Theses Doctoral

Ways with the Word in the New World: Language and Literacy Socialization among Born Again Christian African Families in Massachusetts

Beryl, Louise

This ethnographic study aims to understand how African parents use religion to help raise their children in the U.S. It is based on 18 months of fieldwork among African immigrant and refugee families, who identify as born again Christians and attend one of two churches located in the Greater Boston Area of Massachusetts. The parents in this study have voluntarily left or fled the homes and countries (predominantly Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi) where they were raised and now have children of their own to raise in a new country and culture. They are using God (in concert with church, prayer, and the Bible) to cope with the challenges and find understanding, belonging, and betterment for themselves and their children. Their ultimate hope is for their children "to know God." But what does it mean, "to know God?" Why is this so important for these parents? How do parents help children "to know God" (i.e. what processes are entailed)? And how does this shape their identities and intrapersonal and interpersonal development? This ethnography aims to answer these questions through an analysis of the language and literacy processes of socialization.

I describe local child rearing theories, which influence interactions with children and the everyday routines they follow; the characteristics and practices through which a sense of belonging and community is fostered; as well as the practices of praying, engaging with the Bible, and discussion about what their faith means psychologically and socially. Parents and children are teaching and learning from one another through their participation in church services, Sunday school, and Bible studies; in routine prayer individually and collectively; in conversations about God and the world; and reading and discussing the Bible at home at night. I also examine the consequences, theoretical and empirical, of such socialization processes on the understanding of self and one's relationships with God, other believers, and non-believers.

I conclude that in learning to distinguish God's voice among their own thoughts, children are potentially developing a Christian sense of self. Yet, adults and children encounter competing discourses within different communities of practice about with whom one should be friends. Social relationships entail positioning him or herself in the way one talks and acts so as to be (or not be) identified as a believer. These African born again Christian parents are socializing their children to be and become believers.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Anthropology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Harrington, Charles
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 22, 2014