Ong, Water J(ackson) 1912-2003

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ONG, Water J(ackson) 1912-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born November 30, 1912, in Kansas City, MO; died August 12, 2003, in Richmond Heights, MO. Priest, educator, and author. Ong was an expert on Renaissance literature who was best known for his scholarly work on the development of oral and written communications. He studied Latin at Rockhurst College, where he graduated in 1933, and two years later he joined the Society of Jesus. Next, Ong earned a master's degree in English, a degree in philosophy, and a degree in sacred philosophy from St. Louis University; finally, in 1955, he received a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University. Ordained a priest in 1946, Ong spent his career in academia, although he considered himself a priest rather than an educator. He joined the faculty at St. Louis University in 1953 and remained there throughout his career, retiring as professor emeritus in 1984. Ong's interest in the history of language was greatly influenced by his famous mentor at St. Louis University, Marshall McLuhan, and his research and writings can be seen as an extension of McLuhan's work. He studied the differences in pre-literate and literate societies, as well as the more recent impacts of computerization, mass electronic media, and the Internet on people's language education. One of his conclusions was that societies exercising an oral tradition valued their elders as a link to their past and experienced stronger communal bonds, while in a literate society a community's members become more individualistic and isolated from the originators of written texts. The invention of the Internet, furthermore, has had the effect of making the boundaries between interior thought and external reality more indistinct. The author or editor of almost a dozen books, Ong received the most acclaim for his 1982 work, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World. Among his other books are In the Human Grain: Further Explorations of Contemporary Culture (1967), Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (1971), Hopkins, the Self, and God (1986), and An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (2002).



Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2003, p. B11.

New York Times, August 25, 2003, p. A19.

Times (London, England), August 26, 2003.