Speaking Truth: Linguistic and Rhetorical Practices in Conversionary Processes Among Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway
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Originating in the US during the 1870s, Jehovah’s Witnesses have since spread across the world and currently depict the worship of their 8,457,107 members to extend across 240 lands. Beneath these large numbers are minute social processes transforming those who might listen to the Word. To these, I turn. This thesis explores linguistic and rhetorical practices in conversionary processes among Jehovah’s Witnesses. In doing so, I attempt to trace a passage of listening beginning from the encounter of an ideal non-believing convert. First, I discuss the proselytization effort of the group. Second, I examine initial rhetorical movements inherent to a speech directed at newcomers. Third, I investigate the development of a specific linguistic competence integral to educational programs, interactions and worship. Fourth, I trace central narratives and rhetorical practices emergent upon familiarization with doctrine. Fifth, I explore the scriptural rhetoric inherent to a Bible-based language. Sixth, I discuss the embodied dimensions of discourse, that is, the use of metaphors in mediating the divine. The research was conducted throughout the six first months of 2017 amongst four Norwegian congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Methods applied were (1) participant observation throughout different spheres of faith practice, rituals, sociality and daily-life activities; (2) in-depth interviews collecting life stories, personal faith practices and experiences; (3) surveying literature and the digital media of the religious organization. In its totality, this thesis ventures from proselytization, through the transcendental, through and to the flesh, so to examine the multifaceted role of language to conversionary processes. I argue this multiplicity to best be understood in terms of a passage along which different linguistic and rhetorical practices comes to be effectual at distinctive stages of conviction and familiarization.