Date of Award

9-16-2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

David I. Hanauer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Stephen May, Ph.D.

Abstract

In a 12-month study, I sought to answer the ways in which religious literacy shaped the individual and collective identities of a Slavic immigrant congregation in the Midwest. More specifically, I examined the relationship of religious and ethnic identities mediated by religious literacy. Following the New Literacy Studies and modifying its theory to fit a religious context, I noted the literacy events of this congregation through attending services, collecting documents, and interviewing members. Not a speaker of Russian and Ukrainian, I interviewed my interpreters as central informants. For my analysis, I applied an interdisciplinary approach to discursive identity and literacy practices. The two pastors of this church were intentionally creating a collective identity in resistance to the historically negative ascription of “Russian Baptist,” providing literacy events in which newcomers experienced a caring community. The congregation’s assumed fixedness of a sacred text supplied stability and authority while allowing interpretation to engage with the constraints and strangeness of massive change as immigrants. National narratives still had influence, but the members in this study claimed a location in an ongoing narrative of the sacred text as more important. Partly due to a background of marginalization, the participants exhibited a non-place identity, one in which situated place, the ethnicity of their home country, was not considered primary.

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