Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies

Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies

Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies

Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies

Synopsis

The Shakers' "spiritual literacies," defined through an examination of their reading and writing practices, blur boundaries between traditionally masculine and feminine realms by using reason and emotion and by being innovative as well as traditional. This exploration of the relationship between literary practices and religious life in the 19th century, of such genres as autobiographies, elegies, histories, and doctrinal works, provides new insights into the many ways in which literacy enriches people's lives.

Excerpt

Memories of my childhood days in Arkansas reverberate with phrases I heard repeatedly in the church services and Bible classes I attended three times weekly: "We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent"; "we let the Bible interpret itself." Long before I questioned those phrases, I wondered about the interpretations of Scripture handed to me by church leaders and teachers. Like bittersweet pills, the interpretations promised to provide an antidote to the spiritual ills caused by ignorance of proper Bible reading. Those powerful pills penetrated my blood, making me the person who, many years later, chose to explore religious communities whose attitudes toward literacy and whose daily practices seemed so different from those of religious communities I had experienced. A portion of that exploration appears here.

Though my understanding of the relationship between reading, writing, and spirituality is incomplete, I believe that these published pages provide insights to literacies and spirituality that should enrich the visions of those perusing them.

As with any book, the numerous teachers, friends, and mentors who influenced this work are beyond acknowledgment here. Nonetheless I note those who assisted directly with the formation of the questions, research in the archives, and shaping of the text before you.

Most recently, during the final phases of the book's completion, the faculty of the Department of English and the administration at Southwest Missouri State University have supported me intellectually, emotionally, and financially. I especially appreciate the Graduate College's Summer Faculty Fellowship, Rosemary Curb's graciousness with my teaching schedule, and Jane Hoogestraat's sensitive and always open ears and eyes. As a quick and eager to learn graduate student, Joe Goeke has more than ably assisted in the book's production.

The University of New Hampshire also provided, during my many years of graduate work, financial support that enabled me to begin and move through most of this project. A Summer Fellowship for Teaching Assistants and a Dissertation Year Fellowship from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences allowed me to begin and then to fully immerse myself in a study of the Shakers. Several at the University deserve thanks for their intellectual insights: the dissertation writers group in the Department of English persistently muddled through early chapter . . .

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