Linda Dégh-Vázsonyi was raised and educated in Hungary where she graduated from Péter Pázmány University. She began her teaching career at the Eötvös Loránd University's Folklore Department in Budapest, before accepting an appointment at the Folklore Institute of Indiana University, Bloomington in 1965. At that time, a new graduate curriculum in the Folklore Institute needed an Europeanist to enhance its already distinguished reputation. She became an Indiana University Distinguished Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 1982.
Linda Dégh was a folklorist/ethnologist, specializing in personal and communal identity projections of traditional rural and modern urban communities in Europe and North America. Through personal observation of creative processes in communicating folklore, traditional prose narratives in particular, taking into account historical and situational contexts of performance, she focused not on the text prototype, but on the unique, personal formulations of individuals generated by unpredictable given conditions.
Dégh's 18 books and over to 200 essays have been internationally recognized as initiators of a new approach to folklore study. Her last monographic survey "Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre" in 2001, exhibited emergence of stories form novel technological conditions in the U.S. spreading speedy to other industrially advanced nations, expressing fears and concerns of survival in a new world of alienation, globalization, and violence through the defense mechanism rationalizing the irrational.
As a scholar and a teacher, Linda Dégh worked best as a team player, in seminars and workshops. Her exploration of the American folk legend began in an introductory folklore class and resulted in the international study of a new genre, emerging from the advancement of modern technology. As young students disclosed an unknown treasury of legends, she founded the journal Indiana Folklore in 1968 to publish their stories, and with the collaboration of graduate assistants, develop a new method to collect, and analyze and interpret what is now known internationally as urban or contemporary legend. During the summer of 2001, she initiated a pilot study of Hungarian-Americans in the Calumet Region with students to begin exploration of ethnic cultural identity consciousness as a key to the uniqueness of American democracy maintained by an ideal of unity by diversity.
Other awards and honors include an American Philosophy Fellowship (1968), Guggenheim Fellowship (1970), Subcommittee on Anthropology/Folklore, ACLS and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Joint Committee, Fulbright Research Fellowship in Germany (1984-85), American Folklore Society: Centennial Recognition Award (1989), National Humanities Center Fellowship ( 1990-91), Hoosier Folklore Society Achievement Award (1991), International Society for the Study of Contemporary Legend Outstanding Contribution Award (1993), Sigillo D'Oro, Pitré-Salomone Marino Prize, Palermo, Italy (1995), Ortutay Medal - The Hungarian Ethnographic Society Budapest (1995). In 2004, she received the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award from the American Folklore Society.
She was an honorary member of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research and the International Society of European Ethnology and Folklore. In 1993, she was elected as a member of the Folklore Fellows of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, Helsinki, Finland, and in 1971 elected as Fellow of the American Folklore Society where she was a Past-president in 1981-83.