Background/Context: Research confirms that religion is a significant part of the lives of American youths, that religious texts are an essential part of their experiences in the world, and that as part of their everyday cultural practices, religious youths demonstrate strong commitments to reading religious texts. Currently, however, the field of literacy has yet to develop a body of research that examines the motivations that drive young people to engage with the religious texts that appear to mean so much to them.
Focus of Study and Research Questions: Situated within social and cultural perspectives of literacy and motivation, the purpose of this study is to examine religious youths’ personal motivations for reading complex, religious texts such as the Bible and the Book of Mormon by looking closely at the connections among their literacy practices, religious ideologies, and the expression of their religious identities. Two questions operationalize this purpose: 1. What are the similarities and differences among Latter-day Saint and Methodist youths’ personal motivations to engage with religious texts? 2. In what ways are these motivations influenced by the youths’ religiocultural traditions, ideologies, practices, and commitments?
Research Design: Qualitative methods were used to examine youths’ motivations for religious literacies. Nine months of ethnographic observations in multiple contexts and 59 in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted over two years were transcribed and analyzed to address the purpose of the study. Analytic procedures were informed by grounded theory.
Findings: The findings revealed a broad-level framework that explained the youths’ personal motivations for reading religious texts that transcended religious affiliation. Youths in both congregations were motivated to engage with complex, religious texts because they providing them with (a) knowledge about their religious traditions, (b) tools for applying religious knowledge to the lives, (c) strength to endure life’s challenges, (d) comfort during stressful times, and (e) a connection to God.
Conclusions/Recommendations: As a space to explore the interactions among religion, literacy, and motivation, this study contributes to a more robust understand about the manner in which young people engage with complex, religious texts. This research also has implications for conceptualizing motivated literacy, engaging students with complex, academic texts, and studying motivation for literacy as social practice.