Re: jehovah's witnesses

Joel Elliott (elliott@EMAIL.UNC.EDU)
Tue, 7 Nov 1995 09:08:40 -0500

On Mon, 6 Nov 1995, Maria Swora wrote:

> I know nothing about JWs, so I am looking forward to your posts in this
> thread. Can you describe in general what JW meetings are like? What kind
> of narrative practices do they utilize? Is there a standard "life story"?
> How valued is rhetorical skill? What role, if any, does healing play in the
> JW lifecourse?

maria: thanks for your response. i don't know if i can answer
economically, but i'll try. a couple of general comments: JWs are very
suspicious of "emotionalism"; for them "coming into the Truth" (i.e.,
becoming a JW) is very much a cognitive matter. i recall one teacher
saying something like "change the head and the heart will follow." and
their stories of "coming into the Truth" tend to be highly stereotypical
and go something like: i was searching for the truth, was repulsed by the
hypocrisy and immorality of traditional christianity, associated with
jehovah's witnesses, began to study with someone and gradually began to
learn the Truth. the sociologist james a beckford wrote a very insightful
article on JW "conversion narratives" a few years ago called "accounting
for conversion," british journal of sociology 29 (1978): 249-62. (i read
that you were working on narrative memory among AA; you might find this
article useful.)

JWs take rhetoric very seriously; this means specifically that they are
very deliberate and self-conscious about the verbal presentation of their
message to non-witnesses. their "theocratic ministry school", which meets
once a week, is actually a kind of speech course, in which *all* members
-- male and female, young and old -- are drilled on the best method for
presenting their message (witness recognize no formal clergy / laity
distinction, and insist they *everyone* has the responsibility to preach
door-to-door). this includes short 5 or 15 minute talks, skits and
role-playing, review of printed literature with open Q&A, etc.

JWs are also very "anti-charismatic." they believe the age of miracles
ceased with the apostles. they do have a history of experimenting with
non-traditional medicine (but as far as i know this would apply only to
individuals witnesses), and they have officially expressed ambivalence
toward the medical profession in different ways (e.g., rejection of blood
transfusions, resistance to organ transplants, fear of vaccinations, etc.
i think their opposition to blood transfusions is the only one that's
still "official"). on the other hand, witnesses do believe that satan is
a real and active force, so tend to see demonic activity everywhere. but
i have not heard of official "exorcism" altho they do believe in demon

i never thought about it until you asked, but i might try to argue that
witnesses think of "healing" in the sense of "learning the Truth" about
god, the universe and what the future holds. and that means that thru
their unwavering faithfulness to jehovah, they have the hope of surviving
the awesome destruction of armageddon that will cleanse the earth of all
impurities and restore it back to the original edenic paradise. that is,
"healing" is an eschatological possibility contingent on one's commitment
and faithfulness in the present. i'm also very interested in witness
iconography (their literature is full of beautiful illustrations and
photos), and scenes of the resurrection of the dead (when all infirmities
are healed) and life on paradise earth are prominent iconic motifs.

on health / healing in general, i just remembered the following article:
william h cumberland, "the JW tradition," in *caring and curing: health
and medicine in the western religious traditions*, pp. 468-85. eds. r
numbers and r amundsen (NY: macmillan, 1986).

thanks for your provocative questions. remember i'm in digest mode (and
dissertation triage mode!), so consider CC'ing me directly.



Joel Elliott
Department of Religious Studies
101 Saunders Hall, CB #3225
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
(919) 962-5666
(919) 962-1567 (Fax)
(919) 967-8482 (H)

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