Mormon Literacy : Reading and Writing in a Religious Context
Chapel Hill, NC
University of North Carolina
In recent years there has been a proliferation of arguments concerning the need to understand literacy in terms of the social context in which it occurs. Accordingly, a better understanding of literacy is possible only as we are able to appreciate how reading and writing are practiced in multiple settings--how the meaning of literacy, its practices and consequences differ according to context. This ethnography of the reading and writing practices of members of a Greensboro, North Carolina, congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducts this context-based research of literacy. This study examines how individuals and families from diverse racial backgrounds and class positions engage in a multitude of religious literacy events. My ethnographic work also examines the before-school religious instruction given to high school students as well as the literacy habits of those engaged in full-time proselytizing for this Church. This research describes the ways the literate philosophy of the Mormon Church is implemented by the various families and individuals I observe and considers the consequences of this literacy. I examine how literacy is implicated in socializing members into this religious community, both on the local level of the congregation and as a participant in a world-wide religious organization. In connection with these processes of acculturation, I focus on (1) how parents use reading and writing to pass on religious beliefs and values to their children; (2) how religious literate habits are encouraged in adolescents through before-school religious instruction; and (3) how literacy is used to daily reinforce the missionary-specific discourse that guides the proselyting work they do. I illustrate how literacy functions within this religious community as it is used to introduce, expound upon and emphasize religious beliefs and values.