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Signs and Wonders

Religious Rhetoric and the Preservation of Sign Language

Tracy Ann Morse

Publication Year: 2014

Current academic discourse frequently understates the role of religion in the development of the American Deaf community. In her new study, Tracy Ann Morse effects a sharp course correction by tracing the frequent use over time of religious rhetoric by members of the deaf community to preserve and support sign language. In Chapter One, Morse analyzes Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s use of religious references in his 1817 maiden address at the first American school for deaf students. She examines his and other speeches as examples of the intersection of education for deaf Americans and Protestant missionary efforts to convert them. In the second chapter, she presents the different religious perspectives of the two deaf education camps: Manualists argued that sign language was a gift from God, while Oralists viewed hand gestures as animal-like, indicative of lower evolutionary development. Chapter Three explores the religious rhetoric in churches, sanctuaries where sign language flourished and deaf members formed relationships. In the fourth chapter, Morse shows how deaf activist George Veditz signed using religious themes in his political films. She also comments on the impact of the bilingual staging of Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which began to change the hearing world’s opinion about the Deaf community. Morse concludes with speculation on the shifting terrain for deaf people due to technological innovations that might supplant religious rhetoric as a tool to support the Deaf community.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book examines religious arguments for the preservation and use of sign language in historical documents and contemporary experiences related to deaf education, church ministries and congregations for deaf people, and activism in the...

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pp. 1-8

When I was a child growing up in the 1970s, my family had a Sunday morning routine. My brother and I would watch Popeye cartoons until we had to get ready for church. While we were cleaning up and changing, my mother or father...

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1: Intersections of Deafness, Religion,and Rhetoric

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pp. 9-34

To better explore the intersections of deafness, religion, and rhetoric, I need to explore what those who have come before me have examined near these intersections. My project examines the intersections of all three of these in the...

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2: Protestant Ideology and the Arguments for Sign Language in Late Nineteenth-Century Schools for Deaf Children

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pp. 35-65

The American School for the Deaf opened in 1817 with the initial mission to provide deaf students with a language and knowledge of God so they could be saved. As the previous chapter shows, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet argued that teaching...

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3: Saved by Signs: The Role of the Sanctuary in the Preservation of Sign Language

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pp. 66-85

Protestant chapel and church services were important factors in the preservation of sign language. Ministers and many deaf educators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries argued for the practical use of sign language in the chapel...

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4: Religious Rhetoric in Deaf Community Activism and Advocacy

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pp. 86-129

As the previous chapters explain, residential schools and church sanctuaries provided opportunities for the deaf community to form social groups and to preserve sign language. Emerging from these interactions is a discourse that reflects...

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5: Conclusion and Implications

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pp. 130-144

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Deaf advocacy for sign language in the United States was grounded in religious discourse. As Thomas H. Gallaudet brought education to deaf people in the United States with the opening...


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pp. 145-150


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pp. 151-156

E-ISBN-13: 9781563686023
E-ISBN-10: 1563686023
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563686016
Print-ISBN-10: 1563686015

Page Count: 180
Illustrations: 10 photographs
Publication Year: 2014