statement about what these works are or where they stand in relation to Mormonism, and more an invitation to explore what it is about Mormonism they try to reimagine and define.
 To illustrate: Cracroft and England were divided in their responses to Levi S. Peterson’s The Backslider, which England praised as a landmark in Mormon fiction and Cracroft dismissed as “theologically non-Mormon.” In “Attuning the Authentic Mormon Voice,” Cracroft criticizes England’s “enthusiastic” review of the novel in BYU Studies for being “Sophic,” suggesting that England’s response to the novel stemmed more from his secular education than his Mormon sensibilities.
 Matthew Bowman also provides an overview of this era in The Mormon People (2012) (see 184-215).