Memory's offspring : Uses of the past in Jewish, Latter-day Saint, and African American children's literature
New York, New York
Ph. D. diss.
This dissertation is a study of how Jews, Mormons, and African Americans all utilize narratives of past suffering in order to construct and enforce contemporary religious identities in picture books and novels for young people. I examine children's materials because they are distilled sites of cultural construction: a concentrated point at which a community sorts out its values and its narratives. All three of these communities have experienced historical challenges--the Holocaust, immigration, the Middle Passage, and the journey to the American West, among others--that constitute major layers of their self-definitions; all three groups also understand themselves in terms of biblical ideas of Exodus, chosen-ness, and suffering. Although the precise nature of such ideas differs from group to group, each community is concerned with expressing its suffering as American suffering, and in expressing its triumphs as specifically American triumphs, thus establishing its credulity not as a population of "religious outsiders" but as patriotic constituents of the American religious community. I question the value of enshrining past suffering as a focal point of identity, arguing that it is a form of pedagogical violence, but also attending to the emotional, meaning-making work that it does in Americans' everyday religious lives. [Author's abstract]