The Family Literacy Project

Why is family literacy so important to our society?

Learn More

What is Family Literacy?


The Family Literacy Project provides educational opportunities and resources for how to recognize, understand, and analyze family influences in contemporary life through the specific, intersecting sub-themes of marriage, gender, motherhood and fatherhood.

For a variety of reasons dating back several decades, there are many commonly held assumptions about family in general and, in particular, secular traditions that represent fundamental misunderstandings. Family scholars are well aware of these assumptions and have articulated some basic facts about families themselves that serve as useful foundations for inquiry.


Definition of Family Literacy

The following definition of family literacy has been drafted to help educators understand what is required for a basic understanding of the family and its role in human experience:

Family literacy entails the ability to discern and analyze the fundamental intersections of the family and social/political/cultural life through a “family lens.” Specifically, a family-literate person will possess 1) a basic understanding of the history, central texts, beliefs, practices as they continue to be shaped by particular social, historical and cultural contexts; and 2) the ability to discern and explore through a “family lens” dimensions of social, historical and cultural expressions across time and place.

Critical to this definition is the importance of understanding the family and family influences in context and as inextricably woven into all dimensions of human experience.

The Three Pillars of Family Literacy

There are three central assertions about the family that flow from the recognition of the importance of the family unit as the fundamental unit of society:

1. the long-established and well-understood institutions of marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, and stable family life are essential to individual and social well-being.

2. however varied our doctrinal beliefs, the world’s great faiths share common understandings related to marriage and the centrality and importance of stable and healthy family life.

3. family influences are embedded in all dimensions of culture as opposed to the assumption that the family functions in discrete, isolated, private contexts.

1. Stable Family Life is Essential to Individual and Social Well-being

More and more, scholars conclude that the long-established and well-understood institutions of marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, and stable family life were essential to individual (and social) welfare.

Not every family (especially through the generations) will be fortunate enough to be founded upon stable marital unions. But, despite deviations and human failures, the model itself (as shown by the course of history and mountains of research) is the surest recipe for personal and social progress. Moreover, the negative consequences of departing from the model are particularly acute for women and children.

2. World Religions Share Common Understandings About the Importance of the Family

“The major religions of the world agree in fundamental ways about the nature and the importance of the family. … There is a striking consistency across disparate faiths in the perspective that the human family derives from deity, that marriage and family life is divinely appointed, that parents and children have deep and lasting commitments to each other, that sexuality is a gift to be exercised within divinely established limits, and that the family is the central institution of society and the most important source of mortal joy and fulfillment. These shared convictions, properly understood, help bring all peoples of the earth together.”
Truman G. Madsen, Keith Lawrence, and Shawn L. Christiansen in “The Centrality of Family Across World Faiths.”

3. Family Influences Are Embedded in Cultures

The family is not merely a construct of human will or imagination but has a profoundly important connection to nature beginning with the realities of reproduction and extending to the forces that shape civilization itself. Just as an individual cannot be understood in isolation from his or her family context, it is impossible to understand culture without considering family dimensions.

Whether explicit or implicit, family influences can virtually always be found when one asks “the family question” of any given social or historical experience. Using a family lens paves the way for multi and cross-disciplinary collaborations with family studies scholars across the full range of social science investigations to explore the complex and critically important roles that the family plays in our contemporary world.

The Method

The method is multi and inter-disciplinary and recognizes how social, historical and cultural lenses are fundamentally entwined rather than discrete. For example, social, historical and cultural dimensions of human experience cannot be accurately understood without understanding the family and other religious or ideological influences that shape the cultural context out of which particular political or economic actions and motivations arise. This is the methodological framework related to the third tenet of family studies above: that the family is embedded in culture and that “culture” is inclusive of political and economic influences.

We believe that these foundations provide the best tools to understand the complex roles that the family plays in human experience, and understanding them will help diminish the negative consequences of widespread family illiteracy.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This