Twenty-Five Years of Faith in Writing: Religion and Composition, 1992-2017

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In her (in)famous essay “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing” (1992), Maxine Hairston complained that composition’s notion of diversity was distorted by a particular political agenda. In the name of “difference,” composition instructors were actually stifling the real diversity that students themselves brought to the classroom: “They are our greatest multicultural resources [ . . . ] authentic, rich, and truly diverse” (190). Central among these authentic riches, wrote Hairston, was religion:

It’s worth noting here that religion plays an important role in the lives of many of our students—and many of us, I’m sure—but it’s a dimension almost never mentioned by those who talk about cultural diversity and difference. In most classrooms in which there is an obvious political agenda, students–even graduate students–are very reluctant to reveal their religious beliefs, sensing they may get a hostile reception. (191)

As evidence for her claim, Hairston pointed to David Bleich (1990), who asserted that “religious values collaborate with the ideology of individualism and with sexism to censor the full capability of what people can say and write” (168). Bleich is hardly the only scholar to question the critical and inventive capacities of religious students. Chris Anson once described “dualistic” writers–those prone to seek simplistic, black-or-white answers–as those who “mimic the established dogmas which, etched in stone by Authority [sic], are incontrovertible truths to be memorized like so many lines of sacred text” (335). Though Anson does not insist religious students will perforce think dualistically, his language suggests a causal connection. More recently, Keith Gilyard has written, “I doubt that high-volume creativity is going to flow from fundamentalist or evangelical students. Their religiosity tends not to be of the prophetic, social ameliorative type but the conservative, George W. Bush type” (58). And in her multiple award-winning Toward a Civil Discourse, Sharon Crowley describes a public sphere in which the burden of civil exchange falls on “postmoderns, liberals, and other skeptics [who] can more easily abandon portions of their belief systems than can apocalypticists” (196). Whether and how postmoderns, liberals, and other skeptics cling to their own set of non-negotiable beliefs is a question left unanswered.

These comments suggest that Hairston was right to worry that openly religious students might get a hostile reception in the composition classroom.1 Yet the last twenty-five years of research also suggest that Hairston was wrong. Although there is evidence that composition teachers have not always welcomed the assertion of religious values in their classrooms, the scholarship also reveals widespread sensitivity and self-critical awareness. Far from treating religious students with the contempt Hairston predicted, composition instructors have usually taken these encounters as opportunities to interrogate their own assumptions. Bleich is also both right and wrong. Though students’ religiosity does sometimes clash with the norms of academic inquiry, not all religious students find themselves constrained by their faith.

Since these dueling assertions were made twenty-five years ago, the field has produced a robust literature on students’ religious beliefs and experiences. The edited collections alone—leaving aside the wealth of journal articles—suggest that composition scholars recognize the important role religion plays in the lives of many of our students–and many of us. The last few years have seen three major works—Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice (2014), Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition (2014) and Mapping Christian Rhetorics (2015)that now stand alongside several others, including The Spiritual Side of Writing (1997), The Academy and the Possibility of Belief (2000), Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry (2001), Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom (2005), and Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition (2008).This explosion of research seems to confirm Stanley Fish’s 2005 claim that religion is poised to join, if not replace, race, class, and gender as the central interests of humanistic inquiry. In a seeming echo of Hairston, Fish reminded his readers that, whatever our own interests or beliefs, we should not construe religious students “as quaintly pre-modern or as the needy recipients of our saving (an ironic word) wisdom.” Observing burgeoning interest in religion, Fish asked whether academics were ready for it: “We had better be, because that is now where the action is.”

As our bibliography of roughly 200 items reveals, composition has long been readying itself for an encounter with religion. Though religious discourse has presented many challenges to our field’s pedagogical and civic projects, the majority of scholars have refused to dismiss religious concerns and attitudes as mere impediments. Instead, our religious encounters have led to productive rethinking of dominant attitudes and familiar assumptions. More recently, this inquiry has evolved to see religion as a call and a resource for rhetorical invention. The purpose of this essay is to narrate that story, which over the last quarter-century has evolved from dismayed puzzlement to enthusiastic engagement.

Our purpose in assembling this bibliography, meanwhile, has been to make those resources as available as possible for teachers and scholars in composition. We hope that this work will be useful for a variety of audiences: established scholars furthering their research agendas, emerging scholars embarking on new projects, and teachers preparing both graduate and undergraduate courses.

The Figure of the Religious Student in Composition

Hairston’s implied vision of the religious student—reluctant to reveal religious beliefs sensing a hostile reception—would seem at first glance to be belied by the literature. Again and again, compositionists recount stories of religious students who vociferously insist on fidelity to their beliefs, whether or not those beliefs clash with academic expectations. Perhaps the most infamous of these is “Keith,” a Mormon student whose opposition to gay adoption drove Douglas Downs to write the following comment: “Congratulations! You’ve just written the most indoctrinated, close-minded, uncritical, simplistically reasoned paper I’ve ever read!” (39). As Downs admirably admits, the response doesn’t really get better from there. Although we’re not prepared to assert that this is the most famous teacher comment in all of composition, it certainly is the most famous comment in composition scholarship on religion. The frequency with which it is cited suggests the frequency with which our encounters with religious students have felt confrontational.

The story of the problematic religious student is told again and again: “the aggressive, usually white, usually male student who creates a disagreeable atmosphere with simplistic references to the Bible and judgmental condemnation of others” (Powers 67). Peter Powers’s description captures the image of a student who has gone by many names in our field: Keith, Clifford, Luke, Thomas, Austin, among others. These students have repeatedly occasioned a feeling described by Juanita Smart: “I reach for the last essay from my Writing About Literature course. But when I read the title, ‘Frankenstein or Jesus Christ?’ my stomach tightens and my feet shift uneasily underneath the chair” (11). Smart reflects on the ways in which discourses, whether religious “or” academic, can construct monsters. But such divisions are not sustainable, even in the paper on Frankenstein and Jesus Christ: “Sandwiched within the borderlines of my student’s writing I discern that portentous prodigality—where the culture’s intolerables, monsters and messiahs, share a mutuality as sacred as it is profane” (18). Vander Lei’s “Where the Wild Things Are” would later pick up on this thread, employing Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s monster theory, along with James Gee’s idea of “figured worlds,” to understand the ways in which religious monsters blunder past the carefully mapped borders of our disciplinary area. Like Smart, Vander Lei insists that the blundering is mutual: academia, supposedly reasoned and dispassionate, prefigures religious discourse as intrusive and disruptive. “Monsters,” Cohen reminds us, “are our children” (qtd. in Vander Lei 82). Heather Thomson-Bunn has also critiqued the literature’s student-as-synecdoche problem (“Empirical” 125). Her empirical studies (2015, 2017) are beginning to move our research in new directions.

In spite of the sometimes blinkered view observed by the scholars, the field has largely resisted the temptation to join Richard Rorty in seeing the appeal to religion as a “conversation-stopper.” Instead, we have taken our encounters with religious students as opportunities to reflect on our own commitments to “complexity, proof, detachment, irony,” a list Chris Anderson articulated in his oft-cited “Description of Embarrassment” (12). That short article  helped establish the early paradigm for our encounter with religion, a paradigm in which scholars turned their habits of critical thinking away from students’ dogmas and toward our own. In the early scholarship on religion and composition, scholars were often simply trying to manage the skirmishes between what Downs calls “inquiry” and “affirmation” (42-43). As uncomfortable as these encounters may be, most scholars have taken the occasions as opportunities to challenge themselves. Amy Goodburn’s encounter with a fundamentalist student leads her to reflect on the faith she herself holds in critical pedagogy (352). Like Goodburn, Shannon Carter recognizes the way in which her students’ missionary attitudes resemble her own: “So, too,” she writes, “it seems my goal as an educator has often been to ‘save’ my openly religious students ‘from themselves’” (573). Pace Fish, composition developed an ironic understanding of our “saving” project long before 2005.

Meanwhile, there is some reason to believe that we should speak of saving without irony. As Ann Berthoff observed at the 1988 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), Paulo Freire’s liberatory pedagogy could not be understood apart from his own faith, which was shaped by liberation theology. Though some scholars have pursued this connection (Ferry 1995-96, 1997; Daniell, 1999; Pace and Merys, 2016), Freire’s religious convictions remain underexplored.2 In her response to Berthoff, Beth Daniell admitted that “we did not possess a language that would permit us to discuss in an academic setting the spiritual aspects of Freire’s work” (239). The intervening years have not seen a major effort to reimagine Freirean pedagogy through his religious commitments. However, more and more efforts are being made to develop a mutually reinforcing relationship between critical and religious thought. Michael-John DePalma (2011) suggests that William James’s pragmatism might help us side-step simplistic distinctions between academic and religious discourse. Belief, he argues, should not be understood as mere assertion or claim but as a form of response to a situation. Meanwhile, Jeff Ringer’s 2013 “Dogma of Inquiry: Composition and the Primacy of Faith” reminds us that any inquiry, religious or not, takes some matters on faith. These and other scholars suggest that we need not be satisfied with the idea of faith and reason as non-overlapping magisteria.

But there is clearly more work to be done. Thomson-Bunn’s 2017 “Mediating Discursive Worlds: When Academic Norms and Religious Belief Conflict” reports research into the attitudes of composition instructors at a large midwestern university. The interviews reveal familiar perceptions: the students don’t distinguish between faith and facts; they write only to like-minded audiences; they cite the Bible uncritically; they are intolerant toward those who do not share their attitudes. In other words, the problem described twenty years by Chris Anderson persists.

That problem should be understood not only as our students’ problem but ours as well. In his Religious Literacy, Stephen Prothero reveals a shocking degree of religious ignorance in the United States, including widespread ignorance of Christian traditions in a so-called Christian nation. This is a problem for our discipline, not only because we may know very little about our students’ actual beliefs and practices, but also because the teaching of religion and literacy have been so deeply intertwined throughout American history. Indeed, the idea of cultivating literacy outside of a religious context makes the contemporary classroom the exception rather than the norm.

Even more exceptional would be a literacy effort undertaken in contrast to, or even as a rejection of, religious attitudes. Such is the project implied by Crowley’s Toward a Civil Discourse. Though Crowley is not explicitly concerned with pedagogy, she does find in rhetoric an available means of untying what she sees as destructive belief and destructive ideology. To be sure, Crowley’s faith in rhetoric is not blind. “Frankly,” she writes, “it is hard to imagine a set of values that might successfully counter the importance of family, God, and nation to those who take them to be universal and nonnegotiable” (200). Yet she still believes that values can be rewritten:

Some exemplary questions: If abortion is murder, doesn’t murder also occur when a woman is forced by the state to bear a child to term if doing so will end her life? Isn’t capital punishment also murder by the state? Isn’t war the murder of innocents just as abortion is claimed to be? (201)

Surely, these are important questions, though many Christians may understand their faith to likewise reject abortion, capital punishment, and war. More importantly, as Jeffrey Ringer has pointed out in Vernacular Christian Rhetoric and Civic Discourse, these rhetorical questions do not seem to suggest a great deal of hope for a revitalized civic sphere. Crowley’s focus on apocalyptic discourse not only excludes the majority of Christians, it overlooks the ways in which that majority already draws on religious discourse in order to invent its public speech. Composition should not reject this faith-based resource but rather should cultivate it. As Ringer writes, “Given that [evangelical students] can argue from within their ethos as evangelical Christians, they might meet with more success than Crowley was able to achieve” (4).

Achieving such success must become a central project for composition. Crowley’s erudite and timely work achieved a remarkable success, winning the 2006 JAC Gary A. Olson Award, the 2008 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award, the 2008 CCCC Outstanding Book Award, and the 2007 National Council of Teachers of English David H. Russell Award. This response suggests widespread endorsement of Crowley’s articulation of the relationship between civic rhetoric and religious rhetoric. But, as this bibliography demonstrates, many compositionists see that relationship differently. Just as we need not accept the idea that religious faith is a threat to academic discourse, we need not accept that it is a threat to public discourse. Rather than reducing religious speech to its most reactionary articulations, scholars are busy studying a wider and more diverse understanding of faith, an understanding that may in fact move us toward a civil discourse.

Method: Apologia Pro Nostra Bibliographia

Our initial commission, which we undertook in spring 2015, was to produce an annotated bibliography on “rhetoric and religion.” Our organizing principle, which was probably too loose to call a “principle,” was to develop a bibliography for newcomers to the literature on rhetoric and religion, scholars or teachers who wished to acquaint themselves with how our field had approached religious questions. This project probably should have struck us as somewhat foolhardy. In Western culture, the relationship between rhetoric and religion begins at the moment God speaks creation into existence (Genesis 1:3). But being fools, we rushed in, beginning with some of the key collections we mentioned earlier and working outward. We quickly came to see that a thorough bibliography on rhetoric and religion would be several times larger than what we had anticipated.3 So we asked ourselves what might be of most use to teachers of writing, and the answer, drawn from the initial literature we read, seemed obvious. How should we respond to the emergence of sacred discourses in the otherwise secular space of the writing classroom? This question seemed to us to fit a foundational, if contested, conception of the field, articulated by Patricia Bizzell in 2014:

Composition studies concentrates on students, not texts. We in this field want to know who are students are. What abilities to use language do they bring to the academy? What new kinds of intellectual work are they able to do? What challenges does academic discourse pose for them? (442)

In the context of these questions, the 25th anniversary of Maxine Hairston’s essay went from being fortuitous to methodological.4 Ultimately, we used Bizzell’s questions as a kind of heuristic of productive limitation. We focused our attention on sources in which teacher-scholars were trying to understand their students and their religious motivations.

Of course, thinking about the role of religion in writing and rhetoric requires acquaintance with texts and traditions that are neither strictly pedagogical nor published in the last 25 years. For example, it seemed impossible to produce a bibliography on religion and composition without including Burke’s Rhetoric and Religion, a book whose applications to teaching are not readily apparent. And while Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine might not find its way into many first-year classrooms, its dual canonical status in religious and rhetorical traditions made it impossible to omit. Likewise, our small sample of biblical scholarship would seem to have little to say about composition teaching. Yet we did not think we could exclude the book that so many of our students find to be “a culturally indispensable object” (Perkins 592). Obviously, there is a much greater treasure of Biblical scholarship than we could represent here.

Moreover, if there is a line between composition and rhetoric, it is porous. Thus the bibliography includes works of what we call “rhetorical theory” or “rhetorical history,” works that have nothing explicit to say about classroom experience. Yet they are indispensable for scholars and teachers trying to orient themselves to this area of inquiry. So, one might argue, are many works that do not appear in our bibliography. There are cracks, fissures, and yawning gaps in what we have produced here. But we offer it as introductory rather than exhaustive.

Indeed, it cannot help but be introductory. As we were beginning to wind down our work, College English 79.3 published two more key entries: Michael-John DePalma’s “Reimagining Rhetorical Education: Fostering Writers’ Civic Capacities through Engagement with Religious Rhetorics” and Heather Thomson-Bunn’s “Mediating Discursive Worlds: When Academic Norms and Religious Beliefs Conflict.” We fully expect that, as this bibliography is finalized prior to publication, more scholarship will emerge. Any bibliography, no matter how extensive, can capture only a snippet of an ongoing conversation. The discussion is interminable, and we must necessarily depart while it is still vigorously in progress. But before we do depart, we wish to offer some preliminary observations on our field’s engagement with religion:

  1. The vast majority of literature on religion in composition has focused on Christianity. To a certain extent, that’s to be expected. Given our nation’s particular history and politics, along with our initial focus on classroom encounters, it’s not surprising that Christian tradition5 would manifest itself first. Deborah Holdstein (2008) has gone so far as to assert that Christianity is composition’s religious ideology, and certainly evidence can be found in the thus-far typical clash between academic and religious discourse. Meanwhile, figures like Augustine are seen as fundamental, not only because of Christianity’s enormous influence on Western culture and education, but also because Augustine’s rhetoric is so firmly anchored in the Hellenistic rhetorics that have constituted rhetorical “tradition.” But this tradition continues to evolve. Scholarship on Jewish rhetoric, for example, continues to reveal Hebrew influence on ancient rhetoric, while also offering alternative vocabulary and ideas that expand and enrich our available means of persuasion.
  2. The appearance of Christianity at the fault line between academic and religious discourse raises the question of why other traditions haven’t “caused trouble,” or if they have, why they haven’t been written about more frequently. Alexander and Jarratt (2016) write about Muslim students who identify their faith as a central motivation for their activism. But the students report that their activism has no connection to their classroom experience; it is entirely self sponsored. Meanwhile, we have not encountered stories of the strident Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist student disrupting the working assumptions of a course. Does that circumstance reflect the academic attitudes cultivated in those traditions? Perhaps this silence reflects the expectations of teachers. Can it be that we see the obstreperous Christian student because that’s who we have been looking for?
  3. And what of the strident atheist student? The tone of the “four horsemen” of the “new atheism” (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Hitchens) would seem to set the stage for (paraphrasing Powers) the aggressive, usually white, usually male student who creates a disagreeable atmosphere with simplistic references to the Origin of Species and judgmental condemnation of others. How has this Frankenstein monster not emerged? Perhaps our field’s secular orientation leaves the atheist with little to complain about. But if we are to embark on the rhetorical project that move our nation toward a civil discourse, then certainly we should be risking difficult encounters with atheist students as often as religious students.
  4. To complicate things further, there is the phenomenon of the “nones,” those who do not identity with any religious tradition. This phenomenon might seem to solve the entire problem. If we just wait, religion will wither on the vine. But many of the “nones” would identify as “spiritual but not religious (SBNR).” As Prothero notes, one study on the SBNRs revealed that 9 out of 10 said they prayed: “These ‘Nones,’ in short, are about as irreligious as your average nun” (31). Composition continues to develop an interest in the pedagogical benefits of spirituality, mindfulness, and meditation, whether connected to a religious tradition or not. Can we—should we—connect this interest to students who might identify as nones or SBNR?
  5. Although religion may be replacing race/class/gender as concerns of humanistic inquiry, it cannot erase them as primary challenges to our civic life. We need more scholarship that connects these questions. Surely, for some strident religious students, there is more to their motivation than simply the Bible or their church. It is easy to imagine how perceptions of class might exacerbate the tensions between sacred and secular discourses at the university. Similarly, we need more investigation into the relationships among gender, religion, and writing. In a review of scholarship in the Journal of Communication and Religion, Helen M. Sterk notes a dearth of feminist scholarship at the intersection of rhetoric and religion. In the introduction to Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice, Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice Fernheimer raise a similar concern (xxvi). One can observe an analogous problem in the sample of composition scholarship we have examined here. Meanwhile, we found a great deal of scholarship that links African American literacy and church traditions. If the field is to recognize students’ right to their own language, then we must be able to recognize the religious influences of that language. The multicultural classroom is also the multireligious classroom; we need to better prepare ourselves for this change.
  6. Finally, a point that might inform the previous points. Until now, the field’s methodology has been largely theoretical and pedagogical—that is, driven by critical reflection on pedagogical positions (e.g., how can religious expression be reconciled with critical pedagogies?). Recently, however, scholarship has begun to move toward a wider array of research methodologies. Given the ever-increasing complexity of the American religious landscape, this is a welcome development. In addition, most of the scholarship has focused on discursive rhetorics–writing, speaking, discussing, arguing. Although the field of rhetoric has expanded to reach far beyond these traditional domains, composition scholarship in religion has not, at least not yet. Nor did we find much on the role non-alphabetic technology plays in religious experience, though surely it does. As Catherine Matthew Pavia notes in “Taking Up Faith: Ethical Methods for Studying Writing in Religious Contexts,” “Clearly, there is much to be done in rhetoric and composition that will help not only increase knowledge of the relationships among writing, religion, and faith, but also improve knowledge as we do our best to understand each other’s experiences” (358).6

We hope that what we have produced here will advance the project Pavia describes. To that end, the authors of this bibliography invite questions, suggestions, and criticism via email to Further, we acknowledge that the categories by which we have arranged our entries could be easily challenged. For example, a given entry might belong as thoroughly in the Judaism category as it does in the Bible/Scripture category; another might belong equally to Rhetorical History and Rhetorical Theory. Ultimately, we hope that the arrangement serves simply to manage what would otherwise be a rather unwieldy list. The keyword tags, meanwhile, provide a slightly more precise means of searching the bibliography.


In “Rhetoric of Religion,” Lauren Pernot joined a chorus of voices speaking of a “return” of religion, the sense that the seemingly inevitable secularization of the world was not quite so inevitable after all. Religion, it turned out, was not simply fading away:

This is why it’s important—and perhaps why it is the duty of us academics and intellectuals—to find new ways of thinking about religion in a world where unthinking and depraved uses of religion can be dangerous. (236)

Pernot’s call raises two questions: Should composition imagine our proto-public spaces as the place, or at least one of the places, where we find new ways of thinking about religion? Can our understanding of rhetorical topoi help re-map the changing landscape of American religious life? Certainly, such a project might seem to risk the “mission creep,” which, as Patricia Roberts-Miller observes, already infects attitudes toward the first-year course (219). Surely, we cannot add “cultivating religious pluralism” to a list of tasks that is already far too long? Perhaps not. But if we were to undertake this objective, we could find warrant for it as part of our larger democratic project. Despite claims of an inevitable secularization, religion endures. For the foreseeable future, religious literacy will appear to be a basic requirement for civic life. Cultivating that literacy cannot fall to composition alone, but nor can composition remain religiously illiterate. Surely, many of the sources we have gathered here can and should become required reading for all writing teachers, regardless of particular scholarly interest. Then, the strident religious student might no longer befuddle us, even as we challenge cocksure assertion and clumsy exegesis. Nor might the new kinds of “religious” students who enter our classroom, whether they be fundamentalists from different traditions, spiritual-but-not-religious nones, or avowed atheists. All of these will bring their own sets of beliefs, beliefs that, supernatural or not, are held sacred.


Introductory Articles
Classroom Pedagogy
Administrative Curriculum, Institution, Program
Research Methodologies
Feminism, Women’s Religious Rhetoric
Scripture Biblical Rhetoric
Buddhism and Zen
Contemplation, Meditation, Mindfulness
Rhetorical History
Rhetorical Theory
Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation

Because these sections overlap, we have also provided tags for each annotation; readers seeking to find related work can search through the bibliography for related tags. A list of tags is below.


Academic Discourse
Apocalyptic Rhetoric/Apocalypticism
Basic Writers
Civic Rhetoric
Classical Rhetoric
Cognitive Linguistics
Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy
Cultural Studies
Interpretive Community
Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology
Literary Theory/Literary Criticism
New Criticism
Prophetic Rhetoric
Public Education
Public Sphere/Square
Queer Discourse
Rhetorical History
Rhetorical Theory
Social Constructionism
Social Epistemic
Socioeconomic Class
Student Writing
Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation
Technical Writing
Womanist Theology
Writing Centers


  1. Or, perhaps, get ignored, as suggested by the response to Hairston in College Composition and Communication 44.2. Of the six authors who responded to Hairston, only William Thelin mentioned her charge that religion would be silenced in an openly political classroom. Thelin did not claim that religion would be welcomed in the kind of politicized classroom he was defending. Instead, he insisted that, because religion could challenge dominant ideas of reason and rationality, it could not be construed as apolitical (Thelin 252). Religion might be welcomed but only because of its potential political effects. The other five respondents, meanwhile, declined to take up the question of religion. return
  2. At least in composition. Theology and religious education have taken note of Freire’s work, and his religion certainly plays a role in those studies. See, for instance, John L. Elias, “Paulo Freire: Religious Educator,” Religious Education 71.1 (1976): 40-46 or Daniel S. Schipani, Paulo Freire: Educador Cristiano, Grand Rapids: Libros Desafio, 2002. return
  3. The presence of some historical works, works that might not naturally fit the bibliography’s eventual shape, suggest our original ambition to produce a bibliography of “rhetoric and religion.” But we decided to leave in anything and everything we had annotated, reasoning that the larger the boundaries (even if in protean form), the more use the bibliography would be for researchers. return
  4. Of course, scholars were writing about the religious student in the classroom before 1992. See Robert P. Yagleski’s “Religion and Conformity in the Writing Classroom” (Radical Teacher 38 [1988] 26-29) or Wally Metts’s “Tips for Teaching Religious Fanatics” (English Journal 70.3 [1981]: 44-45). return
  5. Here we follow Vander Lei et al. in using “tradition” (instead of “the” tradition) to acknowledge the “many historical strands of Christian thought and practice” (vii). return
  6. For a sampling of such new methodologies, see the two 2015 special issues of Written Communication on religion, writing and rhetoric. Editors Christina Haas and Abigail Bakke note that the original idea was to have one special issue on religion, but the number of quality submissions necessitated a second (120). return

Works Cited

  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Susan C. Jarratt. “Rhetorical Education and Student Activism.” College English 76.6 (2014): 525-544. Print.
  • Anderson, Chris. “The Description of Embarrassment: When Students Write about Religion.” ADE Bulletin 94 (1998): 12-15. Print.
  • Anson, Chris. “Response Styles and Ways of Knowing.” Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Ed. Chris Anson. Urbana: NCTE, 1989. 332-366. Print.
  • Bernard-Donals, Michael, and Janice W. Fernheimer. “Introduction.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer. Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. vii-xxx.
  • Berthoff, Ann E. “Introductory Remarks.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 237-238. Print.
  • Bizzell, Patricia. “We Want to Know Who are Students Are.” PMLA 129.3 (2014): 442-447. Print.
  • Bleich, David. “Literacy and Citizenship: Resisting Social Values.” The Right to Literacy. Eds. Andrea A. Lunsford, Helene Moglen, and James Slevin. NY: MLA, 1990. 163-169. Print.
  • Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2006. Print.
  • Daniell, Beth. “Composing (As) Power.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 238-46. Print.
  • —. “Narratives of Literacy: Connecting Composition to Culture.” College Composition and Communication 50.3 (1999): 393-410. Print.
  • Downs, Douglas. “True Believers, Real Scholars, and Real True Believing Scholars: Discourses of Inquiry and Affirmation in the Composition Classroom.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie L. Kyburz, 39-55. Print.
  • Elias, John L. “Paulo Freire: Religious Educator.” Religious Education 71.1 (1976): 40-46. Print.
  • Ferry, Christopher. “Liberation Theology and Liberatory Pedagogy: Spiritual Teaching in the Real World.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 148-156. Print.
  • —. “When the Distressed Teach the Oppressed: Toward an Understanding of Communion and Commitment.” JAEPL 2 (1996-97): 27-33. Print.
  • Fish, Stanley. “One Nation Under God?” 7 Jan 2005. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.
  • Goodburn, Amy. “It’s a Question of Faith: Discourses of Fundamentalism and Critical Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” JAC 18.2 (1998): 333-53. Print.
  • Haas, Christina, and Abigail Bakke. “Introduction to the Special Issue on Writing and Ritual, Faith Communities, and Religious Practices.” Written Communication 32.2 (2015): 120.
  • Hairston, Maxine. “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing.” College Composition and Communication 43.2 (1992): 179-193. Print.
  • Holdstein, Deborah. “The Rhetorical Ideology of Composition Studies.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Ed. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2008. 13-21. Print.
  • Pavia, Catherine Matthews. “Taking Up Faith: Ethical Methods for Studying Writing in Religious Contexts.” Written Communication 32.4 (2015): 336-67.
  • Perkins, Priscilla. “‘A Radical Conversion of the Mind’: Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics, and the Metanoic Classroom.” College English 63.5 (May 2001): 585-611. Print.
  • Pernot, Laurent. “The Rhetoric of Religion.” Rhetorica 24.3 (2006): 235-54. Print.
  • Powers, Peter Kerry. “A Clash of Civilizations: Religious and Academic Discourses in the English Classroom.” Profession (2008): 66-73. Print.
  • Rand, Lizabeth A. “Enacting Faith: Evangelical Discourse and the Discipline of Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication (2001): 349-367. Print.
  • Rorty, Richard. “Religion as Conversation-Stopper.” Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin, 2000. 168-174. Print.
  • Ringer, Jeffrey. “Dogma of Inquiry: Composition and the Primacy of Faith.” Rhetoric Review 32.3 (2013): 349-365. Print.
  • —. Vernacular Christian Rhetoric and Civil Discourse: The Religious Creativity of Evangelical Student Writers. New York: Routledge, 2016. Print.
  • Roberts-Miller, Patricia. Deliberate Conflict: Argument, Political Theory, and Composition Classes. Carbondale: SIUP, 2007. Print.
  • Schipani, Daniel S. Paulo Freire: Educador Cristiano. Grand Rapids: Libros Desafio, 2002. Print.
  • Smart, Juanita M. “‘Frankenstein or Jesus Christ?’: When the Voice of Faith Creates a Monster for the Composition Teacher.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie L. Kyburz, 11-23. Print.
  • Sterk, Helen M. “Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship: The Journal of Communication and Religion, 1999-2009.” Journal of Communication and Religion 33.2 (2010): 206-216. Print.
  • Thelin, William H., et al. “Responses to ‘Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing.’” College Composition and Communication 42.2 (1993): 248-56. Print.
  • Thomson-Bunn, Heather. “Empirical Hybridity: A Multimethodological Approach for Studying Religious Rhetorics.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 125-140. Print.
  • —. “Mediating Discursive Worlds: When Academic Norms and Religious Belief Conflict.” College English 79.1 (2017): 276-296. Print.
  • Vander Lei, Elizabeth, and Bonnie Leonore Kyburz. Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. Print.
  • Vander Lei, Elizabeth, et al., Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014. Print.
  • Vander Lei, Elizabeth. “‘Where the Wild Things Are’: Christian Students in the Figured Worlds of Composition Research.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 66-85. Print.

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Introductory Articles

Anderson, Chris. “The Description of Embarrassment: When Students Write about Religion.” ADE Bulletin 94 (1998): 12-15. Print.

Anderson begins his article with a representative anecdote in which a graduate instructor presents him with an undergraduate paper. The paper offers an overt and over-confident appeal to religious authority, and the graduate student wants to know how sharply she should critique her pupil’s work. Anderson shares the instructor’s reservations about the work, but he also has reservations about the instructor’s reaction, which he suggests assumes the same over-confident authority. He sees the two attitudes as equally dogmatic.

Anderson then reads the situation from the theoretical perspectives then current in the field. The dominant social-epistemic perspective would surely critique the Platonism of the undergraduate’s religious claims, but Anderson cautions that social-epistemic rhetoric risks the same kind of transcendent perspective unless it can turn its own irony on itself. If this is true, he argues, then the instructor’s response, however understandable, must find a more complex and nuanced articulation.

That articulation would acknowledge not only that religious rhetoric is appropriate for many contexts (though perhaps not the academic), but also that allegedly non-religious rhetorics always operate with their own a priori, unquestioned premises. That is, the very criticism so often leveled at religious rhetoric can also be leveled at all rhetorical discourses. Because religion does overtly what so many discourses do covertly, Anderson suggests that composition courses should include study of religious rhetoric, not solely from a critical perspective (i.e., one that would simply undermine the foundations of religious discourse), but also from an inventive perspective (i.e., one that would allow students to examine their own commitments). Finally, the essay closes with the reading of another undergraduate student essay, one that offers the sort of critical and inventive perspective he recommends.

Tags: Belief, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Expressivism, Faith, Pedagogy, Social Epistemic


Amorose, Thomas. “Resistance to Rhetoric in Christian Tradition.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 135-149. Print.

Written as a closing response to the contribution in Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition, Ambrose’s article argues that Christian tradition has resisted rhetoric. It is for this reason that many of the figures in the preceding chapters are outsiders on the margins of the traditional or mainstream Christianity of their day. Ambrose begins by noting the central role that language plays in Christianity. However, Ambrose holds that Christianity has resisted the full implication of language’s centrality. Christianity, Ambrose argues, emphasizes the ways in which the rhetoric is subject to outside forces (inspiration, scripture, spirit) more than the way the rhetor can affect those forces through discourse. Human agency is therefore downplayed, an attitude that seems opposed to the role of human agency and rhetorical dynamis. Ambrose observes a second resistance to rhetoric in arguments over authority and interpretation. As a hermeneutic art, rhetoric can appear as a threat to authoritative interpretation.

The third and final resistance is revealed in Christian attitudes toward what Ambrose calls “worldviews,” the belief systems and structures people hold even prior to critical thinking and engagement (146-49). These worldviews are often so deeply embedded that they seem beyond the reach of persuasion. In addition, Ambrose wonders whether Christianity is too content or comfortable with the current worldview of late modernism. If so, he reasons, perhaps Christians find no use for rhetoric, since nothing needs to be challenged or changed.

Ambrose argues that all three of these issues contribute to a general resistance to rhetorical activity in Christianity. This resistance is manifested in the number of contributors to Renovating Rhetoric who focus on rhetorical figures at the margins of their faith communities.

Tags: Agency, Belief, Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Rhetorical History


Booth, Wayne C. “Ending the War Between Science and Religion: Can Rhetorology Do the Job?” Professing Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 2000 Rhetoric Society of America Conference. Eds. Frederick J. Antczak, Cinda Goggins, and Geoffrey D. Klinger. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum, 2002. 223-234. Print.

Booth argues that the fight between science and religion tends to be resolved, or at least tabled, in one of three ways: diplomacy, tolerance, or relativism. The first of these approaches claims that religion and science deal with different spheres of human experience and therefore need not clash at all. In the second approach, one holds that one’s perspective (e.g., religious or scientific) is truly the right one but allows the other side to pursue its misguided inquiry, and the third simply says that there is no certain truth and therefore no point in arguing. Finding each of these unsatisfactory, Booth pursues a project he calls “rhetorology” (224-25), which does not study persuasion per se, but rather inquiry into deep commitments in order to reveal assumptions on which rhetorical opponents might actually agree.

Booth then articulates this project of rhetorology by offering a set of “marks,” or topoi, that would characterize a rigorous conversation about science and religion. He fashions a list of seven: 1) the assumption that the world is somehow “broken”; 2) the values implied in this assumption; 3) the belief that there is in creation a cosmos or order against which one makes the judgment of the world’s brokenness; 4) the sense that one is part of the brokenness; 5) the sense that one is obliged by the cosmos to participate in fixing it; 6) the sense that one must meet this obligation even at personal cost; and 7) the emotions or feelings associated with these orientations. This list of topoi, Booth argues, offers a more sustainable, inventive approach to the logomachy between science and religion. However, at the close of the essay, Booth also acknowledges that belief in a divinity (G-d or God, Providence or a Higher Power) may represent an insurmountable barrier to rapprochement, and he suggests that further inquiry must pursue the role a divinity may play in the ongoing conversation.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Science/Religion


Booth, Wayne C. “Rhetoric and Religion: Are They Essentially Wedded?” Radical Pluralism and Truth: David Tracy and the Hermeneutics of Religion. Eds. Werner G. Jeanrond and Jennifer L. Rike. New York: Crossroad, 1991, 62-80. Print.

In this collection dedicated to the influence of the theologian David Tracy, Wayne Booth spends much of his time explaining the modern history of rhetoric’s decline to an audience of non-rhetoricians. Part of Booth’s purpose here is to demonstrate that rhetoric and religion have both suffered at the hands of the same impulse to make a certain view of science the yardstick by which all discourse is measured (i.e., that truth comes only in positivist form). Moverover, he makes the following blunt claim: “That rhetoric and religion are somehow related has been obvious to everyone who has ever thought about it” (62). This proposition is later taken up by Jost and Olmtead as a rationale for their seminal 2001 collection Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry. Booth offers an even more “assertive” version of the question: “Why will the student of rhetoric be led, inescapably led—provided that he or she pushes the inquiry will full rigor—to religion?” (63). Following Burke, Booth holds that language will always ultimately push toward the transcendent. Any logology requires a theology to ground it and validate it.

Booth insists that religion and rhetoric are in a relationship of mutual dependence: each needs the other to sustain their particular inquiries. Concerning rhetoric, he argues that it’s in the field’s best interest to help all others see how the rhetorical arts already pervade their disciplines. Concerning religion, meanwhile, Booth argues that it must escape the enclaves in divinity schools. His final claim is thus twofold: for an extended “rhetorology” (a study of the way rhetoric operates in other fields, such a law or economics) and  an extended theology, one deepened by a rhetorical inquiry.

Tags: Burke, Disciplinarity, Rhetorical Theory, Theology


Darsey, James, and Joshua R. Ritter. “Religious Voices in American Public Discourse.” The Sage Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Rosa A. Eberly, Kirt H. Wilson, and Andrea A. Lunsford. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009, 553-586. Print.

Darsey and Ritter provide a massive and thorough literature review of scholarship on religious rhetoric. Their discussion focuses on several key questions: What is religious rhetoric? What are its boundaries? Can American religious rhetoric be observed and studied in way that distinguishes confessional or denominational religion from America’s civic religion? They divide American religious rhetoric into four main genres: the sermon, the jeremiad, prophetic rhetoric, and apocalyptic rhetoric. They further divide American religious history into five great awakenings. The first three are well established historically: the first awakening is associated with the nation’s colonial beginnings; the second is found in the early decades of the 19th century in the wake of the republic’s foundation; the third occurs after the horror of the Civil War.

The fourth and fifth, they admit, are less well established. The fourth, they argue, emerges in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s, reckoning with the experience of World War II, Americans seemed to experience a collective crisis of faith. This crisis led some to turn back to more traditional notions of religion, led by preachers such as Billy Graham. In the 1960s, however, this seeming retrenchment gave way to a far more exploratory period. Traditional religious rhetoric seemed to find its greatest expression in the Civil Rights movement while many began to explore spiritualities outside of mainstream Christianity. These events lead to the what the authors suggest is a Fifth Great Awakening, manifest in the reaction to the turbulence of the 1960s. They locate this conflict in the culture wars and the battles over gay rights, abortion, and the teaching of evolution. Finally, they suggest that the contemporary period is experiencing a “postmodern unravelling” (569), in which the generic Christian foundation of American civil religion is giving away to greater plurality. This pluralism, they argue, is not yet represented in rhetorical studies. The authors are also critical of rhetoric’s engagement with religion, arguing that not enough attention has been paid to gender, non-Christian religious traditions, and arguments within particular traditions.

Tags: Genre, Preaching/Sermons, Prophetic Rhetoric, Public Sphere/Square, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Dowden, Ken. “Rhetoric and Religion.” A Companion to Greek Rhetoric. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010. 320-336. Print.

Dowden offers an overview of the religious rhetoric of ancient Greece. He begins by noting that such rhetoric had at least two audiences and two purposes: not only did it seek to appease the gods, it also sought to reassure the community of the stability and power of the polis. Prayer, hymn, and procession are the three main focuses of the article. Prayer offers the overt and explicit occasion of religious rhetoric–that is, persuasion invented through speech. Nevertheless, he cautions, prayer cannot be understood apart from a larger performative context. Thus, his overview includes both hymn, which (although speech-based) reaches for a different key or register, and procession, which offers a rhetoric that is not based primarily or exclusively in speech.

Because there is no book of prayer in Greek rhetoric, Dowden turns to wider Greek literature (drama, epic, history, lyric poetry) in order to observe the habits of ancient Greek prayer. Although this circumstance makes it impossible to discern a clear category of prayer, it also offers the advantage of revealing prayer in a larger context. Homer’s Iliad depicts scenes in which prayer unfolds through the setting of a scene (e.g., the arrangement of cattle), prayer, action (the sacrifice of the cattle), and conclusion (the community feast in which hymns are sung). Prayer, Dowden notes, is intimately linked to sacrifice. In prayer, a divinity is addressed by a celebrant, or orator, who assumes certain posture and dress. Dowden notes that the prayers feature familiar moves such as proemion and argument, but they also contain particular types of invocation. Hymns, meanwhile, offer a particular type of epideictic rhetoric arranged in a structure similar to that of prayer: the muses are invoked to help call upon the gods; attention is drawn to the generous sacrifice offered in the ritual in order to secure the goodwill of the deities; reference is made to the deeds and accomplishments of the deities; then the hymn closes with a final request for kindness from the god.

Finally, the article moves to the procession, which Dowden describes as another key form of rhetorical exhibition or epideixis. Dowden notes that the procession is in a sense unnecessary if prayer is understood exclusively as an address to a god. The central importance of procession indicates that religious rhetoric is intended for a human audience as much as a divine one. Like the more discursive religious rhetorics of prayer and hymn, the religious procession (as opposed to non-religious processions) follows a particular structure and grammar. Most importantly, if we are to understand ancient Greek religious rhetoric in its fullest sense, study must include not only the language of persuasion but also its rituals.

Tags: Genre, Prayer, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Downs, Douglas. “True Believers, Real Scholars, and Real True Believing Scholars: Discourses of Inquiry and Affirmation in the Composition Classroom.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 39-55. Print.

Downs begins with what has become one of the most widely quoted representative anecdotes in all of composition’s literature on religious rhetoric: the story of “Keith,” a student who writes a paper opposing gay adoption. Keith, whom Downs describes as an orthodox Mormon, delivers a series of arguments based solely in religious doctrines, and Downs rebukes the one-sided diatribe with his own, dismissing the paper as nothing more than a religious screed.

Reflecting on the uncharacteristic heat of his response, Downs comes to several conclusions. Most centrally, he draws on the discourse theory of James Gee to distinguish between discourses of inquiry and discourses of affirmation, between “real scholars” and “true believers” (42-43). Keith, Downs surmises, is a true believer who is being asked to write as a real scholar and is not ready to. The discourses of inquiry and affirmation rely on different epistemologies; responses to order; responses to culture; and tolerance for change, challenge, and complexity.

The instructor who encounters a true believer has to account for these differences by assuming different roles, depending on the situation. The instructor must be a guide, translator, mentor, or coach. Through this repertoire, Downs suggests teachers can avoid the sort of impasse he encounters with Keith.

Tags: Academic Discourse, Christian/Christianity, Composition, Mormonism, Pedagogy, Student Writing


Jackson, Brian. “Defining Religious Rhetoric: Scope and Consequence” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 17-30. Print.

Jackson’s essay addresses the basic problem of defining the word “religious,” a term that requires definition if scholars are to observe and analyze religious rhetoric. Jackson sketches a two-category taxonomy of religion, the inclusive approach and the supernatural approach. As the term suggests, the inclusive approach defines religion in the widest way possible. This broad category recognizes the religiosity of many activities, affiliations, and attitudes that do not at first glance appear to be religious. If religion is understood as something that makes claims, urges ethics, and evokes emotions, then religious rhetoric may be stretched to include secularism and even atheism. By contrast, the supernatural approach insists that the claim of supernatural beings must be the  prerequisite for rhetoric that would be understood as religious. Religious rhetoric, therefore, must have something to do with communicating “to, from, or about” beings or forces beyond the human (25).

Jackson endorses the supernatural over the inclusive on several grounds. First, the inclusive limits and manages the range of discourse that can be called religious. Second, it more accurately captures the essence of religious rhetoric. Finally, insisting on this understanding of the term “religious” does justice to the religious aspirations of religious rhetors. That is, it take religious rhetoric seriously on its own terms rather than judging or critiquing such rhetoric on a different set of criteria.

Tags: Genre, Sacred, Secular/Sacred


Pernot, Laurent. “The Rhetoric of Religion.” Rhetorica 24.3 (2006): 235-54. Print.

In this plenary address at the 15th biennial congress of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, Pernot urges rhetoricians to re-engage with religion. Arguing that the 21st century will witness the “return” of religion, Pernot argues that it is “the duty of . . . academics and intellectuals . . . to find new ways of thinking about religion in a world where unthinking and depraved uses of religion can be dangerous” (236). The article also argues that “religious rhetoric” is a particular species of communication, one common both to pagan and Christian communities. The challenge is to discern what makes a given rhetoric religious, no matter its particular cultural or historical origins.

Pernot then offers a taxonomy for understanding religious rhetoric. This taxonomy includes three species: speaking about the gods, speaking to the gods, and the gods’ own speaking. All of these modes, Pernot insists, have parallels in classical rhetorical theory. Rhetoric about the gods includes forms such as narration, eulogy, and preaching. Narration has precedent in the progymnasmata, eulogy in epideictic, and preaching in deliberative. Discourse addressed to the gods would include prayer and meditation, which equally find precedent in both pagan and Christian rhetoric.

Finally, Pernot offers the Sacred Tales of Aelius Aristides as a kind of case study for his argument. A second century Greek orator of the Second Sophistic, Aelius Aristides left a kind of memoir of his experiences of being cared for by the god Aesculapius. Pernot describes the god’s intervention as a kind of divine music therapy that includes a great deal of rhetorical advice. From this reading, Pernot suggests that the ancient world offers a religious rhetoric with a distinctive character that includes both pagan and Christian expression.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Prayer, Sophists


Schiller, Susan. “The Dance of Spirit in AEPL and Beyond.” JAEPL 20 (204-15): 28-34.

Schiller reviews the history of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning (AEPL), which is one of the key scholarly groups studying spiritual matters in the classroom. She divides her chronicle into four main periods: the period of emerging interest in 1991-93; the founding and early development of AEPL in 1994-97; the expansion of the group from 1997-2014; and then the present moment of 2014. AEPL grew initially out of conference presentations in the early 1990s that were focused on spiritual or non-cognitive matters in learning. This led to the official formation of the group as an affiliate of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in 1993. As the founding members of the group began presenting more frequently at CCCC, they began to recognize ever-wider interest in the non-cognitive aspects of learning. That interest motivated the group to found the Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning around 1994. A regular conference soon followed, as did a number of important books in writing studies, including Presence of Mind (1994) and The Spiritual Side of Writing (1997), which indicated growing interest. She also notes several works published outside of writing studies, including Parker Palmer’s Courage to Teach (1998), that also suggested widespread interest in the issues motivating AEPL. In addition to these works, Schiller lists several international conferences and organizations on “the whole learner” that also emerged during this period (29). Finally, she concludes with a look to the future, proposing that there is more work that needs to be done to make spiritual issues a more frequent topic of inquiry.

Tags: Academy, Disciplinarity, Spirituality


Spina, Luigi. “Fall and Rise of Religion and Rhetoric.” Rhetorica 26.3 (2008): 209-220. Print.

Originally offered as the plenary address at the 2007 biennial conference for the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, Spina calls for renewed study into the connections between rhetoric and religion. Spina first turns to Exodus 4:10-17 in which the Lord calls Moses to be his mouthpiece to the Egyptians, and Moses begs off, citing his inability to speak well. Eventually, the Lord relents and sends Moses’s brother Aaron to help him. Spina offers this passage as a way to understand the relationship between religion and rhetoric, a relationship that “manifest[s] itself in the transformation of the rhetorical triangle” (211). How are we to understand a form of communication that not only goes beyond the human but above it? Spina develops a three-part taxonomy of religious communication: from God to human, from human to God, and from human to human. This taxonomy provides a loose structure for the article, which otherwise offers a series of ideas meant to invite reflection rather than insist on a conclusion. Spina suggests, for example, that just as rhetoric can contribute to the success of religion, religion may well contribute to the success of rhetoric.

Echoing Lauren Pernot, Spina also insists that scholars should distinguish between the “religious,” a phenomenon common to all cultures, as opposed to “religions,” understood as the particular cultural and historical manifestations of the religious (214). In the same way, Spina writes, we should distinguish between the rhetorical and rhetoric(s). Finally, and perhaps most provocatively, Spina cautions against rhetoricians against confronting religion in the same way he thinks they have confronted “Truth.”

Tags: Bible, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Zulick, Margaret D. “Rhetoric of Religion: A Map of the Territory.” The SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Rosa A Eberly, Kirt H. Wilson, and Andrea H. Lunsford. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2009. 125-139. Print.

Zulick offers an overview of the current state of inquiry into rhetoric and religion. She argues that although both “appear to be universal to the human condition,” “rarely are they correlated in the course of human inquiry” (125). She argues that the field requires more systematic inquiry, and she suggests three areas of inquiry: contemporary rhetorical theory; Biblical rhetoric, including both the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible; and finally American religious rhetoric. She then proceeds to offer a thorough and extended literature review of each of these areas.

The first area of inquiry focuses on the role of the transcendent in rhetorical consciousness, particularly in the work of Kenneth Burke. The second focuses first on Augustine’s Christian repurposing of the rhetorical tradition with the Bible as the central source of rhetorical interpretation and invention. The second section then turns to studies of rhetoric in the New Testament, which uses the Greek pistis (proof) for the word “faith.” Her third and final suggested avenue of inquiry focuses on the Hebrew Bible. As in the second section on the New Testament, her discussion here focuses on current developments in Old Testament scholarship, particularly around questions of the chronology and authorship of the OT texts. Finally, she turns to American religious rhetoric. She notes that much of the work in this area has focused on prophetism and apocalyptic and examines work in these two areas.

Tags: Apocalyptic Rhetoric/Apocalypticism, Bible, Burke, Prophetic Rhetoric, Scripture

Classroom Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan, and Susan C. Jarratt. “Rhetorical Education and Student Activism.” College English 76.6 (2014): 525-544. Print.

Alexander and Jarratt discuss the case of the “Irvine 8,” a group from the University of California-Irvine’s Muslim Student Union who were arrested after repeatedly interrupting a speech by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Seeking to understand the rhetorical decisions made by the protesters, the authors interview five of them. Their purpose is to discern the “genealogies of activism” (542) that led to their involvement. Several of them describe family histories of activism, along with oppression and imprisonment, in their families’s countries of origin in the Middle East. These histories contribute to their sense that the world is broken and needs to be fixed.

Though the article does not make religion itself a central object of study, many of the students cite their families’ religious commitment as a motivation. Some of the students also cite their own religious observance. Moreover, the Muslim Student Union also encourages its members to practice their faith and to draw upon it as motivation for activism. One student quite explicitly “linked the group’s activism to deeply held religious conviction that necessitated, if not demanded, engagement” (532).

The authors’ ultimate interest lies in the rhetorical choices behind the students’ strategy of interruption as their response to Oren’s speech. Although the students are quite deliberate and detailed in chronicling the development of this strategy, religion recedes to the background. Religion appears to be a motivation for engaging in activism but not a resource for the type of activism chosen. Unfortunately, the students in question say that their courses in rhetoric and writing had little or nothing to do with their strategy. They often cite self-sponsored reading and writing or the content of more advanced courses, but their first-year courses do not seem to have affected their approach.

Tags: Civic Rhetoric, FYC, Islam/Muslim, Public Sphere/Square


Bizzell, Patricia. “Faith-Based Worldviews as a Challenge to the Believing Game.” JAEPL 14.2 (2008-09): 29-35. Print.

Bizzell begins by arguing that emotions offer a basic challenge for an academic playing the believing game. Academics, she argues, can play the believing game regarding an intellectual position, but emotions may present complications. These kinds of complications become even more difficult when the position in question is religious. Though academics may try to dismiss religious positions as inappropriate for the classroom, Bizzell argues that this response is unsustainable, given that many students may in fact be religious and willing to consider religious arguments. Moreover, although religious arguments may seem inappropriate for the academy, they are common in public discourse.

Religious belief, Bizzell concludes, presents the most serious challenge to the believing game. Its engagement of emotion presents a problem. Bizzell claims that emotions remain undertheorized in rhetorical studies. Here, Bizzell turns to theorists such as Daniel Gross and Lynn Worsham to argue for paying greater attention to emotion; she then closely examines Sharon Crowley’s account of “densely articulated” ideologic positions (78-79). If we take religious belief as an example of such a position, then it is not surprising that faith would present unique challenges to the working of the believing game.

Bizzell finally turns to Sharon Carter’s work “Living inside the Bible (Belt),” which she praises for its respectful treatment of religious faith. However, she finds one key shortcoming–namely, the lack of any discussion of Carter’s own religious experience (Carter makes passing reference to being a lapsed Catholic). Without the self-examination that a “full immersion” in the believing game requires, it cannot be said to have practiced “in good faith” (34). In other words, to bracket religious faith even respectfully is still to bracket it. Instead, Bizzell recommends positions outlined by Kristine Hansen in her “Religious Freedom in the Public Square and the Composition Classroom.” Students should be allowed to write about their religion for four reasons: they have a right to do so, philosophical liberalism provides an inadequate framework for human experience; faith-based arguments have served many progressive causes; and faith-based arguments continue to wield a powerful influence in American life.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Belief, Public Sphere/Square


Bleich, David. “Literacy and Citizenship: Resisting Social Values.” The Right to Literacy. Eds. Andrea A. Lunsford, Helene Moglen, and James Slevin. New York: MLA, 1990. 163-169. Print.

 In this brief chapter, Bleich argues that students want to discuss social issues (racism, classism, homophobia) in spite of that fact that these issues can make them uncomfortable. Bleich theorizes that sexist ideology may be behind student resistance to difficult issues. But ultimately, he traces the problem to the prevalence of individualism. He accuses religion of colluding with individualism to reinforce such resistance. Bleich defines “religious values” as those that demarcate the individual soul as the “unit” of salvation (168). He also argues that there are only two social categories in religious thought: the individual and the entire human race. While he complains that salvation is an individual act, he also complains that it is granted by a masculine priesthood, except where there is no priesthood, in which case individuals choose salvation by themselves. Finally, he notes that 20% of a class of 140 students cite their religion in their rejection of homosexual behavior.

Tags: Ideology, Gender, Race


Browning, Mark. “Your Logos Against Mine.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists 6 (1999): 8-13. Print.

Browning makes the case for allowing religiously-based arguments into the composition classroom. He laments the exclusion of such arguments, an exclusion he observes in contemporary textbooks and readers available for first-year writing courses. He notes that King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” makes repeated appearances in such books, but often the religiously-related arguments included in such works focus on critiques of religious experience. Browning goes on to question why religious evidence should be held to a higher standard than other forms of evidence. He suggests that many “secular” writers, who would easily pass muster as sources for arguments,  depend on edifices of thought that could easily be called into question. Yet, he argues, religious thinkers are singled out for greater scrutiny and challenge.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Secular/Sacred


Cain, Jeffrey P. “(Sacra)Mentality: Catholic Identity in the Postmodern Classroom.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 167-183. Print.

Cain’s project is to appraise the Catholic intellectual tradition and its relationship to writing instruction in Catholic colleges and universities. As Cain notes, Catholic identity is a contested concept, even within the Church itself. Nevertheless, Cain offers John Paull II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) as an example of a more hegemonic statement of that identity, one that Cain goes on to interrogate through Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “Body without Organs” (BwO). Cain uses this concept to suggest that, while the Church might like to see the University and itself as stable “organisms,” the BwO suggests that these identities are far more fluid, contextual, and constantly unfolding. Cain insists that this essentially postmodern insight does not, as Ex Corde might suggest, undermine Catholic identity. Instead, it recognizes the immanence of that identity, an immanence that abides even in fluidity. The BwO opens up more possibilities, Cain argues, but it also limits possibilities. The body does not have organs that fix its identity, but it is still a body.

The key figure of thought here is chiasmus, in which two clauses are presented in reversed structure, as in “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The cross itself is then offered as a kind of chiasmus that not only links the dualisms of a suffering god but embodies a third term that traverses these oppositions. Even in the central Christian symbol, then, one sees paradox and complexity rather than organic or hegemonic unity.

Cain finally interrogates his own response to a student paper exploring the topic of science and religion. While he praises the paper an excellent piece of academic work, Cain also wonders whether he should have challenged the paper from the postmodern perspective he has developed. Such further exploration might have revealed to the student the chiastic relationship between faith and doubt.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Science/Religion


Carter, Shannon. “Living inside the Bible (Belt).” College English 69.6 (2007): 572-595. Print.

Carter discusses how teaching composition in the Bible Belt has forced her to confront her own intolerance for difference. Specifically, Carter discusses how her students’ evangelical Christianity seems so opposed to what Carter takes to be her own intellectual and pedagogical stance. As she notes, however, there is a growing literature in composition that acknowledges that the assumptions and aspirations of critical pedagogy resemble those of many evangelical religious students. Both critical pedagogy and religion would help adherents make meaning of the world toward which they offer a skeptical witness. Carter admits that she shares with her students a desire to save a corrupted world from itself. Carter offers a similar analysis of the differences between academic and religious communities, both of which have faiths (sets of tacit assumptions from which to work) and orthodoxies (opinions that are held to be beyond discussion).

Because of the deep ways in which evangelical students identify with their religious backgrounds, Carter suggests it is futile, even counterproductive, to position academic literacy against religious literacy. Instead, Carter calls for rhetorical dexterity, which would allow students to toggle between these discourses without having to make a choice between them. Against a model of “autonomous literacy,” which holds literacy to be a context-free portable skill, Carter offers “rhetorical dexterity” which would encourage students to recognize both their academic and religious discourse communities as such, thus recognizing their similarities as well as their differences (579). Finally, Carter discusses the experiences of several students who struggle to negotiate their religious identities with their academic identities.

Tags: Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Pedagogy, Rhetorical Theory


Casaregola, Vincent. “What We Talk about When We Talk about Voice: Reintegrating the Oral in the Current Writing Classroom.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 379-96. Print.

Casaregola calls for an assessment of how digital technologies have affected the oral/aural environment of the classroom. He notes that he often finds his students before class, not making small talk, but silently engaged with their devices. Though he remains in favor of the use of digital technology in education, he argues that the reduced use of the voice in the classroom has a negative effect on students’ ability to communicate successfully and empathetically.

Drawing on Walter Ong, Casaregola describes the spoken voice as the communication medium that most communicates a sense of presence, since listening to a voice involves actually resonating with the other. New media technologies must be assessed with an eye to unintended consequences and the total media environment, such as for their effect on the use of the voice. Since, in his view, that work has not been done with regard to digital technology but teachers must reckon with its effects, he argues for a concerted effort to bring the spoken voice back into the classroom through performance informed by Jesuit pedagogy.

The Ratio Studiorum, the foundational Jesuit handbook of education and rhetoric, closely integrates oral and written performance. The sixteenth-century manual includes curriculum for training Jesuits in written rhetoric as well as music and dramatic performance. In this spirit, Casaregola describes how he has attempted to integrate voice into his composition classrooms, including with the use of new media. He requires performance of written pieces, drawing on the models of oral performance given by public radio and including extensive workshopping of the performance. Final productions can include multimedia such as recordings, video, and visual art. Though he continues to experiment with techniques, Casaregola sees these experiments in “embodied language” (383) as critical for writing instruction, helping students develop a true sense of voice, of orality as lying at the core of language.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Jesuit, Orality/Literacy, Pedagogy


DePalma, Michael-John. “Re-envisioning Religious Discourses as Rhetorical Resources in Composition Teaching: A Pragmatic Response to the Challenge of Belief.” College Composition and Communication 63.2 (December 2011): 219-243. Print.

DePalma opens his essay by observing that, although many strides have been made in accommodating religious discourse in the composition classroom, a question remains: How do we encourage students to draw upon their faith commitments in order to advance academic arguments? This question shifts focus away from religion as a problematic discourse to religion as potential source of available means. To imagine such a project, DePalma turns to the work of William James, whose pragmatic stance would sidestep sharp and simplistic distinctions between academic discourse and religious discourse.

DePalma’s literature review of composition’s examination of religion suggests that the field has tended to adopt a critical stance toward religious discourse. Religion, in other words, should be subject to examination, but should not play a role in invention or resource. He then turns to James in order to articulate what he calls a “fluid” approach rather than a “fixed” approach (222-25). James’s approach to belief is pragmatic. Belief, he argues, should not be judged against some abstract standard of certainty (a certainty that may never be achieved); instead, it should be understood as a response that either works or does not. This is true not simply for religious belief, but for all belief. Sounded in this new key–in which belief is understood not as assertion, but rather response–religious discourse can be heard differently.

Finally, DePalma turns to the personal essay of a student named “Thomas.” Thomas’s essay is marked by many of the moves that composition has hitherto cited as problematic: he cites the Bible uncritically, he speaks of surrender to Jesus, and he adopts a tone of optimism that seems naive. But DePalma reads Thomas’s work from the standpoint of pragmatism and thus finds much to admire in it. For Thomas, experiences leading to ideas become true in the way James uses the word–that is, as something enacted and embodied rather than simply asserted. Moreover, he is using the Bible far more dialogically (and less dogmatically) than it first seems. Although there are undoubtedly issues with this piece of student writing, a pragmatic reading sees the religious tenor as source of rhetorical invention rather than a roadblock.

Tags: Belief, Disciplinarity, Faith, Pragmatism, Student Writing


DePalma, Michael-John. “Reimagining Rhetorical Education: Fostering Writers’ Civic Capacities through Engagements with Religious Rhetorics.” College English 79.3 (2017): 251-275. Print.

DePalma begins by contextualizing growing interest in religion in composition studies within claims that rhetoric is historically and necessarily a pedagogical discipline, concerned with cultivating civic virtues. These two areas of inquiry have developed independently of each other; DePalma seeks to connect them on the grounds that a thorough civic education for the twenty-first century requires a thorough education in religious discourse. Composition has sometimes resisted this engagement, perceiving religious discourses to be “synonymous with rehearsing dogmas, treating beliefs from particular religious traditions or religious texts as universal truths, and perpetuating intolerant and narrow-minded beliefs” (265). In spite of this reaction from some quarters, DePalma notes that more and more writing studies scholars are examining religion not simply as an obstacle to democratic engagement but as a resource for it.

To develop and elucidate his claims, DePalma then turns to three syllabi for courses in rhetoric and religion: Jeffrey Ringer’s course in religious rhetorics, TJ Geiger’s course in rhetoric and spirituality, and DePalma’s own course in “Rhetoric, Religion, and Spiritual Composition” (253). DePalma notes that the universities represented here include a variety of institutions, including a public university in the southeast (Tennessee-Knoxville); a private, non-religious university in the northeast (Syracuse); and a private, Christian university in the south (Baylor in Texas). These three syllabi take seriously the claim that, for many citizens, religion provides a spur and a guide to their involvement in public matters.

DePalma then offers a granular description of each syllabus and the major assignments. He also relates feedback students themselves offered from their experience of these classes. In these experiences, DePalma observes the possibility that students can engage religious issues in ways that not only better attune them to a range of religions, but that also train them to invent language that can appeal to audiences outside their own religious traditions.

Tags: Civic Rhetoric, Disciplinarity, Pedagogy, Spirituality


Dively, Ronda Leathers. “Censoring Religious Rhetoric in the Composition Classroom: What We and Our Students May be Missing.” Compositions Studies 25.1 (1997): 55-66. Print.

Dively opens with an anecdote of reading a set of student course evaluations. She is pleased to hear from a student who welcomed the chance to write about religion, but dismayed to hear the student say that hers is the only class in which this has been possible. Dively concludes that while “the postmodern academy” may value many forms of diversity, religious belief still seems beyond the pale. The author observes the same problem in composition scholarship, which sometimes construes religious students to be unsophisticated and dualistic. Dively counters this impression with descriptions of some of the strong and complex work she has received from religious students.

The essay briefly describes a two-year research project to develop a pedagogy for responding to unsophisticated religious texts written by students. She then turns to an assignment that asks students to compose an essay that discusses the influence of religion on American culture or their personal experience. Although she originally hypothesized that many students would actually submit unsophisticated essays, about half end up submitting work that defies the usual stereotype of religious students.

The essay then turns to examples of this work. These include a student who critiques members of her own congregation for what she believes is inauthentic commitment. She describes another essay in which the author narrates an encounter with a Rastafarian on a mission trip to Jamaica. Although he seemed ready to dismiss the man’s faith, he quickly comes to admire his seriousness and commitment. Many other students display similar self-awareness and a willingness to critique their own religious backgrounds.

Finally, she examines some of the questionnaires students filled out at the end of the course. Some students did not enjoy writing about something so personal, but many did welcome the chance to clarify their own beliefs. Others welcomed the chance to test writing about sensitive topics, almost as rhetorical practice for living in a diverse culture. For these reasons, Dively concludes that students should not only be allowed to write about religion but should be encouraged to do so.

Tags: Method/Methodology, Pedagogy, Public Sphere/Square, Student Writing


Dively, Ronda Leathers. “Religious Discourse in the Academy: Creating a Space by Means of Postructuralist Theories of Subjectivity.” Composition Studies 21:2 (1993): 91-101. Print.

Dively argues that the academy habitually treats people of faith with disrespect and lumps them all together as either fundamentalists or literalists. Like Chris Anderson in his “Description of Embarrassment,” Dively relays a representative anecdote in which a graduate instructor claims to his class, “At this point in our careers, most of us have abandoned our religious beliefs” (92). Dively writes that this uncritical and oracular pronouncement is indicative of a widespread attitude toward religious belief, and she worries that composition instructors may avoid the problems of faith by simply disallowing religious discourse in the classroom. She insists that this is a mistake and argues that instructors should instead open the floor to religious argument. By doing so, they will create opportunities to study and critique simplistic religious claims.

Dively then turns to postmodern theory in order to articulate her vision for how religion might enter the composition classroom. Working from Spivak and Paul Smith (who is himself working from Lacan), Dively observes that the notion of a stable and integrated self has been seriously challenged. The complex and distributed notion of agency that emerges from these writings offers a framework through which religious arguments can be engaged in an intellectual and critical fashion. She does not suggest introducing these theorists directly into the classroom, but rather offers example essays that enact or embody these questions. Her suggestions include Annie Dillard’s “Singing with the Fundamentalists” and C.S. Lewis’s “What Christians Believe,” both of which relay what Dively sees as the challenges of being both intellectual and religious. She also suggests including a feminist meditation on faith such as Mary Daly’s “After the Death of God the Father.”

Ultimately, she hopes that these kinds of essays will move students past dualistic thinking, either within a given belief system or between competing belief systems.

Tags: Agency, Feminist/Feminism, Pedagogy, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Rhetorical Theory


Durst, Russel K. Collision Course: Conflict, Negotiation, and Learning in College Composition. Urbana, IL: NCTE Press, 1999. Print.

In Chapter 6, “Persuasion, Politics, and Writing, Instruction,” Durst reports as an ethnographer on a first-year, second-semester argumentative writing course. The course focused on critical themes such as race, diversity, affirmative action, gay rights, and the changing role of family in American life. Durst reports that most of the students in the class reacted to these themes badly. Many dismissed them as too political; others thought them irrelevant to what they saw as the main role of education–namely, securing their economic futures. He characterizes student reactions as “conservative” and suspicious of the teacher’s political motives. So powerful were these reactions that they seemed to silence students who might have offered a different viewpoint based on their own experience. Essentially, the piece reports on the difficulties of implementing pedagogy that is seen as “radical” or even “critical.”

The chapter makes two mentions of religion, one brief and the other more extensive. In the first, Durst suggests that many unsupported assertions that appear in a particular student’s essay are likely the product of her religious practice: “These were the kinds of extended argumentative texts, church sermons, and the kinds of authoritative discourse, homilies and stories with a moral, with which [the student] was most familiar, and it seems understandable that she would emulate these comfortable models” (141). Durst identifies religion as a source of topics with which students were more generally confident. Writing in response to Gordon Allport’s study of group formation, many students chose to write about their experience with churches and religious communities. Durst suggests that students preferred writing about these more “comfortable” topics, as opposed to the more difficult and demanding topics of race and diversity.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Pedagogy, Student Writing


Ferry, Christopher. “Liberation Theology and Liberatory Pedagogy: Spiritual Teaching in the Real World.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 148-156. Print.

Ferry begins by pointing out that Freire’s liberatory pedagogy has always featured religious and spiritual resonances, resonances related to liberation theology. These aspects of Freire’s pedagogy have sometimes been ignored by North American educators who have sought to borrow Freire’s method without its religious influences.

Ferry then describes liberation theology, which he insists involves more than straightforward, familiar theological inquiry. Instead, liberation theology is a Christian praxis, which places action in a primary position and theological reflection in a secondary position. In addition, liberation theology does not separate human history from salvation history, and it insists that the mundane world is thoroughly spiritual. These attitudes are shared by Freire, whose liberatory pedagogy is animated by a religious consciousness.

Ferry then critiques Ira Shor’s interpretation of Freire’s pedagogy. Specifically, Ferry identifies a strain of individualism in Shor’s version of critical pedagogy. This individualism, however, contradicts Freire’s theological assumptions, which assumes that human liberation must happen collectively. Even more crucially, this search for human liberation is finally a search for God. But Shor’s secular version of this search, writes Ferry, conflates independence and liberation.

Ferry closes the essay by asking whether the fully spiritual and religious version of Freire’s pedagogy can finally be enacted in an American classroom. He recommends that any class should examine the class itself: the arrangement of the room; the mechanics of the course (e.g., the choice of texts, the design of assignments); the architecture of lesson plans; and so on. This deep study of reality, Ferry argues, best imitates Freire’s approach.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Faith,  Liberatory Pedagogy/Theology


France, Alan W. “Theology and Composition: Inscribing the Absent Other.” Composition as a Cultural Practice. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1994. 139-59. Print.

In this chapter of his Composition as a Cultural Practice, Alan W. France attempts to understand the theology, or “god-terms” (139), behind composition’s basic assumptions. France argues from the basic assumption that composition has ignored the ways in which orthodoxy is reproduced through discourse. The deepest expression of that orthodoxy is theological–not in a confessional sense, but it a much wider cultural sense.

France reads some student essays from a course on Latin American history and religion. The assignment had asked students to evaluate and critique an essay with a liberation theology orientation. When he reads these essays, he finds that students cannot escape the ideology of individualism; even their attempts to acknowledge their own perspective simply reinscribe this ideology. France likens this to a kind of orientalism in which the writers reaffirm their own identities and positions by alienating the other.

The author then attempts what he calls a “grammatalogical re-visioning of theoloogy” (147). He creates an assignment in which students are asked to read an article from Norman Vincent Peale’s Guideposts. The article tells the story of a woman, Mrs. Roberts, who wanted a house, prayed for it, received it, and credited the event to God. France asks students to write in response to this essay three times: to judge what they think is happening in the article, then to reanalyze the essay by asking whether “belief in God” or “greed” is the best explanation for Mrs. Roberts’s experience, and finally to ask whether “belief in God” could be better understood as “social class privilege” (149-153). These revision questions not only push revision beyond the usual kind of surface correction; they also help reveal the traces of ideology shaping student response. France is candid about his assessment that the students don’t really see what he wants them to see; he theorizes that they remain too bound by individualism.

Finally, France distinguishes between two theologies that he sees in competition with each other. The first, “Transgressive” theology, characterizes what he sees as fundamentalist protestantism, which focuses on the law and punishment. The second he calls “Evangelical,” which he links to African-American religious experience (156). The first, he argues, is much more likely to maintain the status quo; the second is much more likely to encourage social change. The former, he concludes, remains much stronger in American ideology than the latter.

Tags: Ideology, Rhetorical Theory, Theology


Ferry, Christopher. “When the Distressed Teach the Oppressed: Toward an Understanding of Communion and Commitment.” JAEPL 2 (1996-97): 27-33. Print.

Ferry writes in response both to Jane Tompkins’s “Pedagogy of the Distressed” and the response that followed in College English. He follows Tompkins in linking the argument to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but his thesis is that neither Tompkins nor composition has fully grappled with Freire’s religious roots. While he grants Tompkins’s critique of the performance model of pedagogy (i.e., when the teacher is the central “performer” in the room), he faults her for not delving deeply enough into Freire’s thought. As he notes, North American compositionists have tended to focus on the democratizing purposes of liberatory education, but they tend to ignore Freire’s spiritual goals. Freire was both an influence on and influenced by liberation theology, a connection that has largely gone ignored. For example, Friere defines his key term “conscientization” in terms of “‘Easter,’ that we die to be born again’” (31). Techniques divorced from this religious context become mere classroom tricks. Our pedagogy, therefore, must be integrated into our larger commitments and our very selves. Changing our classroom, Ferry writes, requires changing ourselves.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Freire, Paulo. “Conscientizing as a Way of Liberating.” Liberation Theology: A Documentary History. ed. Alfred T. Hennelly. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990. 5-13. Print.

 —. “Education, Liberation, and the Church.” Risk 9 (1972): 34-48. Print.

In these essays, Freire reviews his educational and political philosophies, particularly the central role of “conscientization” as a way of liberating the oppressed and reforming culture. In Freire’s lexicon, “conscientization” refers to the process of developing a political and philosophical awareness as central to gaining literacy. Though these essays outline these processes in secular terms familiar to many in composition, they also articulate Freire’s goals in distinctly religious terms. Freire was both an influence on and influenced by liberation theology, a theology that insists that religious and spiritual transformation must include economic and cultural transformation. Freire insists that the opposite is also true: any effort toward intellectual or cultural liberation must also include spiritual and religious liberation. In “Conscientizing as a Way of Liberating,” first published in 1970, Freire explicitly links his project to theology, arguing that the historical vocation of committed Christians is to pursue the frankly utopian goal of liberating the oppressed. The poor, he writes, have been told for too long that their suffering and alienation are God’s will. Instead, Freire insists that God is on the side of the poor.

In “Education, Liberation, and the Church,” Freire writes in even more explicitly-Christian terms. The Church, far from being an institution concerned only with the beyond, is involved directly in history. Thus, it cannot help taking sides either with the poor or against them (whether through commission or omission). Oppressors, meanwhile, cannot hope simply to ameliorate poverty through charity. They must be thoroughly transformed, a process that Freire describes as a kind of Easter. The Church must play a role in this reformation insofar as one requires a community for salvation. Freire makes clear that he sees conscientization as thoroughly religious.

Finally, it is important to note that at times Freire seems mistrustful of the role of rhetoric and language. His insistence on historical praxis is put at odds with the “old Easter of rhetoric.” Conscientization, meanwhile, does not happen “through lessons, lectures, and eloquent sermons but by the action of human beings on the world” (“Education” 35). Yet at other moments, he implies an understanding of “communication” that goes beyond the mere sending of messages (“Conscientizing” 10).

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Liberatory Pedagogy/Theology


Geiger, T.J. “Our Work is Our Prayer: Scholarship, Invention, and Spiritual Activism.” Peitho 11.1 (2009): 1-7. Print.

Geiger begins his essay by linking it to a special issue of Rhetoric and Public Affairs on rhetoric and religion. Edited by Martin Medhurst, the issue contains a series of essays that the editor describes as “bottom up,” written from the perspective of lived experience (1). The issue, however, has some holes. In addition to lacking an essay from a Muslim perspective, there is also no essay written from an explicitly feminist perspective. Geiger aims to address that problem in the current essay, which discusses Irene Lara’s “Healing Sueños for Academia.” Geiger uses this essay as an occasion for exploring the possibilities of spirituality as a form of invention, and scholarship as a form of prayer. In Lara’s work, he sees academic rigor, political commitment, and spiritual inquiry seamlessly linked.

Geiger acknowledges that for many scholars, the thought of spiritual invention or academic prayer will seem counterintuitive, if not downright scandalous. He cites several pieces of scholarship on rhetoric and religion that likewise admit the difficulty of linking the spiritual and the academic. But Lara’s article, he insists, weds these seemingly disparate areas. Lara asks the simple and straightforward question of whether scholarship can be considered as a form of prayer. This question is motivated by a desire to understand her subject area in terms of her own experience. Geiger links the motivation behind this question to the influence of Gloria Anzaldúa. Lara sees this linking of academic work and personal experience as a form of prayer. This move, she argues, creates the political possibility of a “third space,” characterized neither by acquiescence nor simple opposition to oppressive structures. Lara borrows Anzaldúa uses of the word nepantla to name this “in-between-ness,” which also negotiates between the sacred and the secular. Geiger concludes the essay by arguing that, if the personal is political, then the political must also include and account for the spiritual. Most importantly for the present essay, the academic must also include the spiritual.

Tags: Invention, Feminist/Feminism, Spirituality


Geiger, T.J., “Unpredictable Encounters: Religious Discourse, Sexuality, and the Free Exercise of Rhetoric.” College English 75.3 (2013): 248-296. Print.

Geiger begins by drawing a parallel between two topics of inquiry that sometimes present problems in the composition classroom: sexuality and religion. Though these topics are usually addressed separately in composition’s scholarly literature, Geiger brings them together, arguing that the site of real inquiry and insight lies at the intersection of potentially conflicting discourses and communities. Following Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini, who argue that the notion of religious freedom can be repurposed for sexual liberation. Geiger repurposes this idea for what he calls the “free exercise of rhetoric” (249), in which students can articulate their arguments and experience at the sites of these conflicting discourses.

Geiger offers a brief literature review of composition’s discussion of religion, noting that very often it focuses on religion as a part of student identity. That is, the personal is the starting point for inquiry into religion. Although he notes this standpoint does not and has not precluded inquiry into the political, the political has nevertheless received less emphasis than the personal. Thus, his assignments are designed to invite an encounter between the political and personal.

The article concludes with an analysis of two students’ writing, one who adopts a secular viewpoint and the other a Catholic viewpoint. The first student writes about her research into “Exodus International” (EI), an organization that offers “reparative therapy” for gay Christians. She initially misreads EI as a pro-gay organization, and then decides to make her own misreading the subject of further investigation. For the Catholic student, the Vatican’s strained relationship with liberation theology–a strain that surprises the student–becomes the occasion for a similar kind of inquiry. In both cases, the confrontation between competing discourses offers the opportunity for the free exercise of rhetoric.

Tags: Community, Identity, Public Sphere/Square, Queer Discourse, Sexuality, Student Writing


Gilyard, Keith, and Elaine Richardson. “Students’ Right to Possibility: Basic Writing and African American Rhetoric.” Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies. Ed. Andrea Greenbaum. Albany: SUNY P, 2001. 37-51. Print.

Gilyard and Richardson position their study as a response to “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (STROL), which, they argue, has received insufficient empirical study and practical application. They begin with a historical overview of STROL, noting ongoing disagreement about the purposes and effects of the document. While they decline to offer a final judgment on these debates, they nevertheless insist that any application of STROL needs to address the ways in which African American Vernacular English (AAVE) can occasion and support academic literacy.

They then report on a study of four basic writing classes that focused on Afrocentric topics. Geneva Smitherman’s Talkin’ and Testifyin’ is a key text for the course (and a key resource for the study’s methodology.) The subjects of the study include 52 African American students, who were defined as being part of AAVE culture if they were of African descent and had lived in the US for at least 10 years. The authors then describe the methodology, which includes (among other instruments) field notes, demographic questionnaires, and various methods of scoring student work. Their ultimate aim is to observe how features of AAVE are manifested in academic discourse written by the subjects. These features, the authors write, include frequent allusion to scripture and a “sermonic tone reminiscent of Black church rhetoric” (41). These are just two of many features the authors observe; their conclusion is that AAVE can and must be cultivated as a rhetorical resource for the development of African American academic discourse.

Tags: Academy, Empiricism, Method/Methodology, Race, Student Writing 


Goodburn, Amy. “It’s a Question of Faith: Discourses of Fundamentalism and Critical Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” Journal of Advanced Composition 18.2 (1998): 333-53. Print.

Goodburn narrates her experience and reflection on her confrontation with a fundamentalist Christian student, whom she names “Luke.” Luke resists the course’s texts, goals, and most troublingly, the authority of its teacher. Goodburn’s difficulties with Luke lead her to reflect on her own confidence in critical pedagogy, which she describes as “faith” not entirely unlike Luke’s. Goodburn argues that, in their understandable distrust of Christian fundamentalism, critical pedagogues not only dis-equip themselves to work with students like Luke, but they also obscure the common discourse of social critique that both worldviews hold.

Goodburn then conducts research on fundamentalist students in order to try to understand their perspectives and identities. As she notes, the term “fundamentalist” is somewhat fluid, and its meanings have changed over time. It has not always referred solely to religious reactionaries. Goodburn also notes that in its current manifestation, “fundamentalism” includes a searing critique of what it sees the moral laxity of mainstream culture.

She then turns to her student Luke, whom she presents as a case study, and includes two examples of his writing, both essays on literature. Luke’s responses to these works betray what some might call a fundamentalist mindset–either-or thinking, hostility to difference, insistence that the Bible is inerrant, and so on. But in her responses, Goodburn begins to notice that her own responses might appear, to Luke at least, just as rigid. This raises serious questions about how critical pedagogy can manifest its own sort of authoritarianism. More than this, however, is Goodburn’s suggestion that the fundamentalist perspective is actually a mirror of the critical pedagogue’s perspective, at least insofar as “fundamentalist students recognize the sociopolitical nature of reading and school curriculum” (349). They simply possess a different “web of reality” (349).

Finally, she imagines ways she might have engaged Luke more productively. Goodburn acknowledges that critical pedagogy itself also relies on a faith: in dialogue in the face of conflicts. She does not conclude that critical pedagogy is “religious” in the traditional sense, but she does think that critical pedagogy can recognizes enough similarity with fundamentalism that a dialogue between the two could be occasioned.

Tags: Belief, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Faith, Fundamentalism, Student Writing


Hansen, Kristine. “Religious Freedom in the Public Square and the Composition Classroom.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 24-38. Print.

Hansen begins with the central question of confronting religious arguments in the composition classroom: How can religiously motivated students be taught to engage controversial issues within a pluralistic society? And how can teachers teach these students without inadvertently suggesting to them that their religious beliefs are a bar to their participation in the public sphere? These questions resonate personally for Hansen, a Mormon who often finds her co-religionists puzzled by her liberal political views. Hansen then offers four reasons that composition teachers should welcome religious arguments in their classrooms: 1) because the First Amendment allows for religious speech; 2) because the discourse of philosophical liberalism is insufficient for public discourse generally; 3) because religious speech sometimes has good results; and 4) because religious discourse in the public sphere is increasing and should therefore be a subject of study. In short, students, religious or not, will encounter religious discourse in public life. If we hold that composition should participate in preparation for citizenship, then it must also be preparation for responding to religious rhetoric.

Hansen then turns to Pratt’s idea of the contact zone as a model for the classroom and lists several assignments she uses to engage religious rhetoric. These include autoethnographic examinations of their own religions (e.g., how their own religions have been represented in various literatures). She also asks students to adopt the viewpoints, even personas, of people from other religions, and to examine the authenticity of various kinds of religious address. Although she admits these are potentially difficult topics to broach, she argues that they are necessary for teaching students to engage religious discourse in the public sphere.

Tags: Academy, Faith, Mormonism, Pedagogy, Public Sphere/Square, Student Writing


Hashimoto, I. “Voice as Juice: Some Reservations about Evangelic Composition.” College Composition and Communication 38.1 (1987): 70-80. Print.

Hashimoto offers a stinging critique of expressivism and what he sees as its anti-intellectual tendencies. Hashimoto draws an analogy between the way expressivists talk about voice and its promise and the way certain evangelical Christians talk about salvation and its promises. Both rely on a discourse of fear—whether fear of stiffness or fear of sin—to motivate their audiences. Although the article does not claim to observe a relationship of influence, it does describe many similarities between expressivist and evangelical habits of speech. Again and again, expressivists in composition invoke the language of spirit found in evangelical discourse. Hashimoto then observes the central role emotion plays in animating both discourses.

The author also notes the limits of “zeal” in writing by analyzing an emotionless but accurate passage from the JFK assassination report. Hashimoto then offers two “expressivist” revisions of it, each of which undermines the rhetorical and historical purpose of the original. The article compares this to a piece of expressivist student work. Finally, the article reviews the anti-intellectualism of the sort of Christianity professed by Dwight J. Moody and Billy Sunday. Hashimoto claims that this same preference for zeal against intellectualism characterizes contemporary expressivist pedagogy.

Tags: Expressivism, Student Writing


Juzwik, Mary M., and Cori McKenzie. “Writing, Religious Faith, and Rooted Cosmopolitan Dialogue: Portraits of Two American Evangelical Men in a Public School English Classroom.” Written Communication 32.2 (2015): 121-149.

Juzwik and McKenzie examine the issue of cosmopolitanism as it relates to the experience of an American evangelical high school teacher and student. The authors observe a “cosmopolitan turn” in literacy studies–that is, a growing interest in how students connect their local roots and connection to global culture. This question, they argue, is complicated by evangelical identity, which they define as including a belief in the ultimate authority of scripture, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and active engagement of faith in public life (129). How, they ask, does an evangelical manage these commitments in relationship to cosmopolitanism?

Their primary method is “portraiture,” which they describe as an “interpretivist” approach of a given research participant or participants, in the context of a particular field site (127). In this case, they focus on a teacher and student in a midwestern American high school. Both identify as evangelical Christians, though the difference in their ages and experiences suggest differences in their attitudes toward faith. Given the stated methodology, the article includes lengthy and detailed descriptions of each research participant. (They also include briefer descriptions of their own research, in order to suggest their own positionality.) The context of the research includes the teacher’s “This I Believe” assignment, which is drawn from the National Public Radio series of the same name. Their data collection includes writing artifacts, classroom observations, and follow-up interviews. They find that the student’s “Believe” essay suggests that he is reluctant to engage in the kind of dialogue and listening that are identified as key components in cosmopolitanism. The student feels that his faith is something that should be asserted rather than engaged.

In their discussion, the authors suggest that religion is certainly an issue in developing cosmopolitan attitudes, yet they resist concluding that religion is somehow a stumbling block to such development. For example, they urge teachers and scholars to avoid the term “counter-cosmopolitan,” a term that sometimes appears in the literature. They suggest instead engage religiously self-identified learners in terms of the difference within their own traditions (“evangelical,” is after all, a contested term). They also suggest asking students to engage the interpretive and literate practices of their own traditions. These practices would point to an experience of faith that invites engagement, argument, and difference.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Evangelical/Evangelism, Literacy, Method/Methodology, Pedagogy


Kirsch, Gesa E. “From Introspection to Action: Connecting Spirituality and Civic Engagement.” College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): W1-W15. Print.

As her title makes clear, Kirsch’s project investigates the connections between spirituality and civic engagement. Her argument is that spirituality, which she understands to include mindfulness, introspection, and reflection, play a part in animating the sort of rhetorical agency that operates in activism. While spirituality may sometimes be understood to speak to personal issues, Kirsch argues that it should be a resource for public rhetorical activity. Kirsch notes that many scholars have engaged with issues that fall under her spiritual rubric of mindfulness, introspection, and reflection. However, she suggests that the explicit connection to spirituality remains unexpressed. Her purpose is to express that connection.

Kirsch does so by assigning a spiritual autobiography to her students in a creative nonfiction course. She draws on Dan Wakefield’s The Story of Your Life: Writing a Spiritual Autobiography as a resource for her course. She then describes how she approaches the fraught issues of spirit and spirituality before turning to examples of her students’ writing. These students define the term spirituality and relate experiences that have seemed to meet their definitions. These assignments, Kirsch notes, very often touch upon social or political issues, such as homelessness, gender roles, the income gap, and the marginalization of minority groups. Kirsch argues that these connections do not suggest a progression from personal to public issues, but rather suggest that these issues have both personal and public dimensions.

Finally, Kirsch acknowledges some potential pitfalls: some students may naturally associate spirituality with religion, and religion may bring up a host of difficult issues, including students’ unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Spiritual experience may be deeply fraught for some students. In addition, Kirsh does not want to promote religious discourse in the classroom. Nevertheless, she insists that spirituality is an important research for composition instruction.

Tags: Agency, Civic Rhetoric, Pedagogy, Public Sphere/Square, Spirituality, Student Writing


Montesano, Mark, and Duane Roen. “Religious Faith, Learning, and Writing: Challenges in the Classroom.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 84-98. Print.

Montesano and Roen construct their chapter as a kind of dialogue, with Montesano offering his experiences working with religious students and Roen reflecting on those experiences through his own. Montesano frames his thought through Farrell’s notion of a rhetorical culture and Mary Louise Pratt’s contact zone. These arenas place a number of complex demands on students of faith. Although they need not leave their faith at the curb of the public square, Montesano writes, they also must be able to ground claims in ways that appeal not only to people of other faiths but also people of a secular disposition. Avoiding religion in the composition classroom, meanwhile, suggests that religion cannot and should not be subject to critical analysis. Montesano thus invites students to consider religious topics in the classroom, and he relays several of his experiences with particular students. Some struggle to relate their academic work to their religious faith; others struggle when their religious faith appears to be challenged by academic analysis.

Roen then examines Montesano’s experiences and offers suggestions for other teachers who are considering inviting religious inquiry into the composition classroom. He suggests, for example, asking students to do short writing assignments on a text prior to discussing it. This can allow students troubled by particular texts to work through some of their feelings privately rather than in the classroom. This kind of pre-discussion writing, Roen offers, can also help students begin to work out the basics of intellectual exchange that lie at the heart of argument. As Roen suggests, the challenges of introducing first-year students to argument–already substantial in and of themselves–are all the more so regarding religion. Quoting Geertz, Roen notes the seemingly incommensurable epistemologies of the academic and religious perspectives: detachment vs. commitment, analysis vs. encounter. Roen also offers suggestions for more structured class discussion and debate.

Finally, Montesano responds to Roen, registering discomfort at the thought of setting up too adversarial an approach for such sensitive topics. Montesano prefers to introduce particular theories of religious, which presumably allows students to work through relevant ideas while maintaining a critical distance from their own perspectives. Nevertheless, he endorses many of Roen’s suggestions and explains how they might have mitigated various difficulties encountered in his own teaching.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Pedagogy, Public Sphere/Square


Miller, Keith D., and Jennifer M. Santos. “Recomposing Religious Plotlines.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 63-83. Print.

Miller and Santos lament the decline of general religious study in the American college curriculum. As they note, a great deal of popular culture and public discourse employs religious discourse explicitly or is structured by religious frames implicitly. Without study of religion, students are unequipped to recognize what Miller and Santos call religious plotlines. To correct this deficit, they recommend seven frames adapted from religious scholar Mark Silk’s Unsecular Media (1995). Silk argues that these frames (or, as he calls them, topoi) are repeatedly used by the secular media to talk about religion. These default narratives include the following: that good religious people and churches do good works and bad ones do not; another holds that “mainstream” Protestant churches are declining. Although these plotlines are not always wrong, they do contain contradictions (e.g., mainline Protestant churches should be praised for the charity and mocked for their decline). Thus, Miller and Santos follow Silk in arguing that these plotlines limit the public’s understanding of religion.

In the classroom, Miller and Santos ask students to write from different religious topoi. Their first alternative plotline, derived from John Dewey’s Common Faith, holds that all people are religious. (A certain kind of patriot, for example, makes the a religion out of the nation.)  The others ask students to see religion as a source of social reform, as an affirmation tragic limits, as personal apprehension of the divine, as inexorably communal, and as a discourse that intertwines with science. They ask students both to write from Silk’s plotlines, to challenge those plotlines, and to write from their suggested alternative. The chapter’s appendices offer examples of students writing from these various topoi.

Tags: Faith, Pragmatism, Public Sphere/Square


Moss, Beverly J. “From the Pews to the Classroom: Influences of the African American Church on Academic Literacy.” Literacy in African American Communities. Eds. Joyce L. Harris, Alan G. Kamhi, and Karen Pollock. Mahwah, NJ: 2001. 195-211. Print.

Moss begins by observing that the church is the most enduring institution in the African American community. The centrality of the church, she argues, would doubtless imply a wide-ranging effect on African American literacy. She then relates the historical ties between African American religion and literacy. During the period of slavery, churches offered illicit literacy instruction through the reading of scripture; after slavery, many African American churches ran “Sabbath Schools,” which offered instruction to students who could not attend regular school. In the contemporary period, Moss writes, African American churches continue this tradition through a variety of literacy practices. She is particularly interested in how those literacy practices are carried into students’ academic practices.

The article then provides an ethnographic study on three African-American churches, each from a slightly different socio-economic stratum (i.e., upper middle class, middle class, and working class). Each minister approaches their sermons differently, with one writing out full texts, one writing out partial texts, and one using no text at all (i.e., the manuscript minister, the partial manuscript minister, and the nonmanuscript minister). She also studies the role the Bible plays in each church. This proves to be a crucial question for her research, as she reports frequently having to remind students in her writing classes not to quote the Bible uncritically as evidence. This is one of the key loci for the clash between church and academic discourse. Part of the source of the clash is the way the Bible is incorporated into church services; it is studied in ways that resemble academic study. Moss observes the same phenomenon for the sermon. The high degree of audience participation during the sermon suggests that the “text” unfolds in the moment, even for the manuscript minister. This cultural practice may engender assumptions and expectations that seem out of step with traditional classroom practice. Thus Moss recommends changes to traditional practice, such as encouraging writing from students that allows for more collaborative input and that reconceives the boundary between writer and audience. Whatever strategies teachers adopt, she insists, they must help students see the classroom as a site of negotiation between religious and academic literacy.

Tags: Academic Discourse, Bible, Literacy, Race, Secular/Sacred, Scripture, Socioeconomic Class


Neulieb, Janice. “Split Religion: Student Motivation and Values-Based Writing.” Writing on the Edge 4.1 (1992): 41-50. Print. 

Neulieb starts with a representative anecdote that recounts her work as a table leader for AP English Language exam grading. One of the questions asked students to write in response to a passage from Ecclesiastes: “For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow.” Though the exam does not ask for a religiously motivated answer, many students offer one, causing a great deal of consternation among the table readers, who react badly to religiously motivated arguments. The problem is that the religiously motivated students display more knowledge about the context and significance of the passage than their non-religious peers. Finally, Neulieb suggests to her table readers that, as they read, they substitute phrases like “self-awareness” or “personal knowledge” for the religious appeals. Though she knows such changes might upset the authors, they seem to allow the readers to see past religious belief.

This anecdote opens up to further reflection on the role of religion in student learning, reflection that is enriched by Neulieb’s description of her own religious journey from faithful Jehovah’s Witness to apostasy and back to religion. This experience leads Neulieb to consider just how powerful religious faith can be, too powerful to be checked at the classroom door. Neulieb worries that our teaching may miss a great deal of rich human experience, much of it charged with sacredness. Such experiences, she argues, form and are formed by our deepest values, values that may be, and perhaps should be, put at risk in the study of rhetoric and writing. Thus, she moves a step beyond Maxine Hairston’s critique of composition’s treatment of religion, suggesting that religious attitudes–not all of them confessional–necessarily shape student reaction to learning. If teachers cannot hear or recognize these appeals, their reactions are likely to mirror those of Neulieb’s table readers, and composition will close itself off from a rich vein of human experience.

Tags: Belief, Christian/Christianity, Faith, Pedagogy, Scripture


O’Reilley, Mary Rose. The Peaceable Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1993. Print.

In this book, O’Reilley begins with a question she heard while she was a graduate student: Is there a way to teach English so that people stop killing each other? This question occasions a series of essays not only on explicitly nonviolent pedagogies, but more importantly on the role of violence in traditional, teacher-centered pedagogies that focus on correctness and compliance. The book expands on two essays that appeared in College English, “The Peaceable Classroom” (1984) and “Exterminate the Brutes” (1989). The latter of these essays becomes a chapter in this book, and it discusses O’Reilley’s struggles to manage feelings of resentment against students who do not respond to her “progressive pedagogy.” No matter how many times she puts the desks in a circle and encourages freewriting, her students continue to prefer the traditional teacher-centered curriculum that she is trying to leave behind. The book provides a first-person snapshot of the time when expressivist pedagogies were growing out of the experience of the Vietnam War.

These problems lead her to reflections on the spirituality of teaching, at the center of which lies the admission that success cannot be the only standard by which the quality of teaching is judged. Spirituality, she argues, is best understood as a commitment to a vision. The same is true for teaching. But she insists that the spirituality she seeks, while always peaceful, is not simply passive. It encourages a disruptive refusal of violence.

Tags: Contemplation, Expressivism, Pedagogy, Spirituality, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Pace, Thomas, and Gina M. Merys. “Paulo Freire and the Jesuit Tradition: Jesuit Rhetoric and Freirean Pedagogy.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 234-247. Print.

 In this chapter, Pace and Merys pursue the Catholic and liberation theology roots of Paulo Freire’s liberatory pedagogy. In addition, liberation theology has been both influenced by and an influence on the Jesuits, and it is this connection they wish to pursue. Pace and Merys offer an understanding of liberation theology that focuses on three primary aspects: Christian faith as a form of relationship with the poor, a critique of the society that allows people to be poor, and a critique of the Church’s complicity with that society. As they note, liberation theology came under criticism from the leadership of the Catholic Church during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These criticisms often focused on the Marxist analysis through which liberation theology was articulated. For his part, Freire insists that his endorsement of Marxism never implied a rejection of Christ.

Pace and Merys also note the fact that Freire’s religiosity has often been erased from North American interpretations of his critical pedagogy. The chapter then turns to an examination of Freire’s biography and the roots of his Catholic faith. Freire was particularly involved in “Catholic Action,” a worldwide network of organization that encouraged lay participation in the Church. Catholic Action also involved Jesuits, as did the development of liberation theology. The Catholic influence on Freire was matched by a Freirean influence on Jesuits, who founded literacy centers in both Malta and Colombia that drew on Freire’s work. North American Jesuits also became intensely interested in Freire, though Freire expressed some skepticism that his ideas could be implemented in American Jesuit universities. Finally, Pace and Merys close with an analysis of Ignatian pedagogy, an approach to teaching inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. They observe many similarities between liberatory and Ignatian pedagogy.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Jesuit, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology


Paley, Karen Surman. “Cura Personalis in Practice: Rhetoric’s Modern Legacy.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 346-59. Print. 

Paley explains the 500-year-old Jesuit educational and rhetorical concept of cura personalis, or the education of the whole person, and looks at its presence in courses at Jesuit universities to show how the time-worn principle continues to influence modern Jesuit education.

She begins by describing the central place rhetoric has always had in Jesuit education, citing the Ratio Studiorum—a foundational document articulating the Jesuit program of study—and its pursuit of eloquentia perfecta, “perfect eloquence” that includes intellectual as well as moral and religious excellence. Arising from this framework, cura personalis has three aspects: it informs the pedagogy for instructing Jesuit novices, it describes the relationship between the novices and their spiritual directors, and it provides an attitude for the student to take into the wider community. Jesuit universities continue to cite education for the whole person in their governing documents, as they have done throughout their history.

Paley then describes two semester-long observations of classes conducted at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit institution, to reveal the legacy of cura personalis in the contemporary classroom. She reports on a “Philosophy of Human Nature” class that required students to write a philosophy of their own life, with application to the students’ own lives stressed. In fact, the instructor went so far as to assert that the assignment, if taken seriously, would change students’ lives. Paley reports the reactions of three students to the course, revealing that they did indeed make changes in their lives due to the reflection it prompted. Similarly, in the course “Liberation: Bible, Church, and Theology,” students were required to make application to their lives throughout the class. In this case, even students who felt significant resistance to the course’s focus on justice came to transform their opinions through reflective writing and engagement with course texts.

In conclusion, Paley reflects not only on the content of the courses, but professorial emphasis on caring for students as people as a value driven by cura personalis. She thus sees cura personalis as an “effective mechanism” that continues to drive Jesuit education.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Ethnography, Jesuit, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology, Pedagogy, Student Writing


Perkins, Priscilla. “‘A Radical Conversion of the Mind’: Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics, and the Metanoic Classroom.” College English 63.5 (May 2001): 585-611. Print.

Perkins begins the essay by noting how often conversion stories shape composition’s narratives about itself. Stories of classroom experience regularly feature intellectual epiphanies. Against these success stories, Perkins contrasts what she calls, following anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, “problems of meaning” (586), particularly encounters between progressive or critical pedagogues and evangelical students. Perkins urges composition to treat these encounters more seriously, and to reject attitudes that would mock or disparage conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians. Too often, she suggests, teachers avoid these encounters by undermining the very Freirean attitudes they otherwise espouse. As many other scholars have noted, critical pedagogies can be imposed with as much authoritarianism as traditional pedagogies.

Returning to Freire, Perkins rediscovers his Catholicism and relates it to her own. This enrichment of her own “lifeworld” (a term she borrows from Gadamer by way of Kurt Spellmeyer) allows her to position herself on a continuum with her students rather than in opposition to them. She also recommends that compositionists engage with the work of conservative theologians in order to develop a common language with religiously conservative students. From this stance, she argues, teachers can then occasion more productive interactions of true hermeneutical exchange that might push students past fundamentalist “proof-texting.” Key for her argument is theologian Leslie Newbigin, from whom she borrows the concept of metanoia, which Newbigin defines as “a radical conversion of the mind” (597). While she does not want to “de-convert” religious students, she hopes that all students, religious or not, will approach academic inquiry willing to risk metanoia. Perkins then turns to Arthur Holmes, whom, she argues, offers a conservative theology more conducive to creating hermeneutically-rich occasions. She describes such occasions by describing the struggle, and variable success, of Clifford, one of her Christian students to interpret new ideas from his deep commitment to a literalist reading of the Bible. Ultimately, she urges teachers to take a hermeneutical rather than rhetorical approach to working with religiously conservative students. While the former creates possibilities for mutual interpretation, the latter, she argues, is too easily co-opted by the instrumental.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Hermeneutics, Student Writing, Theology


Peters, Brad. “African American Studies of Faith in the Writing Center: Facilitating a Rhetoric of Conscience.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 121-134. Print.

Peters begins with a representative anecdote about an African-American student who writes a paper on capital punishment. Though the paper features many of the standard moves of academic discourse, it also relies on religion and scripture for its appeals. Peter speculates that this is why the student’s instructor rejects the essay with the comment, “Hopeless paper. Go to the writing center” (122).  Peters draws on the scholarship on African-American discourse and religion and argues that dismissing the student’s religious appeals is akin to dismissing the discourse features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). It is to say that her identity and community have no place in academia.

In response to this problem, Peters urges his readers to rely on a “rhetoric of conscience” (124). Drawing on Walter Jost’s scholarship on John Henry Newman’s rhetorical theory Peters argues that conscience is a “dynamic topos of rhetorical invention” (124) in which religion neither overwhelms nor is overwhelmed by critical judgment. This source of invention can animate a religious rhetoric that can negotiate with non-religious discourses. Thus, one might make religious appeals in a “secular” context of public discourse. If this is possible, Peters argues, then writing center consultants and composition teachers should be able to allow for religious appeals while also instructing students in the standards of academic discourse. Peters then describes what he calls the techne of sermonic discourse with which religious African American student might be familiar. This sermonic discourse offers both a rhetorica utens and a rhetorica docens on which students might draw. Teachers ought to be familiar with this discourse so that they can work with students who draw upon it in their writing; otherwise they risk belittling and alienating their students.

Tags: Preaching/Sermons, Race, Writing Centers


Perkins, Priscilla. “Attentive, Intelligent, Reasonable, and Responsible: Teaching Composition with Bernard Lonergan.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 73-88. Print.

 Perkins turns to the work of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan as a new resource for teaching writing. Her search for new resources is motivated by her dissatisfaction with the field’s current approach to persuasion, an approach she observes in the popular textbook Everything’s An Argument. She worries that the textbook’s approach to ethos is too tied to the performative and too indifferent to the rhetor’s actual commitment. It’s nice if the rhetor’s beliefs happen to coincide with the argument being made but is not absolutely necessary. This instrumentalist approach, she argues, focuses more on managing audience response than allowing a rhetor to sift through possible positions. As a counter to this instrumentalist approach, she draws on Lonergan’s admonition to “be attentive, be intelligent” (76-78) that is, to pay attention to the audience not as an entity to be managed, but rather as co-investigators and co-learners.

Perkins then applies these lessons to the case of Tina, a vivacious and engaging student who is also a committed Christian. As friendly as Tina is, she is unable to conceive of viewpoints different than her own, including Christian viewpoints. Tina, Perkins writes, seems to believe that the only audience she needs to address is her own vision of Jesus. If she pleases him, she need not bother pleasing anyone else. What she cannot do, Perkins argues, is see her own classmates as an extension of Jesus; that would require an incarnational idea of audience that might be drawn from Lonergan’s work. That incarnational idea would also need to be extended to the two halves of her own persona: the engaging classmate whom everyone likes and the rigid Christian who feels no obligation to meet an audience on its own terms. Perkins does not make this observation in order to label her student a hypocrite, but instead to suggest the full range of what’s at stake in the construction of ethos.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Jesuit, Pedagogy, Student Writing, Rhetorical Theory


Rand, Lizabeth A. “Enacting Faith: Evangelical Discourse and the Discipline of Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication (2001): 349-367. Print.

Rand offers an extensive literature review and incisive critique of composition’s attitudes toward evangelical discourse. She begins by arguing that composition is part of what she calls “the culture of disbelief,” as Stephen L. Carter describes it (349-50). She begins by reviewing sources that claim that religion is the one discourse disallowed, even in a supposedly postmodern culture. Rand argues that composition does not tend to include religion among our familiar marks of otherness (such as race, class, and gender). Yet for many evangelicals, the academy, particularly the postmodern academy, can seem hostile and alien. Nevertheless, she insists that a “postmodern Christian sensibility” is possible if it recognizes its own historical situatedness (352). Other scholars, she goes on to write, recognize in postmodernism new possibilities for religious expression insofar as both discourses recognize human finitude. A field that embraces postmodernism should therefore find itself more open to religious discourse.

Rand then turns to the ways in which composition sometimes calls upon religious metaphors in order to disparage religious belief. Expressivism is dismissed as a kind of church of easy answers, current-traditionalism is portrayed as some pseudo-Catholic authoritarianism, and critical pedagogy is rejected as a savior cult. Even those compositionists who wish to treat religious discourse more gently sometimes talk about it in condescending tones, seeking to “enrich” and “complicate” religious perspectives that they consider naive.

In the end, Rand argues that composition has to take a closer look at its own faith-based attitudes. The field in 2001 has its own gospel, with tenets rejecting the unified subject, the autonomous being, and the coherent self. These are truths that, with the instructor’s help, can “save” students from certain kinds of oppression. These truths may not be able to be demonstrated so much as “witnessed to” (360-64). Meanwhile, she reminds her readers of the subversive power of religion: it can position its adherents against dominant cultural forces and attitudes as surely as any critical pedagogy. Thus, she argues, we should think twice before dismissing religious witnessing as naive or foolish.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Pedagogy, Postmodern/Postmodernism


Ratcliffe, Krista. “Reflection: Echoes of Jesuit Principles in Rhetorical Theories, Pedagogies, and Praxes.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 397-400.

Ratcliffe reflects upon the “echoes” of Jesuit rhetoric she hears from her position as a teacher at Jesuit university Marquette. She notes that her Quaker upbringing made her unable to hear the Jesuit resonances in rhetoric when she studied it under Edward P.J. Corbett, but eighteen years at Marquette have enabled her to do so.

She proceeds through the remainder of the brief article by outlining Jesuit principles and describing their connections to rhetoric. The principles include “defending faith through education (critical thinking)” (397); service; “transformative education” (298); “development of character through modeling” (399); care of the whole person (cura personalis); and collaboration. She describes Marquette as transforming students and teachers alike through these values, including by effecting a change in her own research, prompting an investigation into listening as an aspect of rhetoric.

Ratcliffe concludes by citing connections drawn between Jesuit education and rhetoric by the very superior general of the order, Adolfo Nicolás, S.J. She draws on his remarks to challenge rhetoricians to continue to take seriously how Jesuit principles can inform their theories, pedagogies, and praxis.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Jesuit


Ringer, Jeffrey M. “The Consequences of Integrating Faith into Academic Writing.” College English 75.3 (2013): 270-97.

Ringer describes the results of an ethnographic research study he performed at a large Northeast public university. The subjects of his study were evangelical students, whom Ringer defines as those Christians “who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, emphasize the importance of conversion, believing in maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and seek to share their faith” (272). As Ringer notes, such students, particularly in a public university, may face challenges in how their faith or witness is received. For all students, writing involves identity risk and reconstruction, but this becomes acutely true for religious students who are attempting to write reasoned academic discourse. Ultimately, Ringer is interested in a slightly different question: How does the evangelical student manage his or her faith when it becomes a potential subject, or resource, in academic writing? That is, the issue for Ringer is not simply the student insisting on this faith at the wrong moment, but rather the student who wants to write an academic essay that draws upon and involves faith.

For “Austin,” Ringer’s representative student, this issue emerges when he writes an essay arguing for religious colleges against public colleges. Austin attempts to write an argument that would appeal to a nonsectarian audience. The problem, Ringer notes, is that such an argument involves a form of a “casuistic stretching,” in which Austin must accommodate his deepest beliefs into language and claims amenable to those from non-religious perspectives. As Burke notes, casuistic stretching can go only so far before a value or belief becomes “demoralized,” or sapped of its original meaning and power. Austin risks such overstretching in a citation of Joshua 24:15, a Biblical passage that suggests one is allowed to choose to believe or not to believe. Though Austin cites this in an effort to accommodate his message to a non-evangelical audience, this citation also inadvertently denies his own evangelical belief that one must seek to convert all. This accommodation troubles Ringer, who struggles to get Austin to see the disconnect between his essay and his faith. Finally, Ringer closes the essay with some discussion of future directions for research into religious students in composition.

Tags: Belief, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Faith, Pedagogy, Student Writing


Ringer, Jeffrey. “Dogma of Inquiry: Composition and the Primacy of Faith.” Rhetoric Review 32.3 (2013): 349-365. Print.

Ringer opens his article working on the concept of “humble dogma,” as demonstrated by St. Augustine and Lesslie Newbigin. Ringer first points to Augustine as an excellent example of a scholar who makes clear and repeated academic moves, but also moves out of a strong sense of religious faith. Because Augustine was writing during a time when rational thought and faith-based conversation were in strong opposition, the moves that he makes to seek a middle ground create a strong example for current scholars. For Augustine, the act of belief and faith created space for continued understanding.

That faith and belief precede understanding is further developed as Ringer examines the scholarly discussion of Lesslie Newbigin and Doug Downs. Newbigin argues that faith is a primary moment in the act of inquiry. Newbigin claims that, in order to be skeptical, to question, or to judge, there must already be beliefs by which a person is judging. In essence, the act of critical inquiry, whether taken up from a stance of dogma or academic skeptic, are both in relationship to previously established “facts.” Ringer cites Newbigin as a primary scholar pointing out the hidden dogma woven into the composition scholar’s perspective, a perspective with Rigner points to in Doug Downs’s work with “Keith.” Downs, while working to reconcile his own skeptical perspective with that of his fundamentalist student Keith, acknowledges that we are limited in our ability to know. However, Ringer (contrasting Downs with Newbigin) points out that Downs doesn’t come with a humble attitude toward knowing: his account confirms a preferential treatment to his own method of inquiry above that of a faith based perspective.

While current composition studies asks students of faith to welcome identity-shifting in their own beliefs as a result of contact with academic inquiry, scholars do not make a similar move in asking ourselves to be fundamentally altered by contact with other forms of dogma. Ringer, applying his analysis of Newbigin and Augustine, shows how his own classroom in a Christian university makes space for the questioning of faith based experience, and in doing so, much of the writing reflects the humble tone of knowing that seeks to know more: humble dogma.

Tags: Belief, Christianity, Faith, Pedagogy 


Trapp, Joona Smitherman. “Religious Values and the Student: A Plea for Tolerance.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists 6.1 (1999): 14-22. Print.

Trapp begins with an experience she had in graduate school in which her Milton professor claimed that a religious person could not be a good scholar. When Trapp observes that such a standard would have excluded Milton himself from consideration as a good scholar, her professor’s lecture silences Trapp for the rest of the semester. She then relates other experiences in which she hears some fellow graduate students boast about silencing Christian students, and other graduate students confess that they too are hesitant to admit that they are religious. She also observes a habit in composition scholarship of assuming that students who think “conventionally” are in need of some kind enlightenment. She worries that many may assume that that the conventional includes religion, even though for many students, religious observance is a matter of intentional choice.

Just as compositionists hold that students have a right to speak their minds and argue their opinions, they also have the right, Trapp argues, not to be belittled for their opinions. She also suggests that teachers have an obligation to help students make religiously-based arguments more sophisticated.

The essay closes with a new take on a familiar story: Trapp writes about her experience of teaching at a small Christian liberal arts college. She has a meeting with a student who “comes out” to her, not as a religious student but as a non-religious one. She describes the complex problem of inviting her to speak her mind without demanding that she always offer “the other side” to a Christian argument and without allowing the Christian students to gang up on her. If we want students to grow, she writes, we cannot demean their deepest convictions.

Tags: Academy, Christianity, Identity, Secular/Sacred


Vander Lei, Elizabeth. “Ain’t We Got Fun? Teaching Writing in a Violent World.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 89-104. Print.

Vander Lei begins with an experience with a student named Marty. For his major composition research paper, Marty proposes to prove that the flood depicted in Genesis actually happened. In response, Vander Lei suggests that norms of academic discourse would necessarily put this project out of bounds. Marty dutifully chooses another topic. But in a later assignment, he describes writing as being tortured. This violence of Marty’s description recalls a question first articulated by Mary Rose O’Reilley: Can English be taught so that people stop killing each other? This question seems all the more important in a world marked by so much violence, including the shootings at Virginia Tech, at Northern Illinois University, and at other schools across the country. As Vander Lei notes, compositionists including Lynn Worsham and Sharon Crowley have explored how rhetorical education might address the issue of violence. For her part, Vander Lei turns to two Christian theologians, Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf.

In Hauerwas, Vander Lei finds a reminder that all students live with narratives and within communities that interpret those narratives. Located firmly within these narratives, students cannot easily extricate themselves, even for the sake of academic discourse. Instead of asking students simply to switch into academic discourse, then, Vander Lei imagines a classroom in which discourses would clash. The personal, she argues, cannot simply be replaced by the academic. The classroom is rather the location for the encounter. In Volf, Vander Lei is reminded that, for Christians, the solution to religious violence is a more refined and robust sense of religion that offers hospitality to the other in place of over-pronounced “patriotism.” This kind of hospitality, however, would require an openness to troubling discourses and arguments like those proposed by her student Marty. Ultimately, she decides that the encounter between discourses, however difficult, is more important for learning than the simple adoption of academic discourse.

Tags: Academy, Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Pedagogy, Student Writing


Vander Lei, Elizabeth. “Coming to Terms with Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom: Introductory Remarks.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 3-10. Print.

In the introduction to the volume Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom, Vander Lei begins by describing as “negotiation” (3) the interaction between the academy and its religious students. As a representative anecdote, she recalls a former student who, required by university policy to leave his weapon in his car, instead wears an empty holster to class in order to signal his attitudes and identity. Vander Lei likens this to the ways in which students sometimes “wear” their religious attitudes and identities in class. If we are to continue to prepare students for writing and rhetoric in a multicultural public sphere, she argues, then we cannot simply ignore the religious empty holsters hanging from our students’ belts. Thus, we must allow students to engage their faith, which she distinguishes from religion. The latter, she writes, is institutional and theological, while the former is personal and spiritual, the plane of experience much more likely to manifest itself in the composition classroom. Yet she is also aware that the term “faith” stumbles over as many problems as it sidesteps. Yet she ultimately prefers to it a term like “spirituality” because the former at least implies the institutional and doctrinal in a way that spirituality does not. She finally cautions composition teachers against seeing religious faith as a bar to academic engagement, a stance that not only makes the classroom inhospitable for many of our students, but one that also forecloses a tension that might lead to greater learning.

Tags: Academy, Faith, Pedagogy, Spirituality


Wagner, Joe. “God in the Comp Class: A Pragmatic Approach.” Writing on the Edge 20.1 (2009): 17-31. Print.

Wagner recounts his experience teaching a course in religious rhetoric at a university in Chile. He teaches the course from a pragmatic perspective, by which he means the study of religious rhetoric in terms of what it does rather than what it is. Religious discourse, Wagner writes, suffers from “narration sickness,” in which each “side” preaches mostly to itself (542). Wagner contextualizes the question of religious discourse in composition with reference to Maxine Hairston’s 1992 article “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing,” in which Hairston famously urged against teaching political topics and complained that composition instructors did not take students’ religious commitments very seriously. Wagner observes, however, that religion is unlike racism and sexism in that it is not something we are trying to resist or dismantle. Religion therefore has to be addressed in a different way, thus his turn to the pragmatists. By turning to pragmatism, Wagner hopes to avoid getting caught up in metaphysical disputes in favor of seeing religion as experience.

This approach faces some difficulties in Chile, an extremely Catholic country and one whose ugly political history is tied up with the Church. The pragmatic approach is described as allowing the teacher to sidestep questions of religious doctrine in favor of discussing religion’s usefulness. Wagner recounts the students’ discussion, in which they wrestle with the kinds of questions that pragmatism often raises: charges of relativism, for example. The author also describes the texts he uses in the course, texts that include current news articles about Catholicism and politics. Finally, his description of the class also includes discussion of other pedagogical methods in the course, including Ann Berthoff’s double-entry journal.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Pedagogy, Pragmatism


Williams, Bronwyn T. “The Book and the Truth: Faith, Rhetoric, and Cross-Cultural Contamination.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 105-120. Print.

Williams begins with the question of multiculturalism and its growing relationship to work in rhetoric and composition. Yet as rich as our field’s understanding of multiculturalism may be, it usually ignores religion, which Williams describes as “an essential element of culture” (105). Even more importantly, it is a deeply emotional and affective element, and as such can occasion strong responses in students. As an example, Williams relates an experience of teaching composition during the period when Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was published. A Muslim student proposes to write a paper arguing that the novel should be banned. The student insists on this position even though he has not read the book. Indeed, reading the book might violate his religious beliefs.

Williams reacts strongly against this paper topic. At first, he assumes his reaction comes primarily from liberal values such as commitment to free speech. But upon reflection, he realizes that part of what is motivating his reaction is his own Quaker background. That background, he realizes, is easily compatible with the liberal values he associates with academia. So although religion does not present academic problems for him, it does for his student. Williams’s first conclusion is that composition needs to do a better job of engaging with religion. Not only will such engagement allow for student writing on a subject in which they are intently interested, it will also occasion salutary self-criticism. This kind of self-criticism is particularly important for those scholars whose religious traditions tend not to clash with the values of academia. When a given set of religious beliefs does not present problems for scholars, they can become blind to their own assumptions and positions. In the end, Williams does not feel that he is in a position to respond fruitfully to his student’s work.

Williams also offers a critique of multicultural pedagogy, which, he argues, emphasizes individual agency and tolerance in ways that downplay the role of agonism in political activity. He suggests that a postcolonial approach to pedagogical issues may be more successful in addressing discourse encounters in which power and history are explicitly in play. He also suggests other approaches, including approaches influenced by Pratt’s contact zone. But he leans away from agonistic arguments and toward rhetorical dialogue as understood by scholars like Chaim Perelman. Such a dialogue would not simply call religious assumptions into question, but also academic assumptions.

Tags: Academy, Identity, Islam/Muslim, Secular/Sacred, Student Writing


Worth, Jan. “Student Pieties and Pedagogical Hot Spots: Mediating Faith-Based Topics in First-Year Composition.” Writing on the Edge 14.1 (2003): 21-30. Print.

Worth begins with a series of familiar stories: 1) a Christian student comes to a conference and announces that he plans to write a paper in favor of school prayer; 2) a female student announces that she is planning to write about the benefits of prayer; and 3) a second female student, who has been difficult for most of the semester, announces that she is planning on writing an anti-abortion paper. In each of these instances, Worth observes particular challenges of teaching traditional argument: problems in reasoning, evidence, and audience. Perhaps the biggest problem is personal: How does Worth manage her own reaction to religious discourse, a reaction conditioned by her own religious upbringing?

She makes reference to Priscilla Perkins’s 2001 essay “‘A Radical Conversion of the Mind’: Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics, and the Metanoic Classroom,” an essay that observes the difficulty teachers sometimes have in responding to viewpoints that seem radically different than their own. Nevertheless, Perkins writes, evangelical students are dismissed far too quickly. She elaborates on the complexities of maintaining this openness. One of her jobs, she thinks, is to cultivate judgment in her students, yet this word may mean something rather different in religious contexts. Students should be able to choose their own topics, yet the habits of religious and academic argument differ. And when students write on religious topics in way that precludes critical thinking, she sometimes finds herself getting angry.

She then offers a series of maxims for handling religious topics in the composition classroom: use a good textbook, treat religious topics like any others, clarify discourse communities and their standards of evidence, consider audience above all else, do not punish students for writing on religion, and consider that the writing skills for academic settings and religious settings are not mutually exclusive. She closes the essay by reprinting a couple of student emails inquiring about religious topics. In both cases, she steers students toward other ideas, but she wonders whether she did them a disservice by not allowing them to attempt these topics. As she notes, September 11, 2001, returned religion to the center of American consciousness. If students are to learn to think and write about religion more productively, then they must risk engaging religion.

Tags: Faith, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Pedagogy 


Administrative Curriculum, Institution, Program

Bean, John C., Larry C. Nichols, and Jeffrey S. Philpott. “Jesuit Ethos, Faculty-Owned Assessment, and the Organic Development of Rhetoric Across the Curriculum at Seattle University. Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 332-345. Print.

Fernald, Anne E., and Kate M. Nash. “The New Eloquentia Perfecta Curriculum at Fordham.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 306-317. Print.

Peters, K.J. “Jesuit Rhetoric and the Core Curriculum at Loyola Marymount University.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 318-331. Print.

Each of these three chapters details the history of rhetorical requirements and assessment across core curricula at Jesuit schools. Sometimes going by the traditional Jesuit name of eloquentia perfecta, and sometimes decidedly not, the rhetorical ethos of Jesuit education finds new expression in the contemporary curricula of these Jesuit schools. These chapters describe particular rhetorical requirements, the mechanisms by which those requirements were established and maintained, and the challenges those new requirements sometimes faced. One of those challenges was faculty resistance to having to reconfigure courses to meet new rhetorical specifications. And while some faculty are not interested in maintaining any sense of Jesuit distinctiveness or character in the curriculum, most are. Ultimately, each of these articles chronicles a revitalized rhetorical ethos, though one constructed to fit contemporary university structure.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Jesuit, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Coley, Toby. “Opening a Dialogue about Religious Restraint in Graduate Professionalization.” Rhetoric Review 29.4 (2010): 395-413. Print.

Like many other scholars, Coley argues that students’ religious beliefs should be respected and allowed as legitimate discourse, and he objects to what he sees as the exclusion of religion from the academic sphere. However, his research focuses on graduate students rather than undergraduate students: “The area neglected by scholarship surrounding faith in composition is the professionalization of our graduate students” (400). Graduate students, he claims, are just as likely as undergraduate students to feel that their religious beliefs may be unwelcome in the academy.

Coley’s term for this circumstance is “restraint.” He elects this term over the common “silencing” for several reasons. “Silencing,” he writes, implies that those other than the religious are the ones who do most of the silencing, an attitude that cultivates a sense of victimhood. Moreover, silence undermines the rhetorical agency of the religious, who may themselves choose to remain silent. “Restraint,” on the other hand, suggests a greater spectrum of nuance, includes personal self-restraint; the restraint imposed by religious communities; and the restraint imposed by academic communities, occasioned either by force, assumption, or implicit communal gesture. Coley relates the communal emphasis of this latter possibility to Foucault’s notion of “constraint.”

Coley then interviews several graduate students who report their reflections on whether and how to introduce their beliefs into their graduate classrooms or to argue from those beliefs within academic contexts. Many report the restraint Coley talks about, a restraint sometimes encouraged explicitly and implicitly by their faculty. This latter circumstance contributes to what the author sees as the Foucauldian constraint–the sense that the institution contributes to the general restraint of religious discourse. In response, Coley calls for greater openness and engagement with religiously oriented graduate students. Though he acknowledges that it may be hard to see religious students, particularly Christians, as marginalized, the author nevertheless insists that such students are often marginalized in the academy.

Tags: Academic Discourse, Academy, Rhetorical Theory


Fishman, Jenn, and Rebecca S. Nowacek. “Networking Rhetoric for Jesuit Education in a New World.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Ed. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 370-78. Print.

Fishman and Nowacek look at the Ratio Studiorum–the foundational Jesuit handbook on education–as “a record of rhetoric at the crossroads of early modern education change” (371). The Ratio places rhetoric at the heart of its educational program, and its understanding of the discipline illustrates the early modern interdependence of orality, literacy, and print culture. It thus has much to offer to our own age of networked and mediated educational change. In order to illustrate how Jesuit rhetoric can contribute to changing education in the twenty-first century, Fishman and Nowacek look at two campus initiatives at the Jesuit school Marquette.

Although not part of the regular rhetoric curriculum, the two initiatives manifest many of the values of Jesuit rhetorical theory. The first, “Who Counts? Math Across the Curriculum for Global Learning” is focused on quantitative reasoning and used Jesuit rhetorical principles to identify and explore global concerns where such reasoning could be applied. The second initiative, the “Social Innovation Initiative” (ongoing at the time of writing), aims to foster social entrepreneurship, or the creation of private businesses that serve the common good. Both initiatives have been connected to various courses but share the fundamental Jesuit values of a global, social concern, and multimodal learning experiences.

Fishman and Nowacek conclude their reflections on the two initiatives by offering brief recommendations for other leaders who would create such programs, including working across the curriculum, promoting visibility, and emphasizing sustainable change.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Jesuit, Rhetorical Theory


Green, Ann E. “Service Learning and Discernment: Reality Working through Resistance.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 360-69. Print.

Green notes that service learning is often marketed by Jesuit universities as a mark of their particular educational philosophy, yet she argues that service learning opportunities are often insufficient. In particular, since Jesuit universities are notably expensive, service learning often serves as a box to check for a traditional middle-class education, and students accordingly may engage in it without reflection or an ongoing commitment to justice.

As a teacher of service learning herself, Green insists that best practice in such courses is to require reflection in order to help students become more engaged in understanding systemic injustice and their own privilege. She draws on the discernment exercises of the Jesuit Spiritual Exercises to help accomplish this pedagogical goal.

Employing the Jesuit discernment process involves seeking an attitude of “indifference,” in which one sets aside preconceived notions and approaches a situation afresh (363). To encourage that position, Green requires service learning students to write descriptive “field notes” on their experiences (363). Asking students to simply describe their interactions with the site helps them achieve indifference and provides an opportunity for the teacher to raise questions of systemic injustice. Green also requires periodic anonymous questionnaires that help her gauge the emotional state of the class as a whole and how they are experiencing their service.

To conclude, Green moves to a case study on how the exercises have helped her students recognize the power of race and racism. She describes the experiences of two white students and one African American student who all move through various stages of Jesuit discernment in their learning about race, a process that for the white students at least involves significant resistance that must be overcome. For Green, service learning supported by the Spiritual Exercises provides students with a tangible understanding of justice issues that classroom work alone cannot achieve.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Contemplation, Jesuit, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology, Pedagogy, Race


Janangelo, Joseph. “Afterword: Technology, Diversity, and the Impression of Mission.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 401-413. Print.

Janangelo considers how compositionists can contribute to the mission of Jesuit universities by helping them honor the past while navigating current educational trends and challenges. The essay takes up this task in two sections, the first in conversation with a published argument, and the second raising other pedagogical concerns that Jesuit institutions may face in the future.

In his first section, Janangelo responds to an essay in Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education by Harry R. Dammer, in which the author decries the influence of digital technology in the classroom and encourages instructors to limit it. In response, Janangelo notes composition’s extensive literature on multimodality as an intellectual resource. He accordingly sees the Jesuit educational mission of fostering ethical rhetors as including, not excluding, the responsible use of technology. He also notes that Dammer presents student diversity as a problem to the extent that it means students have less of the conventional preparation for a Catholic school; for Janangelo, again, diversity lies at the heart of the Jesuit educational imperative for self-criticism and reflection.

In a brief second section, Janangelo lists other areas in which composition can contribute to the Jesuit educational mission. Among others, he lists writing across the curriculum, justice for contingent faculty, questions of institution branding, and the preparation of graduate students as possible future areas of focus. He concludes with encouragement to those involved in the conversation around Jesuit rhetoric to explore the creative tensions these and other challenges may produce.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Diversity, Jesuit


Nowacek, Rebecca Shoenike. “Negotiating Individual Religious Identity and Institutional Religious Culture.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 155-166. Print. 

Nowacek offers an ethnographic study of three student writers at Villanova University, a Catholic university founded by members of the Order of St. Augustine. Nowacek’s question is whether and how these students encounter and respond to Catholic doctrine in the school’s interdisciplinary humanities core. Each student brings a different perspective to the experience. One is the product of thirteen years of Catholic school and finds himself ready to think about Catholic doctrine at a more advanced level; the second is a Quaker whose parents had left the Catholic Church and who found herself suspicious of her theology professor’s “agenda” (160); and the third is a cradle Catholic who is highly sensitive to and skeptical about what she sees as hypocrisy in the Church.

Nowacek observes that the particular experience of each of these students presents particular challenges for their learning. Their intellects and identities are at stake in these courses. Ultimately, she urges writing teachers to consider that, when students broach religious subjects in their writing, they may not be trying to convert us or challenge secular orientations and assumptions. They may also be going through a period of questioning and doubt about their own faiths, well aware of the seeming incompatibilities between religious belief and academic inquiry. Her picture of three students struggling with these issues complicates the discipline’s usual picture of the religious student as strident and anti-intellectual.

Tags: Faith, Identity, Method/Methodology, Spirituality


Vander Lei, Elizabeth, and Lauren Fitzgerald. “What in God’s Name? Administering the Conflicts of Religious Belief in Writing Programs.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 31:1-2 (2007): 185-195. Print. 

Vander Lei and Fitzgerald argue that writing program administrators need to take a more sensitive and self-aware approach to writing about religion within their programs. Given the resurgence of religion in the United States, composition teachers would be wise to consider carefully how they might respond to discussion of and writing about religion in their classrooms. Yet in spite of a growing literature in composition studies on the question of religion, little has been written explicitly in relation to the question of writing program administration.

The authors identify three assumptions that they claim have served to hamper inquiry: 1) the notion that the First Amendment prevents religious discussion; 2) the notion that religious belief and academic inquiry are fundamentally at odds; and 3) the notion that religion is a private matter that should not be broached in a public setting. Vander Lei and Fitzgerald systematically challenge each of these assumptions. While the First Amendment does prevent the government from establishing an official religion, it also provides for religious freedom, including the freedom to make public claims from a religious standpoint. Next, the authors cite a wealth of composition literature that rejects a separation between church and academy. This literature suggests that faith can trigger inquiry as much as hinder it. Finally, they suggest, to insist that religion is solely private has three deleterious effects: it risks alienating students, it divorces students from their own experience, and it may undermine their ability to discuss religious matters in a public forum. The last of these would seem to be crucial for living in a pluralistic society.

The article concludes by suggesting that religious matters should be admitted to the writing classroom under three main conditions: 1) that texts must serve academic ends, 2) that texts should not be written in an effort to convert readers, and finally 3) that students should be allowed to remain silent on matters of religious belief if they so choose.

Tags: Belief, Public Sphere/Square


Research Methodologies

Boswell, Grant. “Seven Ways of Looking at Religion and Rhetoric.” Rhetoric, the Polis, and the Global Village: Selected Papers from the 1998 Thirtieth Anniversary Rhetoric Society of America Conference. Ed. C. Jan Swearingen and Dave Pruett. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum, 1998. 27-29. Print.

Boswell offers seven approaches to the study of rhetoric and religion. He draws these seven from a 1997 exchange on H-Rhetor in which he participated. They are: 1) rhetorical theory with a religious purpose, as in Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana; 2) rhetorical analysis of self-described religious practice, which may include sermons, prayers, hymns, etc.; 3) rhetorical analysis of the work of self-described religious people in order to determine the effect of religion on their work; 4) rhetorical analysis of religious texts, such as the New Testament; 5) recovery of marginalized voices, such as the voices of women in early Christianity; 6) the study of a particular religious orientation’s impact on rhetoric more generally; 7) the study of rhetoric and religion in eras of change and upheaval.

Tags: Method/Methodology, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Cope, Emily Murphy, and Jeffrey M. Ringer. “Cming to (Troubled) Terms: Methodology, Positionality, and the Problem of Defining ‘Evangelical Christian.’” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 103-124. Print. 

Cope and Ringer’s chapter begins by describing the difficulties of defining the term “evangelical Christian.” As they explain, evangelical, at least in an American context, is too often reduced to fundamentalist or reactionary or conservative None of these terms, they argue, do justice to the contemporary complexity of the term or its history. This problem of terminology creates further problems for research: If the term “evangelical” cannot be consistently defined, then how can researchers study the writing of Christians who identify–or might be identified–as evangelicals?

The authors rely on a quadrilateral definition, which includes “conversionism,” or a focus on personal conversion as a specific transformative event; “biblicism,” which holds the Bible as ultimate authority for Christian life; activism, or the desire to spread the faith publicly; and “crucicentrism,” or seeing Christ’s death primarily as substitutionary atonement (3). This definition allows them to observe evangelical Christianity in a wide variety of subcultures. Nevertheless, a problem remains: Many who might fit the label reject it, particularly the millennials whom Cope and Ringer study.

Each scholar develops a different strategy. Ringer employs “affiliation,” through which he identifies potential subjects through avowedly and openly evangelical networks (112-14). This strategy seems particularly important in his research context: a public research university in the northeast where evangelicals are small in number. Cope, on the other hand, conducts her research in the Bible Belt. Here, the problem involves discerning “active” evangelicals from the ambient evangelical culture. Thus, she invites her subjects to identify themselves as evangelicals (114-16).

The article closes with reflection on the various challenges in such studies. In addition to the question of terminology, they also discuss questions of ethics and what they describe as “positionality,” that is, the question of whether researchers who are evangelical should identify themselves as such (119-20). Both authors agree that such a move can be quite productive.

Tags: Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Method/Methodology


Pavia, Catherine Matthews. “Taking Up Faith: Ethical Methods for Studying Writing in Religious Contexts.” Written Communication 32.4 (2015): 336-67. 

In this meta-study, Pavia analyzes a corpus of articles and chapter on religious faith that appeared in some of the field’s major journals and book-length studies. Pavia’s purpose is to examine the ethical norms for research practiced in these articles in order to articulate a more formal set of heuristic questions. As she notes, many articles in contemporary composition recount tales of student faith “surfacing” unexpectedly (337-38). As a result, a great deal of research is done on the fly. That is the exigence for Pavia’s project. Two questions guide her study: How do researchers decide to depict the faith of their students and their other research participants, and how do researchers account for their own faith commitments (or lack thereof)?

Her methods, which draw on feminist methodologies, include interviewing scholars who have written on religion and coding their responses to form a heuristic of ethical issues. (Appendices and tables included in the article present her questions, her data set, and her analyses.) Her findings suggest that researchers’ own faith backgrounds and commitments shape the ways in which they approach their subject. She analyzes this relationship through Kenneth Burke’s ideas of terministic screens and identification. She also investigates why only half the researchers she studies actually engage their own faith backgrounds as part of their research. Pavia then draws on some methods of feminist research to suggest ways in which researchers might take their own views more explicitly into account. The article then goes on to describe the challenges and risks of accurately portraying participants’ religious beliefs. For the researchers Pavia interviews, portraying beliefs accurately requires taking them seriously–that is, understanding them rather than evaluating them. Finally, most important among the implications Pavia observes is that rhetoric and composition need a wider array of research methodologies. 

Tags: Burke, Christian/Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Method/Methodology


Ringer, Jeffrey M. Vernacular Christian Rhetoric and Civil Discourse: The Religious Creativity of Evangelical Student Writers. New York: Routledge, 2016. Print. 

Ringer frames his study within the context of Sharon Crowley’s Toward a Civil Discourse, which sees certain kinds of religious rhetoric in the public sphere as a problem. Against this backdrop, Ringer argues for what he calls a “vernacular religious creativity” (3). Ringer defines vernacular as referring to the rhetoric of ordinary evangelicals, a term that Ringer also takes pains to define. He is particularly interested in millennial evangelicals, the sort who sit in our classrooms. As he notes, evangelical students have often been seen as problematic in composition classrooms. Their rhetoric has been dismissed as contrary to norms of reasoned public exchange. Ringer makes two complimentary—and, from some perspectives—contradictory arguments: that vernacular religious rhetors can invent ways to engage in public discourse while at the same time holding to the most robust expression of their faith.

After the introduction, Ringer draws upon folklore and sociological studies of religion in order to move toward an understanding of religion as a lived experience, a focus that dovetails with his focus on vernacular expression. For the purposes of Ringer’s study, religion is less about a set of doctrines and more about everyday life. Ringer connects this background to the field’s study of deliberation, from which he constructs a framework of casuistic stretching, values articulation, and translation. These are the strategies he finds in his case studies. Through them, vernacular religious rhetors negotiate the demands of their faith and the demands of the public sphere. When his students try to expand their faith in Christian salvation to include non-Christians, they are employing casuistic stretching. When students need to reconfigure their values in light of new situations, they are employing values articulation, a term he borrows (and reworks) from Crowley’s use of it in Toward a Civil Discourse. Finally, Ringer also observed several moments when students use translation to re-express their values to audiences who do not necessarily share their values. Ringer then proceeds to relate the three case studies that form the heart of his argument. Finally, the book closes with several implications of study for teachers, students, the field, and public discourse in general. For the field, these include the possibility of changing attitudes toward our religiously committed students and developing new research methodologies, specifically methodologies that would move away from teacher research on a single student. 

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Civic Rhetoric, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Invention, Method/Methodology, Pedagogy 


Smart, Juanita M. “‘Frankenstein or Jesus Christ?’: When the Voice of Faith Creates a Monster for the Composition Teacher.” Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 11-23. Print. 

Smart’s essay begins with a representative anecdote about a student writer who compares Frankenstein’s monster with Jesus Christ. The student’s persistence is based on his analysis in a religious attitude troubles Smart, who recognizes two halves of her own experience in the student’s work. Though Smart was raised as evangelical Christian, and was barred from giving her graduation speech because of her own insistent focus on Jesus as the answer, she was later ostracized by her family when she came out to them as lesbian.

Her student’s essay puts her in mind of Chris Anderson’s “The Description of Embarrassment,” which describes the sort of essay her student produces, an essay that is not aware of its own premises and assumptions. Because of its “otherworldy” status, faith as a form of knowledge or appeal proves particularly embarrassing. At the same time, she is troubled by the ways in which the academy, including composition, excludes faith from the classroom as something other or foreign. Working from a hermeneutic based in her own experience, she returns to the student essay that she found so simplistic, she finds insight. Although that insight is hidden behind a religious language (e.g., unironic and untroubled references to “The Lord Jesus Christ” or “the Son of God”), and although she considers part of her job helping the student to discover a more inviting language for his audience, she recognizes that the student is truly struggling for a deeper understanding of the literature she has assigned. When she later discovers that the student has changed his major from English to business, Smart wonders whether either religion or the academy successfully invites students to persist in examining the unknown.

Tags: Academy, Faith, Pedagogy, Spirituality, Student Writing


Thomson-Bunn, Heather. “Empirical Hybridity: A Multimethodological Approach for Studying Religious Rhetorics.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 125-140. Print. 

Thomson-Bunn argues that composition’s study of religious rhetoric relies too heavily on the exceptional student–the student whose religiosity shows up against other students and somehow risks disrupting our usual classroom experience. Although she acknowledges that this rough qualitative method has been productive, she also argues that it limits what we can learn about the experience of religious students in the writing classroom. In response, she argues for a qualitative methodology, a more complex and self-conscious approach to our study of religious students.

Thomson-Bunn then describes “empirical hybridity” (126-28), which mixes methods from both formal social science research and the textual methods of rhetorical research. She also describes how she used the methodology in a particular research study conducted at at large, public, midwestern university. Empirical hybridity asks the researcher not only to conduct interviews, to distribute surveys, and to use other tools of social science research, but also to put that data in conversation with current rhetorical scholarship on religious students. Thus, a given student’s or instructor’s experience, gathered from empirical work, gains even more importance and validity by being contextualized with and within other scholarship. Thus, researchers can avoid the “exceptional student” problem that has troubled research in this area thus far. The article then offers an overview of how one might develop this empirical hybridity by including surveys, interviews, and discourse analysis.

Tags: Empiricism, Method/Methodology, Rhetorical Theory


Thomson-Bunn, Heather. “Mediating Discursive Worlds: When Academic Norms and Religious Belief Conflict.” College English 79.1 (2017): 276-296. Print. 

Thomson-Bunn reports on a study on the way composition instructors see the work of their religiously-identified Christian students. The study, conducted at a flagship public university in the midwest, combines a survey (attached in an appendix to the article) and interviews of 40 composition instructors, who report feeling much frustration working with their Christian students. Thomson-Bunn pursues this strategy in order to move away from the most common approach taken in articles on religious students, an approach that usually involves a single instructor reporting on interactions with one or two students.

The survey and interviews suggest that instructor frustration stems from what they see as the failure of self-identified Christian students to engage in four areas of academic discourse: critical thinking, audience awareness, appropriate use of evidence, and tolerance. Regarding critical thinking, Thomson-Bunn suggests that instructors identify the same problems that Douglas Downs (2005) described as the conflict between discourses of affirmation and discourses of inquiry. Others describe some Christian students as failing to distinguish between their own beliefs and established facts. In terms of audience awareness, some students’ personal narratives seemed to fail to account for audiences who did not share their beliefs. The same problem sometimes appeared in more analytical or argumentative essays. Instructors also found themselves having to push their students toward appropriate uses of evidence, where the Bible or other explicitly religious texts might be cited in ways that did not conform to accepted academic norms. Finally, instructors sometimes found their Christian students to be intolerant toward perspectives that differ from their own. To be sure, some instructors found that their students handled these norms quite easily, but these are the four areas over which other students tended to stumble.

Thomson-Bunn then turns toward strategies that one might employ to manage the tension between academic and religious discourse. Here, she draws from a variety of other sources on religion in the composition classroom. From these, she concludes that instructors would do well to embrace the tensions between academic and religious discourses when they arise. That is, instructors should not see these occasions as obstacles, but rather as opportunities to call all students’ attention to issues of genre, discourse community, and scholarly expectations. Such work might extend beyond religious texts and include any text that is meaningful or foundational for students’ beliefs.

Tags: Academy, Belief, Bible, Empiricism, Method/Methodology


Vander Lei, Elizabeth. “‘Where the Wild Things Are’: Christian Students in the Figured Worlds of Composition Research.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 66-85. Print.

Vander Lei offers an extensive review of composition’s literature on religiously motivated students. Borrowing James Paul Gee’s notion of “figured worlds,” Vander Lei traces the ways in which religious students are construed in composition’s imagination. As with any figured world, composition sets up territories and boundaries, and Vander Lei argues that religious students are often understood as invading those territories and violating those boundaries. She also turns to monster theory in order to interpret the current state of affairs in composition’s literature. Monsters, she argues, reflect the figures that a culture has both created and would reject. She then offers a literature review written through the metaphors of frontiers and monsters, noting the ways in which composition has tried, and sometimes failed, to accommodate religious students and religious rhetoric. Vander Lei cites even some of the phrasing in her own scholarship as “monstering” religious students.

Tags: Literacy, Method/Methodology


Feminism, Women’s Religious Rhetoric

Adams-Roberts, Aesha, et al. “‘With the Tongue of [Wo]men and Angels’: Apostolic Rhetorical Practices among Religious Women.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 45-58. Print. 

This chapter offers a study of four women from three different traditions of Christianity. Anne Hart (1768-1834) and Elizabeth Hart (1771-1833) were African Caribbean Methodist Missionaries. The other two were Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887), a Mormon woman and president of the Female Relief Society, and Jannette Miller (1879-1969), a white evangelical from the American Midwest. The authors cite these women as examples of what they call the “apostolic voice,” which “positions the speaker within a spiritual community.” They contrast the apostolic voice against the “prophetic voice,” which they describe as one positioned separate from, and often above, the audience addressed (46). The authors argue that the apostolic voice relies on an array of particular rhetorical moves, including an appeal to experience, to humility, and to dependence on God. These rhetorical moves allow marginalized speakers to move inside otherwise exclusive discourses.

The usefulness and effectiveness of the apostolic voice is then discussed within the particular rhetorical contexts pertaining to these four women. In the case of the Hart sisters, for example, their mixed-race heritage and the second class status as women are described as fundamental rhetorical challenges for their ministry. The authors describe the ways in which they use the apostolic voice in order to manage these challenges in their writings. All four women are offered as case studies for the apostolic rhetorical strategies, and all are described as able not only to create rhetorical opportunities for themselves, but also to imagine new ideals of community. Finally, the authors urge feminist rhetorical scholars to study more Christian and religious women writers. They suggest that these scholars sometimes overlook these opportunities for fear of being identified with their subjects. The study of apostolic rhetoric, however, offers insight into a range of rhetorical practices that reaches far beyond the religious.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Feminist/Feminism, Mormonism, Prophetic Rhetoric, Race


Burton, Vicki Tolar. “Preaching from the Pulpit Steps: Mary Bosanquet Fletcher and Women’s Preaching in Early Methodism.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 31-44. Print.

Burton traces the story of Mary Bosanquet Fletcher (1739-1815), one of the leading preachers of early Methodism. A friend and colleague of Methodism’s founder John Wesley (1703-1791), Bosanquet Fletcher committed herself to Methodism at the age of seventeen after experiencing a call from God in a dream. She then used her inheritance and moved to London where she lived in a Christian community. From the start, Bosanquet Fletcher’s religious life was marked by rhetorical practices, including public prayer, Christian conversation, scriptural interpretation, and religious services, both in her own home and those of her neighbors. This latter practice began to create opportunities for her to preach. Soon, Bosanquet Fletcher was being invited to preach publicly. These invitations created challenges, both for Bosanquet Fletcher and the nascent church. In the Anglican Church from which Methodism originally sprang, preaching had been limited to ordained men. Methodism changed this first by sanctioning laymen to preach. Now, Bosanquet Fletcher’s success began to push the boundaries of legitimate preaching, necessitating frequent correspondence between her and Wesley. Bosanquet Fletcher became both an accomplished preacher and a regular apologist of the idea of women’s preaching. Although Wesley was sympathetic to her activities and to women preaching in general, he never fully endorsed it, and women were banned from preaching in the Church after his death.

Burton describes the rhetorical strategies Bosanquet Fletcher employs in her public discourse as a blending of rhetorical genres. This cross-genre approach allows her to navigate the complexities of female preaching in a male-dominated church. Bosanquet Fletcher participated in sanctioned discourse–including conversation, testimony, and exhortation (a short address that followed a regular sermon)–so frequently that she in effect became a preacher. Her correspondence with Wesley defending her preaching also combined various genres, including formal forensic argument. By combining various discourses, Burton argues, Bosanquet Fletcher was able to engage in regular preaching without too openly challenging the patriarchal norms prohibiting it.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Feminism/Feminist, Genre, Preaching/Sermons, Protestant/Protestantism


Daniell, Beth. A Communion of Friendship: Literacy, Spiritual Practice, and Recovery. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2003.

In this study, Daniell observes the literacy practices of six women in the pseudonymous “Mountain City” who were members of Al-Anon, a 12-step support group for people related to or involved with alcoholics. In the case of Daniell’s subjects, all were married to alcoholics. Though Al-Anon is open to both sexes, Daniell chooses to focus on the literacy experience of women, which she argues,  has been undervalued in the field. Daniell is interested in the way these six women use various literacy practices to cultivate their spiritual lives. She describes her work as a study of “little narratives,” which she opposed to the “grand narratives” of thinkers like Jack Goody, Paulo Freire, and Walter Ong. Though she is somewhat hesitant to see her study as an investigation of spirituality, let alone religion, she recognizes that Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous both see themselves as spiritual practices.

Most importantly, the culture and program of Al-Anon usually involve various practices of literacy: discussion, reading, journalling, and so on. These are the practices that constitute the heart of Daniell’s research. Their composition practices focus on recovering from old harms, getting past lingering resentment, and inventing language for forwarding the message and principles of recovery. All three of these are spiritual practices, and all require various literacy practices. For example, Al-Anon requires a “Fourth Step,” so named because it is the fourth of the twelve steps. The Fourth Step requires a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of one’s own misguided or harmful behavior. One of the participants uses an Al-Anon published workbook to guide the user in composing a fourth-step. Al-Anon also involves a great deal of reading; Al-Anon members speak frequently of reading “the literature,” particularly the book One Day at a Time.

Daniell notes several implications of her research, including changed ideas about literacy, pedagogy, and women’s rhetorical and composing practices. One of her most important conclusions is a sharpened definition of personal writing, which she distinguishes from the “tell-all” narrative. The former requires students to connect intellectual ideas to personal experience and is therefore appropriate for academic work; the latter is more deeply confessional and is inappropriate for the classroom. Finally, she closes with a discussion of the methodology and ethics of interviewing subjects who are members of an anonymous organization.

Tags: 12-step/Recovery, Feminist/Feminism, Method/Methodology, Spirituality


Gere, Anne Ruggles. “Constructing Devout Feminists: A Mormon Case.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 3-16. Print. 

Gere describes a Mormon feminism of advanced literacy and sophisticated rhetorical power. Her description recounts the activities of Mormon feminists during the initial establishment of the LDS Church in Utah in the mid-19th century all the way to statehood in 1896. Though the Mormon church itself remained resolutely patriarchal throughout this period, Mormon women were thoroughly involved in public rhetorical activity, particularly regarding the issue of polygamy within the church and the possibility of suffrage outside it. Mormon women were directly involved in advocating for suffrage within Utah, a right that was initially granted in 1870. They also published The Women’s Exponent, one of only three women-run newspapers west of the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Mormon women became increasingly involved in women’s clubs, thereby establishing what Gere terms (following Pratt) a contact zone for Mormon and Gentile (i.e., non-Mormon) women. This contact helped change the popular image not only of Mormon women, who were often seen as little more than sexual slaves, but also of Mormonism in general. These contact zones became even more important after the outlawing of polygamy in 1890. All of these activities contribute to what Gere insists is a particular brand of Mormon feminism. This feminism has been overlooked, Gere argues, because it did not directly challenge the patriarchal structure of the LDS church. Gere finds here a parallel with a larger lesson about how academics and intellectuals sometimes fail to see the role religion plays in animating “secular” political activity and commitment.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Literacy, Mormonism, Public Sphere/Square, Rhetorical Theory


Glenn, Cheryl. “Medieval Rhetoric: Pagan Roots, Christian Flowering, or Veiled Voices in the Medieval Rhetorical Tradition.” Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity to Through the Renaissance. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1997. Print. 

In the third chapter of her revisionary history of the rhetorical tradition, Glenn turns to the medieval period and studies its “veiled voices.” Her search for women’s rhetoric beyond the familiar masculine arenas takes her beyond the well established ars praecandi and toward two religious figures: Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Neither of these figures preached regularly, and neither were public orators in the classical sense. Both, however, were powerful writers. In Julian’s case, it is unclear whether she was fully “lettered” in the languages of education in her day, either in Latin or French. It is also possible that she dictated her spiritual experiences to an amanuensis. What is clear, however, is that she was fully versed with great Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Gregory. Her writings also reveal great rhetorical sensitivity and skill. Though she is not a theorist of rhetoric in the sense that usually shows up in our conventional understandings of the “tradition,” Julian’s vernacular writings are designed to appeal to a wide audience. Most importantly for Glenn’s project, Julian’s writings offer a theology in which women and their experience play a central role.

Glenn then turns to Margery Kempe and her Booke of Margery Kempe. Though Julian appears to have been the first Englishwoman to write about herself, Kempe is the first to write her life story in an early form of autobiography. Margery appears not to have had a formal education in rhetoric and could not read or write. These circumstances may have contributed to the directness and forthrightness of her prose, including some of earliest examples of realistic and dramatically appropriate dialogue drawn from actual experience. Kempe’s writings also display a wide range of rhetorical virtue, including an intentionally crafted persona and audience appeals. Glenn also observes a Bakhtinian dialogism in the complex interplay of Kempe’s implied author, third-person narrator, and the character Margery. Both of these authors contribute not only to a mystical tradition but also to a vernacular tradition of religious literature.

Tags: Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Preaching/Sermons, Theology


Glenn, Cheryl. “Rhetoric, Religion, and Social Practices.” Rhetoric, the Polis, and the Global Village: Selected Papers from the 1998 Thirtieth Anniversary Rhetoric Society of America Conference. Eds. C. Jan Swearingen and Dave Pruett. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum, 1998. 31-35. Print. 

Glenn expands Grant Boswell’s “Seven Ways of Looking at the Rhetoric of Religion” (same volume) to include the social practices that occasion and reinforce belief. Such practices, she argues, are common to both rhetoric and religion. She goes on to argue that religion has been a central part of what we call “the rhetorical tradition,” even though our discipline has usually focused on the connection between rhetoric and politics. Yet from the Roman period all the way through early and medieval Christianity, religion has played a central role in the cultures that found our historiography. In the more recent periods, including the 19th and 20th centuries, rhetors have repeatedly drawn on their religious traditions to animate their arguments (e.g., the Grimke sisters, Martin Luther King, Ida B. Wells). Moreover, the relationship between rhetoric and religion also offers a way for feminist rhetors to question the overweening maleness of both western Christianity and western rhetoric. Glenn then goes on to list several works that offer this feminist challenge, including both academic and more popular texts. Going forward, she predicts, rhetorical scholars will continue to open new avenues of inquiry into “a rhetorical practitioner’s ethical-moral-political-spiritual religious purpose” (33).

Tags: Discipline, Feminist/Feminism, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


McCrary, Donald. “Womanist Theology and Its Efficacy for the Writing Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 52.4 (2001): 521-552. Print. 

McCrary relates his experience of teaching womanist theology in the writing classroom. The essay begins with his own experience, beginning with his time as a community college student, where he saw how many of his classmates struggled to succeed because of their writing. For a time, he became convinced by the approach outlined by Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts, and he used the book in his own writing classroom. But eventually, he saw two problems. First Bartholomae and Petrosky’s choices do not recognize a sufficiently-wide variety of literacy and student experience. Second, they do not problematize academic writing itself. These two problems, McCrary argues, risk alienating students whose experiences and literacies are not easily or naturally assimilated to the academy. To counter these problems, he turns to Patricia Bizzell’s contact zone pedagogy, which places problems and struggles at the center of the classroom.

To find an occasion for the kind of resistance and conflict he would like to see in the classroom, he turns to womanist theology. The term, he writes, is taken from Alice Walker’s “womanism,” which invites reflection on oppression while also celebrating the contributions of black women. Womanist theology has four components: it includes and celebrates courageous behavior; it focuses on women who love other women, whether sexually or not; it refers to women who love life; finally, Walker offers an analogy: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” (qtd. in McCrary 529). These ideas were taken up by black female theologians, but womanist theology differs from womanism in a two important ways: it tries to account for and address other forms of exclusivity, and it focuses on the Bible, which it tries to interpret in light of black women’s experience. So, for example, the experiences of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael and Abraham’s slave, would become a central story for interpretation.

The rest of the essay consists of a brief literature review of womanist theological texts he uses in his writing class, along with several examples of his students’ writing in response to these texts. He concludes by insisting that his intent is not to teach religion per se but to use these texts as a way to spark the agonistic work of a contact zone.

Tags: Basic Writers, Race, Student Writing, Womanist Theology


Muhammad, Gholnecsar E. “Iqra: African American Muslim Girls Reading and Writing for Social Change.” Written Communication 32.3 (2015): 286-316. 

Muhammad investigates the connections among literacy, writing, and activism in the writing experiences of 12 young African American Muslim women. Her project is occasioned and shaped by the idea of iqra, an Arabic word that primarily means “to read,” but the idea also suggests learning, proclaiming, reciting, and understanding. Essentially, Muhammad is interested in her participants’ experience of iqra and how that experiences shapes social activism. As Muhammad notes in her literature review, there has not been a lot of research into the literacy practices of young Muslim women or young Muslim African-American women. Her study seeks to rectify this problem.

Specially, she is interested in the “poetic broadsides” of her participants, who participate in a reading and writing group. The participants are asked to write poetry in response to reading and discussing contemporary social problems. Her methodology describes her own positionality as an African-American woman, her participants and the context of the study, the structure of the writing sessions, along with her methods of data collection, including the writing itself, interview data, and field notes taken by an assistant during the writing sessions. She then describes her method and rationale for her coded analysis. Her purposes in this coding are to observe both the topics about which the participants write and how those topics articulate their various identities, including community (global and religious), gender, personal/individual, ethnic, etc. Muhammad goes on only to offer textual analysis of several of the students’ poems.

In discussing her findings, Muhammad notes that many participants’ poetic broadsides focuses on war, violence, and the abuse of women and girls. Drawing from Scribner’s tripartite metaphor for literacy, Muhammad notes that the participants employ literacy as adaptation while they connect their Muslim beliefs and culture to contemporary problems; as power while they investigate and challenge the power structures they observe in their writing; and as “state-of-grace” while they use reading and writing, iqra, to develop their own knowledge on various topics. 

Tags: Feminist/Feminism, Identity, Islam/Muslim, Literacy, Method/Methodology


Ratcliffe, Krista. “De/Mystifying HerSelf and HerWor(l)ds: Mary Daly.” Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions. Carbondale: SIUP, 1996. 65-106. 

In the third chapter of her book, Ratcliffe turns to the work of Mary Daly, a radical feminist theologian and philosopher famous for her searing critiques of religious patriarchy. In Ratcliffe’s book, Daly joins Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich as examples of writers whose work provides resources for revising “the rhetorical tradition,” a concept that Ratcliffe seeks to challenge. As the heuristic for her project, Ratcliffe draws on the idea of “Bathsheba’s dilemma,” as observed by Woolf: “I have the feelings of a woman, but I have only the language of men” (1). This is the problem faced by Daly in her study of theology and philosophy: how does one articulate the views and experiences of women when one has only the rhetoric of men? Ratcliffe’s methods for her project including recovering, rereading, extrapolating, and conceptualizing (6), all of which are necessary for doing the work of repurposing “traditional” rhetorical concepts for “non-traditional” rhetorics.

In Daly’s case, this work involves reading her work for its self-conscious use of language. Daly provides a rich vein of resources for this mining, including a co-authored lexicon titled Websters’ First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. This dictionary features “spinning,” a practice of linguistic play that sifts new and unexpected meanings and implications from familiar terms. Ratcliffe describes spinning as a “non-canon” of Daly’s reimagined rhetoric (84). Spinning stands in for invention, while “dis-ordering” stands in for arrangement (91); “be-spelling” for style (93); “re-membering” for memory (97); and “be-speaking” for delivery (99). Ratcliffe also describes Daly’s linguistic theory of sign, symbol, and metaphor through which Daly observes the limits of patriarchal language and the possibilities for reinventing it (71-2). Daly also distinguishes between the “foreground” of language, where patriarchy dominates, and the “Background,” which is “the Realm of Wild Reality” (Daly qtd. in Ratcliffe 73). In the Background can be found resources hidden by the conventional tradition. Ratcliffe describes the methods that Daly uses to demystify the rhetoric of the foreground.

Tags: Feminist/Feminism, Method/Methodology, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Theology


Reece, Debra. “The Gendering of Prayer: An Ethnographic Study of Muslim Women in the United States.” Journal of Communication and Religion 20.1 (1997): 37-47. Print.

In this article, Reece completes an ethnography that examines the role of prayer in practice for nine Muslim women immigrants in the United States. Reece first outlines her goal in conducting an ethnography of Muslim women, which is predominantly to help create greater understanding of cultural differences with prayer. By illuminating these practices she hopes to facilitate more in-depth communication, and she also observes that there is a gap in communication literature on the role of prayer as a communicative act in and of itself. Reece then describes the ethnographic method in which she employed participant-observation at a local mosque and nine lengthy (2-2.5 hours long) interviews (one with each of her participants). All the women in her study attended the same mosque and were between 20 and 30 years of age. She gathered basic biographical information for each participant and then allowed the interview to progress, inquiring about prayer meaning and practice.

Reece observed the layout of the mosque and how men and women are separate in the space, but she spends the majority of her time discussing the interviews. Reece reports on the relationship of public and private prayer, noting that many of the women articulated public prayer as being worth more “credit” (40). The relationship between private prayer, specifically alone or outside of the traditional prayer structure for Muslim practitioners, and public prayer done within the bounds of the mosque, centered largely on the relationship of genders. Specifically, it became more complicated to pray with men, and this was especially true for women who recently emigrated to the United States. Reece also discussed the relationship between audible prayer (and the limits placed also on that by gender separation) and silent prayer, which relates to the primary language of prayer.  Some of the women, for whom Arabic was not their primary language, did not always know the meaning of each prayer required to be spoken in Arabic–but that pronouncing the prayers correctly was important. One woman, who was primarily an English speaker, articulated that she is certain Allah understands English. Finally, Reece discusses the way that prayer serves as a strengthening of identity and a discourse around which to build identity (44), with only one of her interviewees choosing to reduce her commitment to prayer on arrival in America.

Reece concludes that the practices of prayer for Muslim women in the United States becomes more complicated because American life does not account for the strict gender separations that are facilitated in Muslim dominated countries. However, overall, the act of prayer, both public and private, served as a strong moment of personal identification and sense of belonging.

Tags: Feminist/Feminism, Islam/Muslim, Method/Methodology, Prayer 


Seat, Karen K. “Rhetorical Strategies in Protestant Women’s Missions: Appropriating and Subverting Gender Ideals.”  Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 59-72. Print. 

Seat’s project is to examine the ways in which 19th century women’s missionary societies managed to resist gender ideology by adopting it and then subverting it. Women missionaries faced two challenges: the racism directed at the peoples whom they sought to evangelize and the sexism directed at themselves. Seat argues that women missionaries succeeded by reversing the direction and effect of gender ideology. That is, they turned the “Cult of True Womanhood” on its head. According to historian Barbara Welter, the Cult relegated women to the private, or domestic sphere (61). For example, women missionaries appealed to an American notion of supremacy in order to argue that their foreign missionary work was crucial. Likewise, they appealed to the domestic, maternal ideal of women in order to insist on women’s centrality to evangelization.

Eventually, these rhetorical strategies emboldened women missionaries to more explicitly assert a public role for their work. They also began to attract male allies who suggested that women missionaries were needed to speak to women audiences. In the wake of the American Civil War, this movement began to adopt and expand an anti-slavery rhetoric to oppressed women in other countries. In the twentieth century, these appeals began further expansion to support the movement for women’s rights in general. Seat also argues that this particular brand of Christian rhetoric appealed American imperial aspirations and Enlightenment values in order to argue that women’s emancipation was a logical result of both.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Protestant/Protestantism, Public Sphere/Square


Shaver, Lisa J. “The Deaconess Identity: An Argument for Professional Churchwomen and Social Christianity.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 203-222. Print. 

Shaver recounts the history of the Deaconess movement, formed by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1888. Sometimes referred to (both with praise and blame) as Protestant nuns, Deaconesses were single women who lived in community, wore distinctive dress, and, most importantly, served the church in variety of ways. They were also involved in the the Social Gospel (a largely Protestant effort to apply Gospel teachings to public problems) particularly in poor and immigrant urban communities. Shaver’s project is to understand how the Deaconess movement created and maintained its distinctive identity and how that identity advanced roles for women in the Methodist church.

The Deaconess movement was founded by Lucy Rider Meyer who was seeking to fill a gap between an all-male clergy and part-time volunteers, who might include both men and women. As a third option, the Deaconess movement would provide women with a more institutionally recognized role without appearing to claim clerical status. Some saw this as a compromise while others saw it as a way to sidestep confrontation about women’s roles in the church. Given the novelty of the role, identity cultivation became crucial. Here, Shaver turns briefly to Burke’s idea of identity (supplementing with scholarship on group formation) before differing with Burke’s notion of division and instead offering her own preferred term of “distinction (206) Distinction, she writes, was a key part of cultivating Deaconess identity. This identity drew on several sources. For example, the Deaconess movement cited Phoebe, a Deaconess named in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as their prime exemplar. They also received particular education and preparation at the Chicago Training School, founded by Mere and her husband in Chicago in 1885. They also were distinguished by their consecration, their public commitment and communal life, and their dress.

Shaver then turns to some of the effects of the Deaconess movement. In addition to greater educational opportunities for women, these included more official work in church administration and the occasional opportunity to preach. Because of their distinctive identity, they could sometimes assume roles usually reserved for male pastors without appearing to threaten the established order. Finally, they played crucial roles in promoting the Social Gospel, “[p]ersuading through their presence” as they served the poor (217).

Tags: Burke, Feminist/Feminism, Preaching/Sermons, Protestant/Protestantism


Shaver, Lisa. “Women’s Deathbed Pulpits: From Quiet Congregants to Iconic Ministers.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 20-37. Print.

Shaver’s article gathers and analyzes the role of women who preach on their deathbed, as portrayed in Methodist Magazine between 1818 and 1824. Specifically, Shaver looks at the way that women were given a “pulpit” and elevated to the role of preacher on their deathbed by the documented calls to faith published in a variety of obituaries, complicating and contradicting the otherwise limited scope that women could play in the religious life of the time period. By offering women’s words in publication, according to Shaver, women were provided a venue for expressing and persuading in religious terms when they were otherwise excluded. Not only did the publication sanction women’s voices, in the case of deathbed testimony, it was the act of gender and occupation that empowered the rhetoric to take place (23).

Shaver’s article builds a cohesive look at the time period, the gendered role of women, and the analysis of texts from the Methodist Magazine. First, she defines the deathbed pulpit, examining the way that women’s dying words were recorded and often written by men, admonishing the still living to seek God. This act of publication moved the private act of dying, and of talking about God through a female lens, to a public sphere. The memoirs of various women, which often included excerpts of their spiritual journals as well, created some of the first public space to talk about the role of women in the Methodist community according to Shaver. Examining the texts themselves, Shaver applies Burke’s consubstantiality (or the connecting of individuals through shared belief) (31) as the way that these deathbed sermons given by women and documented by their male relatives act as a strong rhetorical device. Readers of the Methodist Magazine, feeling connection in mutual belief, are able to strongly connect to these women who have passed on. Interestingly, Shaver notes, male preachers often did not have the same kind of documentation around their final words. Shaver believes that this is because women became stronger advocates for their faith as they began to die, and found themselves empowered to speak as their bodies were no longer a threat to those around them (as temptation or feminine trouble).

This article is problematic in that it doesn’t bring forward application or reflection on current issues (how is this applied?), nor does it delve in depth into a consistent rhetorical analysis method. However, Shaver’s article provides an interesting glimpse into an otherwise overlooked area of religious investigation, and does give voice to women in the larger conversation about persuasive speech in religion.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Sterk, Helen M. “Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship: The Journal of Communication and Religion, 1999-2009.” Journal of Communication and Religion 33.2 (2010): 206-216. Print.

Reviewing ten years of articles in JCR, Sterk concludes that the journal needs a wider range and variety of scholarship engaged with gender and with feminism. According to Sterk’s totals, women authored 30% of the articles in the time she is studying. Of the 43 articles written or co-written by women, only nine made gender analysis a primary focus, and of those nine, only seven used a feminist lens.

Sterk then turns to seven articles she identities as explicitly feminist and offers a précis for each, noting the various inflections (e.g., standpoint theory or feminist phenomenology). She notes that only a couple of articles have actually used “feminism” as a keyword. Finally, she turns to seven directions for future research: 1) intersections with gender issues and particular faith communities; 2) faith communities and expression occasioned by gender issues; 3) the ways in which language constrains the expression of people’s full humanity; 4) what forms of masculinity are enhanced by various faith traditions; 5) the intersections of race, gender and faith; 6) the intersections of sexual identity, faith, and communication; and 7) the intersections of race, sexual identity, and faith.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Feminist/Feminism, Gender, Race


Stockdell, Ann M. A Forum of Their Own: Rhetoric, Religion, and Female Participation in Ancient Athens Presented July 1995, University Park, Pennsylvania. Annual Penn State Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, July 1995. Print.

In this paper, presented at the annual Penn State conference on Rhetoric and Composition in 1995, Stockdell provides succinct observations of the methods Ancient Athenian women used in the arena of faith in order to gain rhetorical power. Stockdell argues that women were fiercely controlled by law and family during that period, though they used rhetoric specifically in the form of pistis, as an “expressive rhetoric” that women were expected to wield. Developing two examples of this rhetoric, Stockdell argues that the role of women in classical rhetoric should be reexamined through the lens of religious power.

Her examples include the role of female mourners and the role of the cult of Athena. In their role as mourners women could be seen publically giving over to grief in extreme physical expression. Seeing many mourners at a funeral was considered a mark of respect, and women were often able to gain income by becoming professional mourners. Beyond this, however, Stockdell describes how during Solon’s laws the act of having women mourners was limited, in part because the country was at war, and women were becoming a visual for the number of dead in the city. The second role was that of cult members during important religious ceremonies, festivals, and faiths. Athena, for which the city was named, was a powerful representation of female power, and the women of the time period leveraged the control that her “good will” had over the city. Stockdell describes both the high priestess and the role of women who annually participated in festival life as gaining rhetorical traction in a more public setting using faith.

Tags: Christianity/Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Rhetorical History


Zimmerelli, Lisa. “‘Heaven-Touched Lips and Pent-Up Voices’: The Rhetoric of Female Preaching Apologia.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 180-202. Print. 

Zimmerelli recounts the argument and strategies used to justify female preaching in 19th century American Protestant Christianity. She sets the stage for her argument by recounting vitriolic and hostile attitudes, supported by both tradition and scripture, toward the very idea of women preachers. This description reveals the complex and difficult rhetorical challenge faced by women who would claim the right to speak in church.

Zimmerelli then turns to the ways in which women took up this challenge. She begins by describing the genres within which defenses were offered. These included the spiritual autobiography, pamphlets, articles in religious journals, speeches at women’s rights conventions, and preaching from the pulpit itself. Reading across these genres, Zimmerelli observes three topoi. The first of these she calls “authorization,” in which women claim that the demand to speak comes from God and cannot therefore be gainsaid or denied by temporal cultural attitudes (186-189). The second topos turns to an alternative biblical hermeneutic that challenges the usual reading of scripture as forbidding women’s public voices. This topos animated three main arguments: women spoke on the authority of the Holy Spirit and not “over” men, Paul’s condemnations were particular to his culture and time and therefore limited, and finally that the most often cited passages were inconsistent with other passages in scripture. The third topos attempts to reconcile the role of preacher with traditional women’s roles, thus sidestepping or short circuiting the expected rhetorical confrontation. Some female rhetors used the notion of different roles against itself, arguing that preaching was an extension of such difference rather than a challenge to it.

Tags: Christianity, Feminist/Feminism, Genre, Preaching/Sermons, Protestant/Protestantism



Arbor, Joy. “‘Shema Yisrael’: Listening in Judaism and What it Has to Teach Us.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. 198-214.

In this chapter, Arbor outlines a Jewish approach to the rhetoric of listening. As she notes, listening has been a subject of scholarly interest in rhetoric and composition, but scholars have yet to describe listening from a Jewish perspective. She lists three main aspects of Jewish rhetorical listening. First, it is an active process that demands vulnerability on the part of the listener. Second, it is a gift to the speaker. Third and finally, it is the foundation of ethics (199).

She begins her description by discussing the Shema, the prayer often understood to be the Jewish confession of faith: Shema Yisrael: Adonai elohenu Adonai ehad, or “Hear O Israel: The Lord is God, the Lord is One” (199). As she explains, the prayer begins with an exhortation to listening. From this fundamental orientation, Arbor goes on to discuss the three aspects of Jewish listening that she has outlined in her introduction. First, listening requires vulnerability: a person who listens must be open to being changed by speech and argument. This form of listening shapes harvuta, a traditional form of debating texts with a study partner. Here, she offers some criticism of Krista Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening, arguing that Ratcliffe is insufficiently attentive to the emotional and spiritual demands of true listening. She then turns to listening as gift: only by careful and attentive listening can we discern what someone truly wants. She also argues that listening can play a curative role, an effect that makes listening an act of compassion. Finally, she describes listening as an ethical act. In 1 Kings 3:5, Solomon asks God for a “listening heart.” In Jewish prayer, scripture, and tradition, listening is an act of love. Arbor then closes the essay with suggestions on how a Jewish approach to listening might inform contemporary rhetorical pedagogy.

Tags: Academic Discourse, Argument/Argumentation, Judaism, Listening, Pedagogy, Rhetorical Theory


Aune, James Arnt. “Justice and Argument in Judaism: D’var Torah on Shofetim.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 449-60. Print.

Aune reflects on teaching the Torah in the majority-Christian context of Texas and articulates Jewish concepts of argument. The essay begins by noting characteristic Christian misunderstandings of Jewish interpretation of the Torah, which includes a strong component of oral tradition as a necessary component of its message. He argues that Jewish interpretation characteristically emphasizes the letter of the law in order to “maximize human freedom within the divine command” (451), and Christian emphasis on the spirit of the law thus leads to misunderstandings.

Aune develops his argument on the rhetorical tendencies of Judaism further in the form of a Torah study on capital punishment, structured by passages of the Hebrew text interspersed with commentary. In this form, he both explains the characteristic methods of Jewish study of scripture while also advancing his argument about Jewish rhetoric. He notes the religious centrality of study and scholarship for Jews, and contrasts the formal and deductive reasoning of a Southern Baptist document with the dialogic interpretation of the rabbis.

For Aune, Jewish rhetoric encourages taking responsibility for religious claims because they arise in a context of free speech and discussion rather than top-down reasoning from scriptural dictates. Advocating these methods does not represent a postmodern rejection of religious proclamation, but rather an affirmation of the value of distinctively Jewish voices in the public square.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Judaism, Torah, Scripture


Bernard-Donals, Michael. “‘By the Rivers of Babylon’: Deterritorialization and the Jewish Rhetorical Stance.” College English 72.6 (2010): 608-20. Print.

Bernard-Donals examines the recent reinvigoration in the study of public rhetorics and finds that most models for public argument do not sufficiently account for “the radically ‘exogamous’ individual,” the person who is entirely excluded from the public space (609). Since the Jews have filled the role of excluded other since antiquity, he argues, Jewish rhetorics can help scholars understand the position of the other and articulate an “exilic rhetorical position” (609). He sees this stance of exile as a distinctively Jewish rhetoric in which subjects are never quite at home and are always on the margin in some measure (by the rivers of Babylon). As an instance of such a rhetoric, he examines the public deliberation over whether the city of Madison, Wisconsin should enter into a sister city relationship with Rafah, Palestine.

Before proceeding to his case study, however, Bernard-Donals sketches a theory of the public and the other. Drawing on Habermas and Badiou, Bernard-Donals argues that “other-oriented notions of argument and publicity simply cannot account for the interlocutor who is altogether unrelated to us” (610). In his understanding of the public, it requires some kind of originary entity to which all those participating in an argument must relate. When an idea is seen to lie entirely outside relation to the originary body, the reasonableness of that idea and the identity of those who advocate for it are called into question. This has the effect of breaking the civic bond and creating exclusion. For Bernard-Donals, the Jewish rhetoric of exile can help address this problem of division in the public.

Turning to the case of Madison’s sister city proposal, Bernard-Donals describes how a group formed to advocate for the bond with Rafah gathered support and brought their proposal before Madison’s legislative body, the Common Council, in 2004. Jewish community leaders quickly responded with an argument that the proposal cloaked anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, and the proposal eventually failed. For Bernard-Donals, the charges brought against the proposal were territorialized, centering around certain concrete groups (the Common Council, the Palestinian leaders in Rafah). The deterritorialized or exilic position of victims—both Jewish and Palestinian—is absent. Accordingly, Bernard-Donals argues that the discourse would benefit from looking to the always exilic rhetorical stance of Judaism. As in Psalm 137:1, where “we” sit by the rivers of Babylon (that is, in exile) and weep, Judaism always positions the outsider, the exile, and the stranger at the heart of the conversation, deterritorializing the discourse in order to conduce mutual vulnerability.

Tags: Civic, Identity, Judaism, Public Sphere/Square, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Race


Bernard-Donals, Michael, and Janice W. Fernheimer. “Introduction.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. vii-xxx.

In this introduction to their edited collection, Bernard-Donals and Fernheimer attempt to sketch the contours of Jewish rhetoric, all while remaining aware of the difficulties of defining those terms. The canons and vocabulary of Hellenistic rhetoric, they argue, are insufficient for capturing the practices of Jewish rhetoric. At the same time, the idea of Jewishness itself is complex and multiform; Jewish identity is defined as much by displacement and disagreement as it is by unity and consensus. “Jewishness” challenges categories of race and ethnicity, language, and common experience. Within the diaspora—what some call a permanent exile—the challenge of the Jewish rhetorical stance is the challenge of maintaining engagement with one’s community while also remaining aware of one’s dislocation within those communities (x).

Bernard-Donals and Fernheimer go on to describe an alternative set of canons for Jewish rhetoric, which includes (among others) practices such as “to-ness,” or attending closely to relationship; hearing, a focus on listening and interpretation that imagines a more vigorous role for audience; and tzedek, the fundamental principle and commitment to justice in Jewish thought (xv). The authors then turn to three areas of scholarly interest: history, theory, and practice. They examine the ancient history of Jewish rhetoric and writing with and against the grain of the more conventional rhetorical tradition (more conventional, at least to scholars of rhetoric and composition). Their brief history then proceeds to the contemporary period and the influence of thinkers such as Perelman, Derrida, and Levinas. In their discussion of theory, they also briefly discuss the thought of Derrida and Levinas, but also include Walter Benjamin’s engagement with the Kabbalah, the demanding texts of Jewish mysticism. Finally, they discuss practice, previewing the rich contents of their contributors’ scholarship while also noting how much remains to be done. The introduction closes with further directions for research, including a focus beyond the Jewish Ashkenazi community, along with issues of gender and a more resolute focus on women’s rhetorical contributions.

Tags: Judaism, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Bernard-Donals, Michael, and John Drake. “Ethics, Redemption, and Writing After Auschwitz: The Case of Emmanuel Levinas.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill: Hampton, 2008. 129-150. Print.

Bernard-Donals and Drake begin by describing rhetoric’s orientation as essentially Greek, marked by a confidence in the power of language to effect change. Against this tradition, they position a postmodern orientation that focuses on the contingencies and uncertainties of language. This new context forces rhetoricians to discover alternative traditions that not only might better articulate or observe such contingency, but that also might better respond to the reality of suffering. One possibility, they write, lies in recent developments in Jewish traditions of rhetoric.

The chapter’s project is to outline a version of this tradition drawn primarily from the work of Levinas. In Levinas, the authors find an articulation and understanding of the redemptive possibilities of writing. This understanding begins by acknowledging the limits of writing’s ability to “capture” memory or experience. Writing reshapes experience, but it cannot grasp it as a given. Nor can language afford an identical relation between the self and the utterance of the self. There is always a gap that language cannot finally traverse. What is called for, therefore, is not a better conceptual system but rather a radical openness to the other. Writing is ethical not because it describes or renders the other; rather, it is ethical insofar as it can open one to the other. Writing is ethical not because it represents successfully or accurately, but because it allows the writer to say “here I am” for the other.

The authors find in this utterance model for the relationship between human and divine. They also find a model for the only kind of writing available in the wake of the Shoah. An ethical writing opens the writer to the incompleteness of his or her attempts to name experience and knowledge; it thus is able to acknowledge contingency in ways that might forestall the kind of finalities that lead to totalitarianism.

Tags: Ethics, Judaism, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy, Rhetorical Criticism


Bizzell, Patricia. “Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Sophist?” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. 131-146.

Bizzell begins with a simple question: Is it possible to construe Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (1194-1270), also known as Ramban, as a sophist? Bizzell makes clear that she is not attempting to argue for an actual historical influence, but rather seeking to hear the “strange harmonics” when a scholar schooled in the classical rhetorical tradition turns her attention to Jewish studies (131). In the writings of Ramban, Bizzell observes habits of mind that resemble the practice of dissoi logoi, of sophistic wordplay, and of resistance to firm conclusions. In Ramban’s approach to argument, the purpose is not simply to defeat the opposing claim, but to toggle back and forth between claims to maintain a conversation. Bizzell also notes that Ramban’s own education, which drew on a wide variety of traditions and schools, resembled the itinerant habits of the pre-Socratics.

The eclectic nature of Ramban’s thought also attracted the same kind of distrust the sophists attracted. He was sometimes accused of being insincere, particularly after his participation in the Barcelona Disputation of 1263, in which he appeared to take heretical positions. But Bizzell argues that Ramban’s arguments simply reflect the rhetorical dexterity we might associate with sophistic thinking. This kind of dexterity was particularly important in the type of situation in which Ramban found himself in the Disputation—namely, a situation in which the Christian king of Spain had already determined that Ramban would lose.

Bizzell closes by reminding her readers that she is pursuing a strategy of “typological parallelism,” which seeks to describe historical similarities rather than assert direct historical influence. She also sees in Ramban a potential influence on contemporary academic and public argument. Her question: “What does argument look like if your goal in pursuing it is not to eliminate all incorrect positions and establish the correct one unequivocally?” (143).

Tags: Academic Discourse, Argument/Argumentation, Judaism, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Sophists


Charney, Davida. “Taking a Stance Toward God: Rhetoric in the Book of Psalms.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. 1-15.

Beginning with the premise that the God of the Hebrew Bible is argumentative and agonistic by nature, Charney examines the Psalms as an example of Jewish rhetoric. She is particularly interested in seeing the deliberative rhetoric in the Psalms, which are often and mistakenly presumed to be epideictic in character. Charney observes the following premises in the deliberative Psalms. First, speakers assume that both God and human beings are capable of persuasion and of being persuaded. Second, the speakers assume both God and human beings are committing to promoting common values. And third, the speakers assume that God and human beings may decline to be persuaded (2). She also notes that the Psalms are unique in ancient Near East petitionary prayer in that they often assumed the innocence of the speaker; that is, they observe that innocents should not suffer even though they sometimes do. This presumption suggests that God can be mistaken or neglectful and that God’s attitude needs to change (3-4). Charney then analyzes several different Psalms according to several topoi arranged into major categories, including “establishing the right of innocents to redress” (5); “denouncing others with competing claims” (8); “appealing to God’s self-interest” (11); and “serving as a model for others” (12). Ultimately, Charney concludes that the Psalms are inherently rhetorical in character in that they assume that arguments cannot guarantee conclusions or ensure assent; prayers have to persuasive.

Tags: Judaism, Rhetorical History, Scripture


Cohen, Samuel. “Composition and Construction: Belief, Identity, and the Teaching of Writing.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists 6.1 (1999): 30-36. Print. 

Cohen opens by describing the “Mitzvah Tank,” an RV that travels around New York City. It is driven by Hasidic Jews who park it in various neighborhoods and preach the coming of the Moshiach, or messiah. As an atheist, secular Jew, Cohen is often made uncomfortable with encounters with the Mitzvah Tank, as it often makes him feel somehow less Jewish. These reflections on his own identity lead him to further reflect on identity in the classroom. Religion, he argues, is a particularly compelling perspective from which to consider questions of identity insofar as religion invites questions of ideology, perception, and social construction.

It is an especially compelling perspective at his particular school, which is populated by a highly diverse array of students, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants and striving to integrate various parts of their own identities. He relays the experiences of a couple of his students. Like Cohen, these students are also Jewish, but they are far more observant and, like the drivers of the Mitzvah Tank, somewhat dismayed at Cohen’s secularism. One in particular also professes a hard-line Zionist position. When he adopts this position in a paper, he fails to consider alternate perspectives, a fact his classmates quickly observe. In response, the student can only defend his paper by repeating that proof is in the Bible. Again, Cohen’s other students attempt to challenge this argument but to no avail. Cohen frames this discussion in terms of social construction and cultural critique pedagogy, which seeks to reveal to students the ways in which their narratives are pre-built. In this particular student’s case, the pedagogy does not succeed. Nevertheless, Cohen insists that religion, as a source of such narratives and key factor in student identity, must still remain a subject of such work. 

Tags: Cultural Studies, Diversity, Identity, Judaism, Social Constructionism


Durst, Russel K. “People of the Book: Composition, Judaism, and Social Justice.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill: Hampton, 2008. 45-56. Print. 

Durst identifies his twin commitments to academic learning and social justice as products of his Jewish heritage. His chapter narrates his personal experience with Judaism as a way to reflect on how his religious identity informs his professional work. The representative anecdote of that experience is a childhood story. Assigned a show-and-tell essay in second grade, Durst’s father writes a speech titled, “Why I am Proud to be a Jew.” Durst reluctantly reads the speech, admitting afterwards that it was not his own work. This experience encapsulates Durst’s strained relationship with his father’s notion of Jewish identity, a notion that Durst finds narrow.

Durst’s own sense of relationship to Judaism begins to change when he drops out of college for a year. At his parents’ suggestion, he decides to spend that year in Israel on a kibbutz. The experience offers him a view of Judaism beyond his father’s parochialism. The study of Hebrew and the socialist politics of the kibbutz influence his decision to pursue an academic career and his ongoing interest in social justice. At a professor’s suggestion, he begins reading in composition, where he finds a field in which he can pursue his twin commitments to academic and political work.

Judaism continues to inform these pursuits. Particularly generative for him is the tension he sees between universalist and partisan ideals in the scriptures. Where Isaiah calls for an end to war, Joel calls for non-Israelites to destroy each other. Durst then offers a brief exegesis of a wide range of Biblical texts that demonstrate this tension: justice on the one hand, tribalism on the other. It is the very tension that marked his early experiences with Judaism. Ultimately, he insists that this tension should not be ignored. Instead, one must choose to identify with one part of the tradition while never forgetting the other.

Tags: Identity, Judaism, Teaching-and-Scholarship-as-Vocation, Scripture


Fernheimer, Janice W. “Talmidae Rhetoricae: Drashing Up Models and Methods for Jewish Rhetorical Studies.” College English 72.6 (2010): 577-597. Print. 

In this introductory essay to a special issue on Jewish rhetoric, Fernheimer begins by contesting the terms themselves. What is “Jewish”? What makes a text Jewish? She cites the case of Baruch de Spinoza, a philosopher who spent most of his life under a cherem, an order of communal shunning. Though there is disagreement as to the reasons for his expulsion, there is no doubt that Spinoza has a complex relationship with his Jewishness. Do his texts qualify as Jewish? Even within Judaism, the qualifications for Jewishness are contested. Thus, articulating an idea of Jewish rhetoric requires multiple answers drawn from an array of traditions.

Fernheimer then briefly traces the of the discipline’s attempt to answer this question. She cites a 2007 Rhetoric Society of America workshop as particularly important, but she also links back to a 1948 essay by David Daube titled, “Rabbinic Methods of Interpretation and Hellenistic Rhetoric.” As the title suggests, Daube traces the Hellenistic influences on Jewish rhetorical traditions. Daube’s work raises other methodological questions about geography and culture. What, for example, does the word “Mediterranean” ultimately mean? Judaism itself disrupts the binary between, say, Athens and Jerusalem. So, too, does it disrupt the binary between religion and ethnicity. Jewish studies faces similar problems in terms of its disciplinary placement. Is Jewish studies its own field? A subfield in other disciplines? Is Jewish studies mainstream, or does it remain “anomalous,” as one scholarly panel put it?

However these questions may be approached, Fernheimer suggests that any viable answers have to account for the concept of “to-ness” (578), expressed in Hebrew grammar and suggestion a notion of relation. Because Jewish history is transnational, the study of Jewish identity, literature, and rhetoric “by necessity must be put in relation to other traditions and other categories” (583). In terms of method, Fernheimer draws on Scott Stroud’s distinction between descriptive/historical approaches and constructive/reconstructive. In the former, the scholar is primarily interested in getting the historical record right; in the latter, the scholar is primarily interested in appropriating other historical traditions as a way to think through one’s own. Fernheimer suggests that both of these approaches will be necessary for the richest understanding of Jewish rhetorics. The introduction then closes with an overview of the volume’s essays (annotated elsewhere in this bibliography.)

Tags: Classical Rhetoric, Identity, Judaism, Method/Methodology


Fitzgerald, Lauren. “‘Torah is not Learned but in a Group’: Collaborative Learning and Talmud Study.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill: Hampton, 2008. 23-42. Print. 

Fitzgerald situates her investigation of Torah study within a couple of discourses of interest to rhetoric and composition, including the study of collaborative learning and alleged tensions between foundationalist and anti-foundationalist knowledge. Traditional Torah study, she argues, offers new insights into these issues. Fitzgerald gives a brief history of Torah study, dating the destruction of second temple in 70 B.C. The article then describes common Torah study practices in the yeshiva. This practice, known as the harvuta system, paired students with each other and included oral reading of passages, translation, and then argument over interpretation.

Fitzgerald then begins to argue that this approach to collaborative learning confirms many of the key insights of collaborative learning in contemporary composition. Key to this style of collaboration is that learning is produced by means of the collaboration itself; in other words, partner study is not simply a supplement to traditional teacher-centered pedagogy. Harvuta learning also depends upon and encourages conversation as both a literal practice and a metaphor for the production of knowledge. It also encourages both conflict and consensus. Perhaps most importantly, harvuta learning collapses the distinction between foundational and non-foundational knowledge. It focuses less on the question of knowledge itself and more on the act of producing knowledge. The style of collaborative Torah study deemphasizes individualistic achievement in favor of emphasis on communal learning. The teacher should learn along with students.

To her historical and theoretical study, Fitzgerald then adds first-person accounts, including one of her own. She interviews the director of the Hunter College writing centers and then discusses her own experience directing the writing center at Yeshiva College. Both she and her interview subject discuss the ways the particular contexts of these writing centers, particularly the religious context of the latter, shape the collaborative learning they produce.

Tags: Community, Disciplinarity, Hermeneutics, Judaism, Pedagogy, Scripture, Torah


Fitzgerald, Lauren. “Torah U’Madda Institutional ‘Mission’ and Composition Instruction.”  Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei and Bonnie Lenore Kyburz. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. 141-154. Print. 

Fitzgerald recounts her experiences as the writing center director at Yeshivah University, where the university’s mission plays a prominent role in student learning. That mission is expressed in the phrase “Torah U’Madda,” which Fitzgerald translates as “Bible” and knowledge or wisdom (142). This expression, Fitzgerald explains, is sometimes construed as an ideal, sometimes as a tension, and its effects play out in the way students approach her instruction.

This transaction occurs not only in her writing center work but also in her composition classes. Fitzgerald recounts her experience teaching a standard literacy narrative to her students at Yeshiva. As she notes, many literacy narratives–from Douglass’s Narrative to Rose’s Lives on the Boundary to Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory–follow the arc of a religious conversion story. While such a form will seem familiar to Christian students, it may be less familiar to Jewish students, as Fitzgerald discovers in her work with a student she names “Daniel.” Daniel resists conforming his literacy narrative to the usual plotline, arguing that he preferred the structures and forms of Biblical poetry to the emphasis on clarity he perceives in Fitzgerald’s assignment. Eventually, in his final reflection, he says that he has come around to seeing the worth of the style Fitzgerald encourages. Although this would seem to be a success narrative, Fitzgerald wonders whether she simply has reenacted the conversion story lurking not only in literacy narratives, but also in textbooks, pedagogies, and composition’s institutional history.

Tags: Academy, Judaism, Secular/Sacred, Torah, Scripture


Frank, David A. “The Jewish Rhetoric of the Twentieth Century: Chaïm Perelman, Double Fidélité, and the Pre-Holocaust Roots of the New Rhetoric Project.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. 77-92.

In this chapter, Frank continues his historical study of the New Rhetoric Project, for which he identifies two main bases: Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric (1958) and the revival of classical rhetoric. Many scholars, he notes, have connected TNR to the classical tradition. However, Frank also argues that TNR grew from cosmopolitan Jewish roots, which connect the book and the project to practices of reason and argument found in the Talmud. Ultimately, he sees Perelman’s scholarly project as seeking a rapprochement between Jewish and classical traditions of rhetoric that might challenge Enlightenment notions of reason and argument. He also recounts Perelman’s experiences of his own Jewishness, and the effect those experiences had on his intellectual and political projects.

Frank begins by correcting a claim he himself has made in earlier scholarship. Where Frank had previously argued that the New Rhetoric Project should be seen primarily as a post-Holocaust rhetoric, he now argues the project actually finds its beginnings in Perelman’s pre-war experience. Partly because of this enduring connection to his life and work before the Holocaust and World War II, Perelman maintained his hope for a cosmopolitan Europe in which Jews could live peacefully. This hope, however, does not suggest a concession to assimilation. Frank describes Perelman’s double fidélité, his belief that European Jews could be faithful to universal aspirations and particular values. Frank then describes Perelman’s own life experiences: his childhood emigration from Poland to Belgium, his study in Warsaw (where he encountered a great deal of antisemitism), his life in occupied Belgium, and his participation in the resistance against the Nazis. All of these, Frank argues, contributed to his vision of what rhetoric could and should do for the ideals of pluralism and particularity.

Tags: Judaism, Perelman, Secular/Sacred, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Goldblatt, Eli. “The Poetics of Remembering.”  Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill: Hampton, 2008. 57-70. Print. 

Goldblatt begins with a brief story. In a conversation with a colleague, he is describing his commitment to a service-learning course in the “Peace and Justice” program, a commitment that takes considerable time away from his other pursuits. He is trying to explain why he continues this work, and his colleague–a member of a Catholic religious order–suggests that Goldblatt needs a place for his “spirit” in his working life. Though the colleague apologizes for being presumptuous, the remark leads Goldblatt to reflect on the connections among the poetic, political, and spiritual aspects of his work.

Though Goldblatt confesses an uneasy relationship with the traditional God-as-Father/Judge image of his youth, he is still attracted to certain traditions of liturgy and prayer. From these, he begins to describe his spirituality, which he particularly relates to the work of Jewish-American poet George Oppen, who won the Pulitzer in 1969. In Oppen’s poetry, Goldblatt finds what he calls “a model for desire” (61). That desire, he writes, lies in remembering, which he contrasts with simple memory. Remembering is connected to the social and spiritual features of experience. Remembering makes things available in a new way, with a particular kind of imagination and attention. This kind of remembering, manifest in writing, has the power to “order yearning” (65). These notions of yearning and desire lead him to question his commitment to social constructionist pedagogy.

The chapter’s final section relates a legend that Goldblatt’s son used for his bar mitzvah. From this story, which tells of a young man so eager to enter paradise that he ends up in hell, Goldblatt concludes that our attention must focus on the present moment. This is the kind of attention that draws together his poetics, politics, and spirituality.

Tags: Expressivism, Judaism, Social Constructionism, Spirituality


Greenbaum, Andrea. “Talmudic Rhetoric: Explorations for Writing, Reading, and Teaching.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill: Hampton, 2008. 151-169. Print. 

Greenbaum notes the number of scholars in literary studies who have observed similarities between postmodern theory and Talmudic interpretive practices. However, she also notes that scholars in rhetoric and composition have yet to make similar connections. Judaic rhetoric has been ignored in the field, and as a result, a rich set of resources remains unused.

The chapter then gives the reader a primer on Talmudic literature, defining key terms, drawing connections among several central texts, and describing common Talmudic practices. The chapter also includes the Talmud in both Hebrew and English, each marked to indicate the variety of texts and commentaries that make up “the text.” Greenbaum describes these texts as highly heteroglossic, and she argues that they offer a more inventive and playful alternative to logical and conceptual shape of Greek rhetoric. Talmudic rhetoric relies on an an “associative logic” (158-60) that resembles sophistic paralogy much more than philosophical logos. It also freely mixes narrative and judicial genres, violating Aristotelian schema.  She also argues that Jewish rhetoric is comfortable with a certain inferential mystery that resists deductive conclusions. This rhetorical tradition is more similar to what rhetorical scholars have called the mythos than it is to the logos. Ethos, meanwhile, is less of a textual consideration than it is a question of personal example and relation. She links this understanding of ethos to the sophistic understanding of Protagoras, who promises pedagogy through personal relationship and example far more than conceptual scheme. Greenbaum also observes approaches similar to the Talmudic in explicitly Christian frameworks like those of bell hooks or Paulo Freire. Like these scholars, the Talmudic rhetor emphasizes kindness and generosity as ultimate rhetorical ends. 

Tags: Disciplinarity, Judaism, Literary Theory/Literary Criticism, Rhetorical Theory, Talmud


Handelman, Susan. “Emunah: The Craft of Faith.” The Academy and the Possibility of Belief: Essays on Intellectual and Spiritual Life. Ed. Mary Louise, Buley-Meissner, Mary McCaslin Thompson, and Elizabeth Bachrach Tan. Creskill: Hampton Press, 2000. 85-104. Print.

Handelman opens the essay with a basic problem: how to introduce and incorporate her religious faith and study into her work as a scholar and teacher of literature. Because she cannot separate her Judaism from her identity as a literature professor, her goal for the essay is to reconcile these two aspects of her identity. She begins by discussing the concept of emunah, which means faith, but other forms of the word suggest ideas of teaching and educating, along with trustworthiness or firmness. The word is also related to the word for “nursing father.” Faith, then, is not taken to be another word for belief but something much richer and more complex. Understood as a process of enculturation, faith cannot be dismissed as the mere opposite of the skepticism that characterizes the culture of the academy.

Handelman then offers a brief history of literary criticism, ending with new historicism and cultural materialism, which both reject the transcendence that lies at the heart of religion. If contemporary literary criticism is deeply anti-foundationalist, it would seem to offer no place for religion. But the author then challenges that conventional wisdom with a comparison of the practices of literary theory and Jewish hermeneutical traditions, including midrash. Midrash is a method of interpretation that clarifies ambiguity, supplements gaps, and unearths buried meaning. It is not only interpretive but also inventive and creative. Although she does not claim that the rabbis who practiced midrash are postmodernists, their hermeneutic practices operate on the same assumption that there is no unconditioned perspective.

She then turns to Emmanuel Levinas, whose notion of a God “otherwise than being” (97), imagines a God of ethics without a God of presence, a God who commands radical openness to the other. Because God remains obscured, Handelman writes, an adult faith is required instead of a simplistic belief. A true monotheism, argues Levinas, requires atheism. Thus, the skepticism associated with academic worth may have a place in mature faith. Finally, the essay closes with examples of student writing from her Bible as Literature course. Her analysis shows the ways in which intellectual and academic questions about the Biblical text are woven into personal questions about faith. This, she argues, is the kind of training and craft that should characterize faith. 

Tags: Faith, Judaism, Literary Theory/Literary Criticism, Postmodern/Postmodernism


Handelman, Susan. “The Philosopher, the Rabbi, and the Rhetorician.” College English 72.6 (2010): 590-607. Print. 

Handelman begins with an epigraph from Rabbi Yehouda Leon Ashkenazi, more commonly known as Manitou. This epigraph, which explores and complicates relations between giver and receiver, becomes the controlling idea for the rest of the essay, which explores connections between Emmanuel Levinas (the philosopher), Manitou (the rabbi), and Chaim Perelman (the rhetorician). Handelman’s main project is to challenge Levinas’s claim that the priority of the other is the central occasion of ethics and epistemology.

Handelman offers a brief biography of Manitou, most likely to be the least familiar to readers. He was born in Algeria in 1922. Like Levinas, he fought in the French army during World War II and afterward taught in Paris. As colleagues, they both contributed to the Parisian School of Jewish Thought in the 1950s. However, Manitou chose not to enter the academy and instead focused on teaching and the building of institutions, first in France and then in Israel, where he emigrated in 1968. Handelman argues that all three thinkers came to the same basic conclusion through different paths: ethics is prior to philosophy, a position all three took to be thoroughly Jewish. However, Manitou resists the Levinasian emphasis on the other, arguing that ethics must ultimately be entirely reciprocal. The familiar maxim “love your neighbor as yourself,” she writes, is a mistranslation of Leviticus. Rather, one loves God through the neighbor and for the sake of the neighbor. Manitou also construes the neighbor to be much closer than Levinas does. The problem is not the other, Handelman writes, the problem is one brother (598). This reciprocal relation extends not only to human beings, but also includes humanity’s relationship with God. Human beings cannot simply be the receivers of creation; they must also give back to it. To make the other of paramount importance, Manitou believed, is to undermine this reciprocity. As for Perelman, though he was an atheist, Handelman argues that his understanding of rhetoric is a rejection of both absolutism and skepticism. Most importantly, rhetoric occasions a relationship between speaker and other that is also reciprocal.

Tags: Judaism, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy, Rhetorical Theory


Holdstein, Deborah. “The Rhetorical Ideology of Composition Studies.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton P, 2008. 13-21. Print. 

Holdstein begins with Andrea Lunsford’s 1989 Chair Address at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. In that address, Lunsford lauded composition for embracing different and diverse viewpoints. Holdstein argues that these claims are better understood as aspirational rather than as descriptive. Her objection is that composition, insofar as it has a religious ideology, has a Christian one. Composition, she writes, “has permitted the canonization of a singular, religious tradition as the underlying source to which its morals and values are exclusively attributed, ignoring its own call to ‘compose’ itself and to question its own sets of practices and conventional ideologies” (15). Holdstein cites Richard Weaver and James Berlin as resources for the effort at the self-critique for which she is calling.

She then turns to an essay by Beth Daniell in the 50th anniversary issue of College Composition and Communication as evidence for her claims. In this essay, Daniell notes that Paulo Freire’s liberatory pedagogy was heavily influenced by his Catholicism and by liberation theology. Holdstein interprets this claim as tantamount to an uncritical endorsement of Christianity as composition’s religious ideology. She notes that Daniell invokes Martin Buber’s concept of I-Thou without citing Buber. As her second piece of evidence, Holdstein cites an exchange on the H-Rhetor listserv regarding a question that suggested that Rabbinic discourse relied primarily on orality rather than literacy. Respondents noted not only that the claim was wrong, but also that the form of the question suggested that “Rabbinic discourse” could be spoken of outside of a historical context. Holdstein notes that this kind of essentializing and avoidance occurs in theology and scriptural studies as well.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Judaism, Scripture, Theology


Lieber, Andrea. “A Virtual Veibershul: Blogging and the Blurring of Public and Private among Orthodox Jewish Women.” College English 72.6 (2010): 621-37.

Lieber examines the growing presence of Orthodox Jewish women online through anonymous blogs. Popular coverage has cast the phenomenon as Orthodox women stepping out into public from the private spaces they are usually consigned to by their religion, yet Lieber disputes that rather sensationalist analysis, arguing instead that “blogging is better understood as a technology that enables an expansion of the private sphere for the Orthodox Jewish women” (622). Although the blog allows for a certain transgression of the limits of domesticity, its anonymity allows for privacy to be maintained in “a new kind of public-private in the virtual domain” (622; emphasis in original).

In the course of her research, Lieber identifies more than fifty blogs maintained by Orthodox women and closely follows ten of these. She also conducts interviews by email with three bloggers. In Orthodox Judaism, female religious devotion hinges upon a strict public-private binary, with rules of modesty and gender roles largely restricting the influence of women to the home. Women may not serve as judges, speak in the synagogue, or perform other public roles. Blogging, however, can exist in an ambiguous realm between public and private: Though blogging is a form of publishing one’s thoughts, if a blog does not appear in search results or has only a handful of readers, can it truly be considered public? Although Orthodox bloggers have resisted the suggestion made by some journalists that their blogging was a transgressive or freeing act (pushing back against the notion of Orthodoxy as a repressive community), Lieber insists that the ultimately public nature of their blogs makes their writing a feminist act.

Orthodox bloggers commonly describe their blogs as a place to expand their voices by talking about subjects or venting emotions they cannot share with their in-person communities. One writer describes the blog as a “virtual veibershul,” that is, a gathering of Jewish women for socialization (632). By so doing, the blogger shows that she is thinking of the blog not as transgressing her conventional boundaries, but merely extending the traditional social gatherings online. Yet again, however, Lieber notes that this gathering, ostensibly of women, is fully accessible to any male or non-Jew who happens to find it online. Even as blogging maintains traditional Orthodox social spaces, then, it also places them in public, creating a new public-private that challenges Orthodox notions of gender.

Tags: Ethnography, Feminist/Feminism, Gender, Judaism, Public Sphere/Square


Metzger, David, and Steven B. Katz. “The ‘Place’ of Rhetoric in Aggadic Midrash.” College English 72.6 (2010): 638-53. Print. 

Metzger and Katz make a case for reading Jewish traditions of biblical interpretation as rhetorical activity, a study that can provide insights into Judaism and rhetoric alike. For Rabbinic Judaism, interpreting the Torah is the central religious activity, an act referred to as “midrash.” Alongside the written book of Torah, midrash lies as a complementary body of oral and written literature interpreting it. Midrash is divided between halakhic midrash, which examines Jewish law, and aggadic midrash, which covers narratives, aphorisms, and parables. Metzger and Katz focus their analysis on the latter category, arguing that while it is not well known outside Jewish circles, it is a central rhetorical place in Jewish religion and culture.

Turning to an examination of major themes within the aggadah (stories from the tradition of aggadic midrash), Metzger and Katz find similarities between the interpretive rhetoric and biblical rhetoric. Both figure the human heart as a site for rhetoric, textualizing the interior self through creative images that help Jews orient themselves in the world in a manner consistent with the Torah.

Metzger and Katz then turn to a close reading of two stories from a collection of midrashim on the Book of Lamentations. They note that the stories figure even God as a practitioner of midrash, even while resolutely maintaining a gap between human and divine perceptions of suffering and loss. Continuing their examination of rhetorical places, interiority, and textuality, they find imagery of the heart, the soul, and Torah as places. They argue that rabbinic interpretation as revealed in the aggadah does not attempt to find a stable meaning for the text, but rather configures it as a place to explore various perspectives and textual influences drawn from the Torah.

Rabbinic rhetoric as Metzger and Katz understand it therefore creates “new discursive spaces” in order to open up ways of exploration rather than close down meaning (650). Though these rhetorical practices are always influenced by rabbinic authority, hermeneutical principles, and the text of Torah itself, they view truth as multivalent rather than static. In conclusion, Metzger and Katz propose further investigation into how textualization contributes to the process of making a canon through scripture, tradition, and authority. Further discussions of Jewish rhetorics should include examination of the process by which certain texts are admitted to the discursive places of midrash that the community continues to interact with.

Tags: Hermeneutics, Judaism, Literary Theory/Literary Criticism, Scripture


Miller, Rich. “The Horizon of Martin Buber in Composition Studies.” Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 111-128. Print. 

Miller begins by noting that, in spite of his enormous body of work, Martin Buber’s ideas have not been widely studied by American scholars. One exception of interest to composition scholars is Buber’s influence on Carl Rogers’s approach to psychology. Nevertheless, American scholars have not engaged with Buber, a trend even more pronounced in English studies. Though many have some idea of Buber’s concept of “I-Thou,” the full import and complexity of his thought is not widely understood.

Miller then offers a brief biography of Buber, focusing primarily on his intellectual and religious development, before turning to an explication of I and Thou. Published in 1923, I-Thou combines prose and poetry into 58 aphoristic sections. Though the text is difficult, Miller argues that repeated reading will produce deeper and deeper insight for the reader. The central idea lies in the distinction between “I-Thou” and “I-It.” Where the former suggests mutual acknowledgement and recognition, the latter suggests an instrumental relationship. This distinction animates Buber’s idea that there are three distinct types of dialogue: genuine dialogue, technical dialogue, and monologue disguised as dialogue. The first is the most desirable, the second is less desirable but sometimes necessary, and the third is to be avoided. Most important is Buber’s understanding of the “Eternal Thou,” which Buber understands as the only Thou which can never become an It. That is, the Eternal Thou can never be coopted by technical dialogue nor overwhelmed by monologue. It is the Transcendence that inspires us toward genuine dialogue and ultimately animates it. The Eternal Thou, finally, does not communicate a message so much as presence.

Miller then compares Buber favorably to both Kenneth Burke and Paulo Freire, arguing that Buber’s ideas complement those of these canonical thinkers. In Burke, he finds a similar commitment to a non-manipulative discourse; in Freire, a similar commitment to social justice animated by religious motive. Finally, he suggests that Buber’s interdisciplinary orientation–combined with his belief that learning should extend beyond scholastic confines–should make his thinking of interest to scholars in composition.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Judaism, Presence, Rhetorical Theory, Theology


Moskow, Michal Anne, and Steven B. Katz. “Composing Identity and Community in Cyberspace: A ‘Rhetorical Ethnography’ of Writing on Jewish Discussion Groups in the United States and Germany.”  Judaic Perspectives in Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Andrea Greenbaum and Deborah Holdstein. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2008. 85-108. Print. 

Moskow and Katz note that some historians have identified three main sources of Western Culture: Greece, Rome, and Israel. Of these, the first two have gotten the lion’s share of attention from rhetoricians. In addition, they argue that scholarly attention has tended to concentrate on major figures in the “tradition” rather than the writings of ordinary people. With these ideas in mind, they conduct a “rhetorical ethnography” (86) of two email discussions lists, both of which are interested in questions of Jewish identity. The first operated in the US, and the second in Germany. The authors conducted participant observation on these listservs from 1999 to 2001.

Central to the interests and discussions on the listservs were questions of exclusion and inclusion. Though the American listserv was ostensibly dedicated to the concerns of liberal Jews, more conservative members sometimes asserted the right to determine the grounds of Jewish identity. On the German listserv, meanwhile, many non-Jews participated, and their participation created other complications for articulating inclusion and exclusion. Stories of conversion sometimes created challenges for determining who was in and who was out. The authors chronicle the entrance and exile of several listserv members. Moskow and Katz see larger themes of Jewish experience reflected in these cyberspace arguments. They also find them reflected in Jewish scripture and hermeneutics. Finally, they describe implications for composition; these include an heightened awareness of the power to name, the rhetorical nature of identification, and the materiality of language.

Tags: Burke, Community, Identity, Judaism, Rhetorical Theory, Technology


Ridolfo, Jim. “Judah Messer Leon and the Sefer Nofet Zuphim: Rethinking Rhetorical Delivery in the Early Age of Print.” Jewish Rhetorics: History, Theory, and Practice. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Janice W. Fernheimer Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP, 2014. 46-57.

Ridolfo discusses the life and work of Italian rabbi Yehiel Messer Leon (1420/1425-1498 CE), who—in addition to many other theological and philosophical writings—wrote the first Hebraic treatment of Greek and Roman rhetorics, the Sefer Nofet Zufim, or The Book of the Honeycomb’s Flow. While Ridolfo is interested in Messer Leon as a rhetorical theorist in general, he is particularly interested in Messer Leon “as an unlikely theorist of rhetorical delivery” (46).

Ridolfo begins his study by offering some historical background on Leon’s life and times. He notes that fifteenth century Italy experienced a great deal of political and demographic change, with a great deal of Jewish immigration to Italy, where, in the middle of the fifteenth century, Jews enjoyed a great deal of freedom. Messer Leon played a prominent role in mediating between the minority Jewish community and the larger Christian community and was “the first Italian Jew allowed to confer doctoral status on his students” (47). Messer Leon wrote many books on logic, rhetoric, and grammar, along with many works on educational reform. This latter work involved him in controversies within his own communities, where many of his suggested reforms met with resistance. This resistance drove Messer Leon to argue for censoring a key opponent. The chapter then turns to the Sefer Nofet Zufim, published in 1475-76, which reframes classic Hellenistic texts within the Hebrew Bible. Here, Ridolfo notes that the Sefer may have been published without Messer Leon’s knowledge or approval. As a result, Messer Leon holds an unusual place the history of delivery as both a beneficiary and potential censor of a new communications technology, the printing press.

The chapter then turns to examination of delivery in the Sefer. Ridolfo frames the divergence between Messer Leon’s theoretical endorsement of delivery and his public actions within what Carolyn Miller has called rhetoric’s divergent impulses between “self-aggrandizement” and “self-denial” (52). The question of whether rhetoric should name its tools becomes more complicated with Jewish rhetorical history, in which Jewish rhetors have often found themselves operating within asymmetrical relations of power. Within such situations, there may be even less motivation or reason for rhetoric to identify itself as such.

Tags: Community, Identity, Judaism, Rhetorical Theory, Rhetorical History, Technology


Scripture Biblical Rhetoric

Daniell, Beth. “A Question of Truth: Reading the Bible, Rhetoric, and Christian Tradition.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2014. 105-118. Print. 

Daniell begins by insisting that question of truth is a key question for our undergraduates. For them, the argument that truth is constructed rhetorically will be genuinely disorienting and even disturbing. We must treat this anxiety with the respect and care it deserves. This means that our teaching must acknowledge and account for our students’ relationship with their sacred texts. We cannot be flippant in our dismissal of what scripture scholar Marcus Borg calls “precritical naivete.”

The general postmodern orientation of rhetorical studies should prove an asset here. The modern roots of fundamentalism have also produced the rationalist discourse that would strangle rhetoric. Daniell cites several major influences on contemporary rhetoric, including Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin, and Chaim Perelman, whose writing provide available means for a more productive encounter with sacred texts. Their theories remind us that truth cannot be reduced to facticity, nor can one field’s understanding of truth stand for every field. These complex approaches to truth, Daniell argues, are mirrored in Christian tradition, which gradually built its own complex hermeneutics for interpreting scripture. That is to say, rhetorical interpretation is nothing new in Christian tradition. Yet the contemporary return to rhetoric promises a more sensitive and supple relationship with scriptures now read literally and simplistically. While historically and textually informed methods have become dominant in seminary training, Daniell argues that many of our students are still enculturated into reading the Bible literally. Our challenge, therefore is to move students out of their precritical naivete. However, the goal should not be a stance of criticism, but rather a postcritical naivete that recognizes the deep truth of texts not just in spite of contemporary critical methods but by means of them.

Tags: Christianity, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Deans, Thomas. “The Rhetoric of Jesus Writing in the Story of the Woman Accused of Adultery (John 7.53–8.11).” College Composition and Communication 65.3 (2014): 406-29.

Deans examines the only biblical passage in which Jesus is depicted as writing, in which the religious leaders test Jesus by seeking his approval for the stoning of a woman caught in adultery. Jesus kneels and writes on the ground before telling the mob that the one who has not sinned should cast the first stone—an idea that so discomfits them that they trickle away and leave the woman alone with Jesus, who refuses to condemn her. Deans examines the story, sometimes known as the Pericope Adulterae, for its depiction of silent writing, a gesture that he describes as rhetorically powerful due to its ability to provoke reflection and through its deployment of silence.

In order to set his work in context of larger discussion in composition, Deans looks at James Slevin’s proposal for a canon for composition. He notes that Slevin proposes inclusion of complex narratives documenting experiences of literacy and education, such as the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Deans argues that if the canon is to include such secular narratives, compositionists ought also to consider included primary sacred texts “that offer prismatic representations of education and literacy” (409). Looking at the reception history of John 7-8, Deans acknowledges that the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is conventionally understood as being about mercy rather than literacy. However, he argues that the Gospel of John at large is much concerned with words, teaching, writing, and revision, and the Pericope Adulterae picks up those themes.

Turning to his analysis of the Pericope Adulterae itself, Deans argues that Jesus’s combination of writing and orality gives his rhetorical performance in the episode greater power than either purely oral or purely written discourse would have. Since writing is a more private, interior mode of rhetoric than oral delivery, stopping to write allows Jesus to become “solitary in the middle of a crowd” as they ask him for a statement on the woman’s fate (416). He then shifts to orality to invite the crowd to be united to him rather than the religious leaders—thus deploying the most powerful aspects of both written and oral rhetoric.

Deans concludes his essay with the argument that considering the Pericope Adulterae within the canon of composition ought to prompt us to consider the role of silent writing in the classroom, and how silent writing might work as a component of public rhetorical performance. If religious texts can prompt such reflections on the field, Deans argues, they should not be banished from composition courses and readers.

Tags: Bible, Christian/Christianity, Pedagogy, Scripture


Herzberg, Bruce. “The Jewish Context of Paul’s Rhetoric.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2014. 119-134. Print. 

Herzberg’s project is to argue that Paul’s rhetoric was distinctly and thoroughly Jewish and not, as many have argued, decisively Christian. That is, it represents a renovated rhetoric far more than an “innovative” one. Though many scholars have commented on the Greek and Roman influences on Paul’s rhetoric, Herzberg reminds his readers that Paul was in fact a Pharisee whose rhetoric drew from a tradition of “Oral Law” or “Oral Torah.” The Oral Law was finally written down in the second century C.E., but its interpretive practices predate the composition of the New Testament. Upholding the Oral Law was a practice of the Pharisaic community from which Paul comes.

Herzberg offers a list of the common rhetorical and interpretive moves of this tradition. He then interprets a sample text according to these practices. Having demonstrated this form of interpretation, the chapter turns to Galatians and the arguments over whether Gentiles had to convert to Judaism before being accepted in the emerging Christian community. Herzberg provides a detailed analysis of the arguments, pointing to the ways in which they reveal Paul’s Jewish rhetorical practices. Herzberg also reveals the ways in which Paul’s Jewish identity was continually ignored by scholars who seemed motivated to insist that Paul was offering a decisive break with the past. This conclusion, the author argues, should now motivate scholars of Christian rhetoric to give more careful consideration to its Jewish roots.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Judaism, Scripture


Scult, Allen, Michael Calvin McGee, and J. Kenneth Kuntz. “Genesis and Power: An Analysis of the Biblical Story of Creation.” Quarterly Journal of Speech  72.2 (1986): 113-131. Print. 

The authors analyze the opening chapters of Genesis in order to understand the implied relationship between truth and power expressed in the text. They identify as their motivating question the discipline’s search for a theory of discourse and power, and they argue that any such relationship will be manifest in narration, or story, at least as much as in theory or argument. Given the Bible’s central place in Western literature and culture, they turn to its opening pages: the first three chapters of Genesis. Unlike other Biblical critics, however, they insist on reading the Bible’s narratives through a rhetorical rather than poetic lens.

Key to their reading of Genesis 1-3 is the distinction between the “J” text, which tells the story of Adam’s disobedience (and was composed in the 10th century), and the “P” text, which tells the story of the initial creation (and was composed in the 6th century). In the J, or Yahwist account, the authors find a very human tale in which God walks among and converses familiarly with his creations. The action of the tale is born of transaction between God and his characters. The “P” narrative, meanwhile, depicts God in absolute control of his creation, which he speaks into being. But the lack of familiar narrative form, they argue, in no way dilutes the story’s rhetorical power. Because it was composed after the J account, the P account must be understood as commentary on its predecessor. The authors surmise that P is attempting to communicate the theological understanding that could be derived from the J account.

From the dialectical relationship between the two texts, the authors derive a theory of power and discourse. They reaffirm the Foucauldian argument, power does rather than simply is. Power is not what someone has; power is what someone does. It unfolds, moreover, within an authorship/authority dialectic, in which authority circulates but remains circumscribed by authorship, while authorship animates the circulating authority. The relationship between the J and P accounts enacts this dialectic.

Tags: Bible, Rhetorical Criticism, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Zaeske, Susan. “Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 333.3 (2000): 193-220. Print.

Zaeske reads the story of Esther from a rhetorical and feminist perspective. She positions her project as part of a feminist revision of the history of rhetoric, which has too often been constructed as an unbroken chain of male rhetorical theorists and their influence. Against this hegemony, feminist rhetorical scholars have begun to recuperate the role of women, and Zaeske sees Esther as another exemplar whom this counter-tradition should include. Though the Book of Esther does not address rhetoric in an explicitly rhetorical way, it does feature a heroine who uses persuasion deftly to accomplish her ends. Though Esther is in a position of relative weakness, Zaeske’s project also contributes to a developing “rhetoric of scripture,” a scholarly project that reads the Bible as a source of rhetorical experience and insight.

Reading the story of Esther, Zaeske observes that characters who use rhetoric of personal gain suffer the worst fate, while characters like Esther, who uses rhetoric to benefit her community, triumph. Following Margaret ZulickZaeske calls Esther an “exilic rhetoric” (199)  in which community survival is seen as more important than personal integrity or need.

Zaeske then traces the influence of Esther on later texts and rhetorical theory, both in the middle ages and the American antebellum, including Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies, Maria Stewart’s “Farewell Address to Her Friends,” Sojourner Truth’s address at the Fourth National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1853, and Angelina Grimké’s 1836 Appeal to the Christian Women of the South.

Tags: Bible, Feminism/Feminist, Scripture


Zulick, Margaret D. “The Active Force of Hearing: The Ancient Hebrew Language of Persuasion.” Rhetorica  10.4 (1992): 367-380. Print.

Zulick contests James Kinneavy’s claim, offered in The Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith, that the Old Testament lacks the idea of rhetoric expressed in the New Testament by pistis. While Zulick concedes that this claim is basically true, she argues that it is seriously incomplete. The Old Testament in fact contains many ideas of persuasion, even if it does not have an equivalent to the analytic, reflective significance that characterizes the basic Greek idea. Key to the difference, argues Zulick, is that the Hebrew idea of persuasion places responsibility for persuasion on the hearer rather than the speaker.

Zulick then offers close readings of several passages from the Old Testament, including Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. In these and others, she finds a consistent attitude toward eloquence and speech, though not one necessarily marked by abstract conceptualization. The article carefully considers several Hebrew words for speech, poetics, and argument. The verb pata, the closest equivalent for pistis, is used rarely and never without some degree of negative connotation. Reading Jeremiah, Zulick compares this meaning to the overpowering force of the one expressed in Gorgias’s Encomium of Helen.

Conversely, when persuasion is portrayed positively, the verb sama (to hear) may be used, as in the story of Joseph. When Judah persuades his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead of murdering him, the action is conveyed by the verb “to hear.” From this, Zulick draws two conclusions: first, that Hebrew rhetoric places responsibility for persuasion on the hearer, and second, that the word itself carries a great deal of persuasive weight. She closes by asking not only where the more analytic and agonistic Greek concept of persuasion came from but also why that conception has become dominant in rhetorical studies. As she suggests, Western culture is equally influenced by both the Hebrew and the Greek.

Tags: Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Zulick, Margaret D. “The Agon of Jeremiah: On the Dialogic Invention of the Prophetic Ethos. Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.2 (1992): 125-148. Print. 

Zulick interprets the Book of Jeremiah in order to understand the production and effects of prophetic discourse. Through a reading influenced by Burke and Bakhtin, Zulick concludes that Jeremiah reveals a prophetic ethos that is produced by and produces the given prophet in question. In effect, Zulick argues for “the death of the prophet” (139) an understanding of prophetic rhetoric tied less to an individual and more to an agon which, in this case, involves not simply the prophet Jeremiah but also his community and their god YHWH.

Zulick begins by arguing that the Hebrew Bible should play a greater role in rhetorical theorizing and historiography. Hebrew rhetoric offers an alternative vision, grounded in a “mastery of ethos in a mythic and personal vein” (126) unlike Aristotelian rhetoric of rational demonstration. Zulick then argues that the prophetic ethos in Hebrew scripture is fundamentally rooted in a situation of crisis and conflict. As what Zulick calls a “coordinating synecdoche” (128) Jeremiah becomes the point at which and the persona through which the community struggles to understand a threat or disaster and how to respond to it. The Book of Jeremiah reveals shifts in the expression of prophetic ethos, caused not only be the emergence of written prophetic discourse, but also the disaster of the Babylonian capture and eventual destruction of Jerusalem.

Zulick then goes on to analyze the agon of Jeremiah through Burkean ratios, particularly scene-agent, agent-act, and finally agent-agent, in which she recounts Jeremiah’s struggles with the deity. Through this analysis, Zulick concludes that the prophetic ethos is produced through dialogic interchange, an interchange that reveals the prophetic to characterize a particular sort of community deliberation rather than a specific speaker. Here, she relies on Bakhtin to bolster her claim that the agon depicted in Jeremiah is no threat to a coherent sense of the prophetic, as long as that sense is observed in a text rather than a single character.

Tags: Bible, Burke, Prophetic Rhetoric, Scripture


Buddhism and Zen

Gallehr, Donald R. “What is the Sound of No Hand Writing? The Use of Secularized Zen Koans in the Teaching of Writing.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 95-104. Print. 

In this brief essay, Gallehr recounts his own experiences with meditation, which are largely influenced by Zen Buddhist practices. Gallehr’s personal practice grows out of his own experience with anxious thoughts and worries. He describes the books he read in order to acquaint himself with Zen, including those that describe the “koan,” a puzzling saying or riddle that offers fuel for contemplation. The author recounts ways in which he uses koans to manage problems in his own life.

He then describes how he uses them in writing. His key question is, “What does my writing want to become?” (99). Contemplating this question helps him focus his work on his writing. He then applies these questions to his teaching, asking his students what they think society wants their writing to become. He continues by asking his students what they want their writing to become and by prompting them to consider what they think their writing wants itself to become. Through this practice, he hopes to inspire intuition in his students and new ways of thinking about their writing.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Meditation, Pedagogy


McPhail, Mark Lawrence. Zen in the Art of Rhetoric: An Inquiry Into Coherence. Albany: SUNY P, 1996. Print. 

McPhail’s project is to discern the role of rhetoric within Zen Buddhism while at the same time offering Zen Buddhism as means of enriching rhetoric. He describes the relationship between Zen and language as somewhat troubled: Many sayings and teachers caution practitioners against getting too caught up in words, which can fix categories and calcify understanding. Zen resists the dualistic thinking found in the Western habit of thinking through and with negation, which insists that the proposition “A is A” is secured only when “A is not A” is also secured. Zen’s great contribution, McPhail argues, is that it offers not just a critique of negation but also a set of practices that allow for non-dualistic thinking. McPhail connects this possibility to avenues of inquiry that were current in the field, including postmodernism and the sophists. He sees parallels and convergences among these scholarly interests.

McPhail uses the habits of thought he has learned from his study of Zen to rethink his own intellectual and scholarly practices. For example, McPhail reviews the response to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, particularly Bloom’s claim that racism had largely been eradicated from American universities. As a result, Bloom insists, responsibility for separateness now lies with black students themselves. McPhail reviews the large body of work that rejected this claim, and he largely agrees that Bloom’s view stems from the very racism that Bloom claims no longer exists. The problem, McPhail writes, lies in how one argues this point without engaging in the very sort of essentialist thinking that characterizes Bloom’s view. In other words, how does one reject Bloom’s “A is A” without simply saying “A is not A,” which simply repeats the structure of dialectical negation in which Bloom is engaged in the first place?

Ultimately, McPhail is concerned with the possibility that the habits of thought offered by Zen might recalibrate old tensions, such as those between content and form, argument and persuasion, reason and emotion. These tensions, he suggests, cannot be resolved; they can only be inhabited, either productively or destructively. Zen offers a model for maintaining the paradoxes of homo rhetoricus productively.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Buddhism/Zen, Race, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy


Spellmeyer, Kurt. Buddha at the Apocalypse: Awakening from a Culture of Destruction. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010. Print.

Spellmeyer, a prominent scholar in composition and author of Arts of Living and Common Ground, offers Zen Buddhism as a counter to what he sees as the apocalyptic orientation of Western culture. This orientation, he argues, sees time as following a natural or logical progression toward an ending point at which a central truth or truths will finally be revealed (“Apocalypse” means “a lifting of the veil.”). Though it finds its roots in the Bible and in traditional religion, the apocalyptic orientation extends far beyond those boundaries, shaping even the supposedly “secular” world views of scientists and entrepreneurs. Though Spellmeyer acknowledges that the world now finds itself in an ecological crisis that could spell the “end times,” he argues that the crisis is in fact an effect of apocalypse rather than its cause.

To counter this attitude, Spellmeyer offers Zen Buddhism, which embraces the uncertainty that the apocalyptic worldview rejects. Christianity, he argues, orients us toward linear time, single cause and effect, and a simple relationship between creation and destruction; Zen Buddhism, meanwhile, orients its adherents toward the present moment, myriad possibilities, and multifarious causes and effects. Zen embraces a complexity that the Western worldview rejects.

Though the book does not speak explicitly about disciplinary issues in rhetoric and composition, its argument not only grows from Spellmeyer’s earlier work but also reinforces his previous pedagogical conclusions–namely, that composition’s pedagogy must habituate students to being comfortable with complexity and uncertainty.

Tags: Apocalyptic Rhetoric/Apocalypticism, Buddhism/Zen, Secular/Sacred


Tillemans, Tom J.F. “Introduction: Buddhist Argumentation.” Argumentation 22 (2008): 1-14. Print. 

In this introduction to a special issue on Buddhist argumentation, Tillemans begins by challenging the widespread assumption that Buddhist thought eschews formal argumentation in favor of irenic, non-conceptual contemplation. Tillemans suggests that this assumption stems not from a genuine understanding of Buddhism, but rather from a Western need to cast Buddhism as a cultural other. As the article notes, Buddhist writing and scholastic practices “have been deeply concerned with logical and rhetorical issues of good and bad reasoning” (2). These interests include not only an individual’s internal processes of reasoning but also public argumentation and debate. Though various schools and regions differed in their emphasis and approach to argumentation, Buddhism generally put a premium on logical and rhetorical thought.

In addition to careful attention to epistemology and language, Buddhists also defended the ethical use of argumentation against the familiar charge that rhetorical display is “just an exercise in immoral self-promotion, vanity[,] and aggression” (3). Moreover, Tillemans argues, many Buddhist traditions also saw argumentation as a key spiritual practice. Though a non-conceptual irenicism may have been a goal of such spirituality, argumentation was often a means to this end. The introduction then reviews basic approaches of Buddhist logic, including the rhetorical considerations included in developing what are taken to be good reasons. After introducing the various articles that make up the special edition, Tillemans leaves his readers with two questions: What are Buddhist theoretical accounts of argumentation, and what are their actual practices? Answering these questions will include an ever-wider reading of Buddhist literature. As in Western rhetorical studies, developing a full picture of theory and practice will require going beyond explicit treatises.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Buddhism/Zen


Wagar, Scott. “Composition as a Spiritual Discipline.” JAEPL 21 (2015-16): 21-35. Print. 

Wagar begins by challenging what he sees as the field’s tendency to treat religion as “an object of interrogation” rather than a source of meaning for students (21). As he notes, composition has often had an uneasy relationship with religion, which seems to present arguments and to value sources usually dismissed in secular academia. Lost in this struggle is the idea of “spirituality,” which is tainted by its association with religion. Outside of academia, however, spirituality is gaining in value in our public discourse, with more and more people, including young people, identifying themselves as spiritual but not religious (SBNR). Wagar insists that composition has a spiritual dimension and that now is a kairotic moment to cultivate that dimension.

Wagar then turns to two internationally recognized spiritual figures, the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, as exemplary figures for the kind of non-religious (or at least not necessarily religious) spirituality he would cultivate. In the writings of these men, Wagar finds available means for articulating composition’s spiritual ethos. That ethos, he suggests, could resolve old arguments about process and product, form and content. In the field’s focus on writing process, Wagar finds an analogue to the change, fluctuation, and renewal that are key to the spiritual life as understood by the Dalai Lama and Hanh. This spirituality also complements the field’s interest in inclusivity, including the posthuman, and critical reflection. All of these practices may be enriched by the spiritual, a term that Wager insists should be embraced without embarrassment.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Expressivism, Process, Spirituality


Contemplation, Meditation, Mindfulness

Crosswhite, James, and Barbara Schoen. “Two Comments on James Moffett’s ‘Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation.’” College English 45.4 (1983): 400-404. Print. 

Crosswhite lauds and endorses Moffett’s desire to lead students to deeper, more original thought in their writing, he equally wholeheartedly rejects Moffett’s focus on mediation. For Crosswhite, any move “beyond” or “outside of” speech and conceptualization is futile and counterproductive. Whatever insights students may achieve through meditation, they must eventually be expressed in discursive form. For her part, Schoen objects to what she sees as Moffett’s rejection of form. Form, she argues, is crucial to the study of expression. And although forms can be limiting, those limits can also be generative, as in highly stylized poetic forms such as the villanelle and the haiku.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Meditation


Kalamaras, George. “Meditative Silence and Reciprocity: the Dialogic Implications for ‘Spiritual Sites of Composing.’” JAEPL 2 (Winter 1996-97): 18-26.

Kalamaras examines the use of silence in composition pedagogy as it has been developed by a number of thinkers, often with a connection to Eastern meditation. Citing works by James Moffett and Charles Suhor as well as a 1992 Conference on College Composition and Communication panel on “Spiritual Sites of Composing,” he notes a troubling utilitarianism and expressivism within the discourse, which tends to construct meditation as a means for achieving pedagogical or writerly ends. For Kalamaras, such a goal-oriented approach to meditation profoundly misses the point, since meditation aims to suspend such functionalist consciousness. Moreover, he argues, “When we perceive a practice only in terms of its benefits, we begin to lose hold of the importance of the practice itself—whether it be meditation or writing” (20).

Such conflicts frequently arise, for Kalamaras, when teachers introduce spiritual practices into the classroom. In order to avoid cheapening such practices, he argues that we should “avoid selling meditation” but instead seek to understand it better on its own terms, as a spiritual practice rather than a pedagogical trick (21; emphasis in original).

Toward that end, Kalamaras argues that Western compositionists have misread meditation as a resource for educational goals, rather than a goal in itself, as well as placed it within Western concepts of transcendence. As a trained yogi, Kalamaras views meditation as a practice with numerous benefits such as “trust in intuition, ambiguity, and chaos as well as trust in the reciprocity and interpretive quality of experience” (23). However, he does not advocate actual meditation in class, but rather for instructors to draw on meditative values in their pedagogical work overall to build a more socially aware teaching practice. In order to achieve that, we must understand meditation according to its Eastern origins as a dialogic practice with no consciousness of a binary between transcendence and immanence.

If understood outside of the Western framework of transcendence, Kalamaras argues, the values of silence and meditation will lead the instructor toward practices that are less hierarchical, more interested in process, and more open to multi-vocality and revision. Informed by Eastern meditation, the reciprocity between teacher and student would be truly reciprocal and dialogic rather than merely a technique in the service of educational utility.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Contemplation, Expressivism, Intuition, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pedagogy


Mathieu, Paula. “Being There: Mindfulness as Ethical Classroom Practice.” JAEPL 21 (2015-16): 14-20. Print. 

Mathieu responds to the place of ethics in writing, as it has been raised by John Duffy. Although she agrees that writing invokes relationships with ethical implications, she asks how ethical commitments can be taught. The problem with establishing ethical relationships, she writes, involves getting past preconceived ideas and preconditioned responses. Her answer to these problems is mindfulness, which she describes as a kind of awareness. Mathieu then advocates for mindfulness from three main arguments or places: disciplinary scholarship, popular spiritual literature, and neuroscience.

Though some in the field have argued for the importance of mindfulness, it remains on the margins of the field. She takes each arguments in turn while also making connections between them. For example, she compares Robert Yagleski’s Writing as a Way of Being (2011) with Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (1997) and A New Earth (2005). She then turns to a couple of neuroscience studies, one that indicates that thinking and awareness are managed by different parts of the brain and another that suggests that argument and compassion likewise occur in different spheres. These studies suggest that the awareness for which she advocates is something different from the critical reflection and persuasion we normally teach.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Ethics, Mindfulness, Pedagogy, Spirituality


Moffett, James. “Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation.” College English 44.3 (1982): 231-246. Print.

Moffett begins by arguing that consciousness is essentially a form of “inner speech” in which subjective experiences and objective experiences feed into each other to form what William James called “the stream of consciousness” (231). Writing therefore is a kind of revised inner speech. Unfortunately, Moffett argues, the current focus of composition instruction–searching for sources, cutting them and pasting them together to form some kind of argument–blocks access to inner speech. Such writing can only ever skim the froth rather than plumb the depths. If students are to have any hope of achieving insight or making discovery on their own, they must somehow examine their inner speech.

To do this, Moffett recommends several forms of meditation, both from Eastern and Western sources. Students ought first to “watch” their inner speech, then to focus on it, and finally to suspend it. His ultimate understanding of meditation suggests that the mind can reach beyond conceptualization and discourse altogether. Moffett acknowledges that this is a counter-intuitive argument for a writing teacher to make. He defends his approach first by arguing that all great insight is paradoxical; therefore, learning to express oneself by meditating past expression fits this paradoxical form. Second, he argues that outer speech will be improved if we return to it after meditation through and beyond our inner speech. Finally, Moffett argues that meditation can make language a counter-spell to itself—that is, contemplation can reveal the ways in which language speaks us. If one can observe and better direct the mind, Moffett reasons, the mind can be more easily shared. 

Tags: Disciplinarity, Meditation, Pedagogy


Moffett, James. “James Moffett Responds.” College English 45.4 (1983): 404-406. Print.

In his response to Crosswhite and Schoen, Moffett begins by distinguishing between suspending conceptual speech and terminating it. The former rather than the latter, he argues, represents his aim. The purpose of meditation is not to remove ourselves permanently from discursive speech, public discourse, or political strife. Nor, he adds, can meditation be plotted on a (false) faith-reason dichotomy, as Crosswhite suggests. Instead, it offers the possibility of direct intuition, which can offer insight into both faith and reason. In addition, Moffett insists that he was not rejecting form, but rather rejecting the idea of turning form into an end in itself, so much so that the student loses any sense of purpose or meaning in a given assignment.

Tags: Meditation, Pedagogy 


Peary, Alexandria. “Mindfulness, Buddhism, and Rogerian Argument.” JAEPL 11 (Winter 2005-2006), 64-75. Print.

Peary describes methods of pursuing “Buddhist activities of deep listening and mindful speech” in the communication classroom using Rogerian argumentation and principles of communication (64). For her, these techniques help students empathize with one another and thus do a better job listening, contributing to the ability to discuss even contentious issues with equanimity. Moreover, she argues that practicing these techniques contributes to greater mindfulness on the part of the instructor as well.

Peary summarizes Rogerian argumentation as based upon empathy, imagination (projecting oneself into the viewpoint of the other), and postponing or suspending evaluative moves. Much like Peter Elbow’s “believing game,” Rogerian communication begins with assenting to the other in order to open lines of communication rather than shutting them down. She describes several techniques for teaching Rogerian communication drawn from creative writing exercises, including a Cubist description of an object where students collaborate to produce a description from multiple points of view.

Moving to link Rogerian communication to Buddhist thought, Peary argues that the suspension of evaluation can contribute to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, in which the practitioner is to build awareness of the present moment and of her own evaluative tendencies. Since human beings largely act without such mindfulness, achieving it is more difficult than one would imagine. Peary describes two techniques for helping students achieve mindfulness, one that structures a class discussion using non-evaluative listening and another using mental prompts aimed at building compassion. In conclusion, Peary argues that though Rogerian and Buddhist techniques may seem daunting to implement in the classroom due to their high degree of difficulty, they pay dividends in rhetorical imagination and openness to learning.

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Buddhism/Zen, Contemplation, Expressivism, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pedagogy, Process


Puccio, Paul M. “The Contemplative Classroom.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists 6.1 (1999): 37-48. Print.

Puccio begins with some reflections on his own educational experience at a small Jesuit school where he describes receiving a traditional, liberal arts education. He claims this kind of education as a counter to what he sees as a prevailing culture of practicality. Puccio calls this kind of practicality unethical, with an overemphasis on the expedient and the efficient. Against this Puccio seeks to create a contemplative classroom in which spiritual values are taken more seriously than economic ones. He also distinguishes between the competitive, agonistic classroom and the cooperative and meditative.

He then describes a course he taught in the second of a two-semester sequence in which he enacts these values. He assigns work by contemplatives such as Thomas Merton, and he does many of the other things associated with an “open” classroom, such as sitting in a circle, avoiding direct debate, etc. He also describes the class in more traditional terms, with brainstorming, drafting, revising , and research. Nevertheless, he also attempts to encourage contemplation in the way students approach their writing by encouraging private journaling, reflection, and reading practices resembling lectio divina. Puccio assesses the course not through the students’ main work, but rather through their reflections on the course itself.  Of the many comments students make, Puccio is most dismayed by some students’ description of the readings as depressing. From this, Puccio concludes that students associate the inner life with morbidity.

Puccio includes both the reading list of the course and a typical assignment.

Tags: Contemplation, Mindfulness, Pedagogy


Smith, Erec. “Buddhism’s Pedagogical Contribution to Mindfulness.” JAEPL 21 (2015-16): 36-46. Print. 

Acknowledging the role spirituality plays in the lives of many of our students, Smith argues that composition should turn to Buddhist practices for resources. He is particularly interested in the question of mindfulness, which he links to rhetoric’s focus on kairos. Mindfulness, he writes, can make people sensitive to context, aware of novelty and change, and oriented to the present; these are many of the qualities rhetoricians might associate with rhetorical sensitivity. Without mindfulness, Smith asserts, our behavior will be routine and rule-governed.

To cultivate this mindfulness, Smith turns to Buddhism, specifically the “fen factors,” which appear in the Lotus Sutra. Smith offers some background on the Lotus Sutra and its origins in Mahayana Buddhism. The “ten factors” come from a chapter titled “Expedient Means,” which Smith likens to rhetoric. Smith then lists the ten factors: “appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end” (qtd. In Smith 39). Smith divides these ten into four groups and discusses these groupings before relating them to more familiar rhetorical texts and terms, such as Gorgias’s On Non-Being, kairos, rhetorical listening, and pragmatism. He also argues that the ten factors offer a sustainable platform for teaching, even in the postpedagogical classroom. The ten factors can cultivate a more rhetorically-sensitive awareness not only of the writer’s subject position but also of the relationship between writing and research.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Kairos, Mindfulness, Pedagogy, Rhetorical Theory



Berthoff, Ann E. “Introductory Remarks.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 237-238. Print. 

Berthoff introduces a set of essays that grew out of a panel presentation on “spiritual sites of composing,” which occurred at the 1992 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Berthoff points to what she sees as a key misunderstanding of Freire, a misunderstanding that neglects to place Freire in his own religious and spiritual context. She also argues that Freire is often understood in too dichotomous a manner, in which a bifurcation is assumed between his thoughts on literacy and thoughts on oppression. Against this, Berthoff offers articulation as a more accurate and productive metaphor. Critical consciousness, she writes, is articulated through literacy, but literacy does not in itself liberate. Berthoff then describes three sites of spiritual composing, all drawn from Freire: the traditional church, which resists any confrontation with modern life; the liberal church, which is marked by good intentions but no vision; and the prophetic church, which offers the richest and most far-reaching imaginative possibilities. It is the prophetic church, Berthoff writes, that drives the kind of cultural transformation that Freire sought. Berthoff contrasts this vision against antifoundationalism, which she describes as the “new positivism.” The point of Freire’s pedagogy, she argues, is not to unmoor culture from foundations but rather to examine them critically. “Spirit,” she writes, “is a very powerful speculative instrument for this enterprise” (238).

Tags: Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Literacy, Spirituality


Bishop, Wendy. “Teaching Lives: Thoughts on Reweaving Our Spirits.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 129-135. Print. 

This brief personal essay recounts a conversion–a conversion to the idea that teaching writing has spiritual implications. Though Bishop admits that she long resisted the idea (and preferred to describe her work as strictly “humanist” instead), her experience of teaching leads her to conclude that the spiritual implications are inescapable. Bishop attempts to reconcile what she describes as the heart of an expressivist with the mind of a social constructionist. At the same time, she argues that educators have too often concentrated on the cognitive while excluding the affective. Once the affective is allowed, then educators must admit that students write from and with the complex matrixes of their own lives. She recounts a story of an otherwise diffident student who suddenly responds to an exercise just before the Thanksgiving break. When queried, the student confesses that he doesn’t want to go home because his parents are going through a divorce. This moment reveals to Bishop not only the spiritual elements of student writing but also the spiritual implications and demands of the teaching life. Bishop then connects the spiritual aspects of writing to postmodern and feminist invitations to consider personal experience as legitimate sources of knowledge and inquiry.

Bishop then concludes with four suggestions and observations: 1) that teachers of writing will do better if they show that they pursue their work for its own sake rather than academic honors; 2) that the private and public and coexist and inform each other; 3) theory and practice, private and personal must also inform and reinforce each other; 4) that teachers must tell more stories–that is, consider their work and their lives through the mode of experience.

Tags: Spirituality, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Campbell, JoAnn. “Writing to Heal: Using Meditation in the Writing Process.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 246-51. Print.

Campbell notes that meditation remains on the margins, both in composition and in the academy more generally. She notes her own hesitation, as an untenured faculty member, to attempt meditation techniques too frequently in her own classroom. She also notes a hesitation to speak of “healing” in relation to academic work, in spite of evidence suggesting the healing properties of writing. Campbell suggests that the popularity of spiritual writing books indicates that, outside the academy, people have recognized these properties. The author does observe some awareness of meditation within composition, particularly in the work of James Moffett, but also in D. Gordan Rohman’s 1965 article “Prewriting: The Stage of Discovery in the Writing Process.” She also notes objections to Moffett’s call for meditation, objects offered on hermeneutic grounds (i.e., the transcendent purports to take beyond history) and on postmodern grounds (i.e., religion tends to erase difference in its search for unification). In spite of these objections, Campbell insists that meditation can be useful as a technique for invention and reflection. Most importantly, she argues, meditation can help students whose creativity powers have been stifled by clumsy schooling. 

Tags: Invention, Meditation, Pedagogy, Process


Daniell, Beth. “Composing (As) Power.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 238-46. Print.

Daniell identifies the occasion of her remarks as Berthoff’s challenge, offered at the 1988 Conference on College Composition and Communication, to consider Freire’s critical pedagogy within the context of his Catholic faith. Recalling that 1988 Conference on College Composition and Communication meeting, Daniell writes that “we did not possess a language that would permit us to discuss in an academic setting the spiritual aspects of Freire’s work” (239). Daniell characterizes this exchange as a kind of epiphany in her own work, an epiphany that leads her to argue that the field of composition has failed to consider spiritual matters generally. This leads Daniell to reflect on longstanding connections between literacy development and spiritual development, and she offers a very brief literature review of works that connect the two concerns. These connections, she argues, have gone largely unnoticed in the field.

Daniell then turns to her own project, a study of the literacy practices of six female members of Al-Anon, a 12-step recovery group for people related to or linked to alcoholics. Daniell is drawn to this project in part because women’s stories have so often been marginalized in theological and spiritual writing. She discusses the experiences of two women whom she names Jennifer and Tommie. Daniell interviews them and studies the role writing plays in their spiritual practices. Their experiences reflect three stages of spiritual change: an initial sense of healing, a reconciliation with imperfection, and a recognition of the need for a particular language that properly reflects their experience. This last development is most important for Daniell, who concludes that finding such a language is key to empowerment. 

Tags: 12-step/Recovery, Literacy, Spirituality


Fleckenstein, Kristie S. “Creating a Center that Holds: Spirituality Through Exploratory Pedagogy.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 25-33. Print. 

Fleckenstein argues that contemporary culture has lost its center, a term she borrows from sociologist Peter Berger, who defines a spiritual center as a culture’s ordering principle. In the classroom, this lack of a center manifests itself in an overemphasis on quantifying learning.

To combat this problem, Fleckenstein argues for an “exploratory pedagogy,” which features five major aspects: an awareness of the affective nature of learning, integration of the emotional and the cognitive, the contribution of the subjective (but socially inscribed) consciousness, a dialectic of meaning-making, and a participating consciousness. Fleckenstein then proceeds to explicate each of these in turn. Learning, for example, is affective in addition to being cognitive; the learner’s full range of response is in play. That response also goes beyond the linguistic. Although social constructionist theories have done important work in awakening us to constitutive role of language, they do not necessarily encompass non-linguistic experience, whether visual, emotional, or spiritual. Fleckenstein recommends a focus on spirituality, including meditation, as ways to engage these deeper levels of learning so that engaged, exploratory pedagogy can find the center.

Tags: Affect/Affective, Pedagogy, Social Constructionism, Spirituality


Graves, Richard L. “Grace, in Pedagogy.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 15-24. Print. 

Contrary to common understandings of grace as a purely theological idea, Graves claims that grace plays a large role in pedagogy. At the same time, Graves argues that the word also connotes some idea of the transcendent, even when it is used in ordinary discourse, as in describing a dancer. Grace is a force unto itself but it is located more commonly in everyday encounters and experiences. Graves goes on to argue that grace cannot be called up at will or manufactured. It has an accidental quality, one that requires those who would tap into it to attune ourselves to it rather than produce it. One does not find grace; one is found by grace. It can appear only in an education that sees its goal as transformation rather than mere information transfer.

The chapter then goes on to describe several qualities of a grace-filled moment: such a moment heals, transcends the ego, opens up the possible, points to what is right, enhances creativity, and—perhaps most characteristically—surprises. Therefore, the best that pedagogy can do is to create the conditions for grace and to be receptive when it appears. Graves argues that there are three main conditions for the grace-filled classroom: it must be “authentic,” “communal/dialogic,” and “intuitive” (20-21).

Graves closes the chapter by describing two experiences of grace in his classroom: Cathy is a student who struggled with suicidal thoughts after a drunken sexual encounter; Angie described her struggles as a young single mother dealing with the aftermath of her beloved stepfather’s death. Each student writes about moments of grace that intervened at crucial moments of their lives.

Tags: Pedagogy, Student Writing


Heilker, Paul. “The Rhetoric of Spirituality in Popular Meditation Books.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 107-117. Print. 

The chapter begins by asserting that popularity of meditation books speaks not only to a widespread spiritual need, but also to the success of the rhetoric on which the books rely. That rhetoric can be both an object of analysis and a heuristic for student writing.

Heilker analyzes the rhetorical moves of popular meditation books through a social constructionist lens. He articulates this position primarily through the work of Kenneth Bruffee who insists that reflective thought is simply internalized discourse. All thought is conversation, including the kind of individual, isolated pondering associated with meditation. As Heilker notes, this is a counter-intuitive take on meditation, one that not only describes it more accurately but also opens meditation to academic work.

Heilker then describes a classroom exercise. He asks students to read prime examples of meditation books, such as Meditation for Women Who Do Too Much. Students are required to read through at least one year of the daily mediations, and they then work together to produce a list of rhetorical characteristics common to such books, including things like the use of titles, quotations by famous people, and the ratio of references to God versus references to a higher power. The students he describes compile a list of 20 such characteristics. Heilker then asks them to produce their own meditation books. (Heilker recommends allowing students who are uncomfortable with this work to do ironic versions of meditation books.) Their versions offer such titles as Meditations for Children Whose Parents Want them to be Perfect and Mediations for Students Preparing for the GRE. 

Tags: Genre, Meditation, Pedagogy, Social Constructionism, Spirituality


Karanikas, Marianthe. “Spiritual Empowerment in the Technical Writing Class.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 157-166. Print. 

Though the terms “technical” and “spiritual” do not often seem to go together, Karanikas argues that certain spiritual and meditative practices, divorced from religious or confessional investments, can help technical writers achieve the clarity they need for their writing.

Karanikas’s representative anecdote relates the experience of geneticist Barbara McClintock, the first to discover genetic transposition, a phenomenon that was initially denied by many others in the field. McClintock credits this discovery to her practice of meditation, which allows her to concentrate her attention more fully. Facing an intractable problem in chromosome identification, McClintock relates leaving the lab and meditating under a eucalyptus tree for half an hour. After completing her meditation she returned to the lab and was able to solve the problem. She became known for this practice, specifically the way in which it helped her see things that other scientists could not see.

Karanikas also writes about George Kalamaris, who attempted what he called a “nonintrusive negotiation technique” in working with biology instructors (160-161). These instructors were resistant to the idea of being responsible for writing instruction in their classrooms. Kalamaris’s nonintrusive negotiation techniques, he argued, were inspired by his understanding of meditation and its effect of “reciprocity,” or a condition of “psychic fluidity” between subject and object (160-161). Applied in the situation with the biology instructors, these techniques allow Kalamaris to relate to the skeptical instructors in an ultimately productive way.

Karanakis then discusses other methods of meditation, including “insight meditation” (161), which she argues also helps people see things more clearly and improves concentration. Karanakis adapts these for her classroom where students often improve and sustain their level of focus. These techniques can also lead to greater mindfulness. She relates one classroom exercise in which students eat their favorite foods more mindfully (some even discovering that they don’t actually enjoy the food). Karanakis relates how this sort of exercise can be related to technical writing.

Finally, the chapter closes with a brief discussion of Freire and with Karanakis’s assertion that Freire’s notion of critical consciousness can be supported by meditation techniques.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Meditation, Technical Writing


Moffett, James. “Soul School.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential. Eds. Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1997. 5-14. Print.

Moffett begins by arguing that worldly success is ultimately dissatisfying. Even those who achieve such success, he argues, quickly turn to other projects or aspirations in order to fill their time. If this is the case, then formal schooling cannot meet the full range of student needs by limiting their concerns to academic or professional achievement. When educators speak of “growth,” Moffett argues, they are inherently speaking of something beyond the usual markers of success. Therefore, school has to be “soul school.” And it must ultimately be tailored to individuals; standardized schooling cannot achieve these ends.

The article then draws an analogy between the process of intellectual and spiritual growth. Moffett’s religious orientation focuses on ideas like reincarnation and karma, though the chapter also makes frequent references to Christian tradition. In addition, he draws a sharp distinction between the material and the spiritual, suggesting that the former is ultimately a barrier to the latter. Humanism, moreover, cannot be termed as merely a secular activity. The human includes the spiritual, so humanist education must also include the spiritual. This does not mean that any public educational establishment should determine the content of the spiritual aspect of education, but rather that some room must be made for spirituality or spiritual experience. But the arc of development will be similar: a move into an individual consciousness and away from a kind of tribal consciousness and then ultimately back into a larger, more expansive idea of consciousness.

Tags: Public Education, Spirituality


Moffett, James. “Women’s Ways of Writing, or Images, Self-Images, and Graven Images: Responses.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 258-63. Print. 

Moffett, acting as respondent, declines to critique the preceding papers and instead decides to expand upon them, addressing in turn 12-step recovery, historical women’s writing, and of course meditation. He agrees with his colleagues that “nothing is harder for the academy to come to terms with than therapy and spirituality” (258). Moffett briefly recounts his own experiences with meditation and claims that meditation has long been a means of self development. He also notes teaching experiences in which students claimed that meditation had helped them complete their writing. Reflecting on beguinages and salon, Moffett laments how often women have to go outside mainstream spiritual and rhetorical spaces in order to pursue their own queries. The same problem holds true for the contemporary academy: “Why can’t people write to heal or to develop spirituality on campus?” (260). If composition purports to help students to develop in all the ways it says it does, it has to include the spiritual. 

Tags: 12-step/Recovery, Feminist/Feminism, Meditation, Spirituality


Papoulis, Irene. “Spirituality and Composition: One Teacher’s Thoughts.” JAEPL 2 (Winter 1996-1997): 10-17.

Papoulis describes her mixed reactions to the “Revisiting ‘Spiritual Sites of Composition’” workshop at the 1994 Conference on College Composition and Communication, as well as offering reflections on the place of spirituality in the field in general. Raised in an atheist household and trained to emphasize logic and hard-headed analysis, Papoulis recounts embarrassment and reluctance in talking about as fuzzy a concept as spirituality. Yet she also confesses an abiding interest in spirituality and sees the ability to draw out the intuitions characteristic of spirituality as critical for writers.

She distinguishes between expressivism and an emphasis on spirituality. Whereas the former tries to draw things out of the writer’s mind, the latter looks to sources of knowledge beyond the self. She speculates that social constructionists like herself would generally resist concepts of transcendence or spirituality beyond language given their postmodern skepticism and emphasis on the power of human language. However, she also acknowledges the power of something nonlinguistic and nonmaterial beyond knowledge, a “something” that provides meaning and purpose to life. Such a “something” might be tied to spirituality, Papoulis argues, and the packed room at the 1994 workshop attests to a desire to discuss these matters in composition. Drawing on the work of James Moffett, she links the realm of the spiritual to breath, suggesting that spirituality derives from the possession of an individual physical body.

For Papoulis, acknowledging the energy of the body involves composition teachers accepting their own specificity, the way their attitudes are shaped by their individuality and their place in history and society. To accept our “spiritual, nonlinguistic reality” can only improve our writing (15). Papoulis recommends the practice of freewriting as a way to tap into that specificity.

In conclusion, she turns to politics to make clear that she feels “disgust” for attempts on the part of conservative political movements to influence education with their particular understanding of religion, as well as the association of religion with the right (16). Due to that association, she cautions against discussing spirituality openly in the classroom, instead advocating an understanding of freewriting as a spiritual technique that can be discussed among compositionists, in conference groups and with trusted colleagues.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Expressivism,  Social Constructionism


Ritz, Jon. “Spirituality and the Personal Essay: Pedagogical Essay.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists 6.1 (1999): 23-30. Print.

Ritz notes the ways in which the words “spirituality” and “spiritual” have becomes over-generalized, but he defines the terms as referring to the part of human experience that is beyond the purely cognitive, emotional, or material. He makes reference to “ultimate concern,” a phrase borrowed from theologian Paul Tillich. Ritz then offers some self-critique, noting the ways in which he would often resist student papers on religion, but welcome them when they were written on race, class, or gender. He also notes the ways in which the epistemologies of the university treat spiritual issues as irrelevant curiosities.

Ritz then describes the way he educated himself on religious and spiritual matters in order to better respond to the students who wanted to write on such issues. This investigation leads him to the personal essay, where he finds some of the best writing on religious matters in contemporary American life. His renewed approach leads him to a list of conclusions. The first include a series of strategies for how students might approach writing about spiritual topics; the second includes some general pedagogical issues. The strategies include asking students to write about an ideal reader who is outside the student’s faith tradition. Thus, the student writer cannot rely on what Ritz calls a “spiritual shorthand” to convey complex ideas. The pedagogical issues ask instructors to consider not only the difficulties of speaking about spirituality in public, but also, and perhaps most importantly, the need for instructors to reflect on their own theological assumptions.

Tags: Belief, Faith, Pedagogy, Spirituality


Schiller, Susan A. “Spirituality in Pedagogy: a Field of Possibilities.” JAEPL 5 (Winter 1999-2000), 57-68. Print.

Schiller’s essay centers on her experience teaching a special topics class titled “Contemplation in Literature and Writing.” After a brief theoretical rationale, she describes the course and the student response and concludes with recommendations and encouragement for other teachers with an interest in spirituality.

Schiller’s rationale for spirituality in pedagogy draws upon its ability to augment the typical academic modes of knowing with more intuitive, emotional ways of knowing. She supports the value of this position by citing figures who have promoted it, such as Parker Palmer and James Moffett.

Moving into her description of the class, Schiller describes beginning the class with a general overview of meditation in different traditions using a text by Daniel Goleman, then looking more closely at mindfulness practice with texts from Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn, both of whom are credited with popularizing mindfulness in American culture. She asks students to practice some form of meditation throughout the class, allowing them largely to define its extent and style. Though the class practices some silence together, meditation is mostly an out-of-class activity, with class reserved for discussing those experiences. Citing John Dewey on the need for sensory aspects to education, Schiller describes classroom activities that integrate the body, including drawing mandalas, standing and walking meditation, using chanting and essential oils, and participating in a one-day meditative retreat. All such activities were followed by writing exercises. The class also includes more traditional academic content: seven assigned books (including Thoreau’s Walden and texts by Henry Beston, Bear Heart, and Thomas Merton) and a variety of writing assignments.

Student reflections on the course come from two vastly different sources: a devout Catholic student and a dedicated atheist. Schiller cites their written responses to the course conducted during its term, then follows up with them by phone four months later. The Catholic student reports that the class helped her be more conscious of her limits and slow down despite a busy schedule of work, family, and school. She continues to practice meditation four months after the class. For the atheist student, the class was also beneficial, prompting an epiphany about her desire to write. She also continues to meditate after its conclusion. Other students report similar benefits of creativity, peacefulness, and focus, and nearly all continue to meditate after the conclusion of the course.

Schiller concludes by encouraging teachers not to fear the potential tensions of integrating spirituality into the classroom but to look at student opposition as a learning opportunity. She recommends data as a means of justifying such classes, and claims that spirituality has been present in our work all along, so making it explicit should be a reasonable next step.

Tags: Contemplation, Ethnography, Expressivism, Intuition, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pedagogy


Scott, Stan. “Poetry and the Art of Meditation: Going behind the Symbols.” JAEPL 11 (Winter 2005-2006): 76-85. Print.

Scott begins his essay by asking whether poetry can lead to religious experience—not just religious feelings or thoughts, but a more holistic spiritual experience. For texts to serve spiritual pursuits, he argues, we would need to recognize spiritual values in literature through the practice of meditation.

Drawing on Simone Weil, Scott identifies meditation with concentrating attention upon spiritual values. Similarly, poetry makes high demands on our ability to be attentive. By inviting attention to the center of consciousness through person identification with the poem—reading which is personal rather than objective—poetry can invite us to a meditative state of consciousness.

In order to support such meditative encounters with literature, Scott commends the Benedictine practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading, which involves re-reading a short passage over and over to prompt a meditative encounter with it. He cites T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens as poets whose work is amenable to such practice. Additionally, he draws on reader-response criticism to argue for reading texts not so much for intellectual understanding but for meditative experience, with the encounter with the text becoming a “dynamic happening” (82).

For Scott, poetry as exercise in training attention allows reading to become a creative act aimed at expanding the mind. If school often alienates students from the subject of study through the power of critical thought, a meditative approach to reading can help teachers and students have a more meaningful and personal investment in study. He therefore concludes the essay by commending meditative reading as a practice that can be fruitfully introduced to students.

Tags: Affect/Affective, Buddhism/Zen, Contemplation, Literary Theory/Literary Criticism, Meditation, Mindfulness, Reader-Response, Spirituality


Swearingen, C. Jan. “Women’s Ways of Writing, or Images, Self-Images, and Graven Images.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (1994): 251-258. Print. 

Swearingen’s opening representative anecdote is taken from Robert Coles’s The Spiritual Lives of Children. Though Coles had been trained to be dismissive of religion, his study of children forces him to take seriously the spiritual experience of children. Swearingen links what she see as a persistent dismissive attitude in academia toward spiritual experience. This attitude endures in spite of the wider culture’s constant search for meaning and purpose. Swearingen wonders whether and how composition can carry out its purported mission if it consistently ignores this major aspect of human experience.

These arguments then lead Swearingen to reflect on a week-long summer workshop for women on spirituality and creativity. The experiences of these women seem to confirm a particular tension for women between “being good” and “telling the truth” (253). Very often, women must resist powerful cultural messages that suggest that creative work is self-indulgent and selfish. The result of these tensions is that the women in the workshop struggle to articulate or develop a self-image conducive to creative work. Though many of the workshop participants do not describe themselves as religious, they do confess feeling a “spiritual poverty” (254). Swearingen then describes some of the historical resources she brings to the workshop, many of which include sources on women’s spirituality from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance when women like Heloise of Abelard and Sor Juana produced extensive writings of academic erudition and spiritual insight. Swearingen hopes that the ongoing recovery of this work will offer contemporary women available means for their own work. 

Tags: Feminist/Feminism, Rhetorical History, Spirituality


Trounstine, Jean. “Sacred Spaces.” JAEPL 2 (1996-1997): 1-9.

Trounstine, a professor of theatre, reflects on her childhood religious experiences of attending synagogue with her grandmother, after which they would go out for bacon sandwiches. She links that memory to her work in theatre, which she links to the spiritual idea of some reality beyond the self, a pursuit which (in the context of the 1960s) often put transgressive performers at odds with institutions. Though Trounstine says she was always in such a pursuit in her theatrical practice, only in teaching at a women’s prison did she encounter the spiritual power of theatre, especially as it relates to space.

These reflections lead her to a first-person narrative of her work in the prison, focused on a performance of the play Simply Maria by Josefina Lopez. The play had been set to be performed in the prison’s chapel, despite some edgy content, including satire aimed at the church. On the day of the performance, Trounstine receives word that the Baptist pastor who oversaw the chapel was reviewing the script. Though the pastor expresses concerns that the play would be disrespectful if performed in the chapel, the prison captain overrules her and allows Trounstine’s company to go ahead.

The performance goes well and sparks discussion among the inmates and officers for weeks afterward. Trounstine describes it as “creating a place for ourselves, a sanctuary” (8). She describes the theatrical experience as one of reverence, a holy act that frees the performers of expression. The location of the performance, she argues, contributes to this making of meaning. She sees the experience as one in which “theatre had spoken to the sacred in their [the inmates’] lives” (8).

Trounstine concludes the essay by arguing that transgression can enhance a sense of the sacred, yet this power in the arts is threatened by budget cuts and institutional hostility.

Tags: Expressivism, Identity, Judaism, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology, Sacred


Rhetorical History

Adams, Katherine H. “Jesuit Rhetoric and the Teaching of Professional Discourse in America.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 175-187. Print. 

Adams contextualizes American Jesuit education in relation to the developing interest in the professional education for engineers, farmers, and businesspeople, particularly as these were supported by the Morrill Act of 1862. She also relates Jesuit education to other developments, such as the elective system at Harvard. Against these professional developments, the general education of the Ratio Studiorum seemed inadequate to many. Yet the Jesuits staunchly defended their program for undergraduate education, even while they began to develop professional schools such as law and medicine. Eventually, though, the interest in professional education trickled down to the undergraduate level, where educators began to ask themselves whether and how they might adapt the Jesuit’s commitment to eloquentia perfecta for new realities.

Adams then describes these developments as they manifested themselves in textbooks, extracurricular activity, and the new “commercial courses” emerging at various Jesuit schools. Even within these changes, Jesuit schools sought new ways to maintain the old focus on the rhetorical arts often by requiring multiple courses in speaking and writing. This focus also endured in the new teacher training and education programs, which introduced women to American Jesuit education.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Jesuit, Rhetorical History


Augustine. On Christian Teaching. Trans. R.P.H. Green. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

One of the most important texts in the reconciliation of Christian thought and pagan rhetoric, Augustine’s On Christian Teaching (De Doctrina Christiana) wielded an influence on Christian preaching that endured until the Renaissance. Augustine had trained as a rhetorician and eventually held the chair of rhetoric in Milan. After his conversion to Christianity, he became a priest and then eventually bishop of Hippo in 395 AD. Soon after, he began work on the Confessions, his most famous work, along with De Doctrina Christiana (DDC), which allowed Augustine to repurpose the knowledge he had professed as a teacher of rhetoric. Augustine completed the first three books of DDC by about 397, but due to his other projects and his duties as bishop, he was unable to complete the fourth book until 426. The first three books concentrate on the first office of the Christian preacher and the discovery of what to say, while the fourth and final book concentrates on how the Christian preacher ought to say it.

For Augustine, the main source of invention lies in scripture, the interpretation of which requires serious study and systematic reflection. Scripture requires interpretation and study because of its complexity and ambiguity. Augustine simultaneously defends the Bible as a rhetorically eloquent text and classical rhetoric as a means of interpreting and teaching that eloquence. Book I draws two key distinctions: the first between signs and things and the second between enjoying something for its own sake and using something for the sake of something else. The latter distinction allows him to justify the ultimate aim of interpretation and invention, which is love of God and neighbor. Book II concentrates on how to accumulate knowledge of the scriptures (such as learning the right languages and consulting the proper authorities) along with various sorts of signs that will require interpretation. Book III, meanwhile, discusses how to interpret ambiguities in scripture. Book IV turns more explicitly to rhetoric. To those who would blanche at the use of a pagan art, Augustine argues that it would be foolhardy for the Christian rhetor not to arm himself with the weapons of rhetoric. The Ciceronian influence also becomes apparent: Augustine lists the three main duties of the rhetorician as 1) to instruct, 2) to delight, and 3) to move (IV.74). Each of these has a corresponding style: plain, middle, and grand, and Augustine explains the reasons and circumstances under which one might choose a particular style.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Invention, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Bizzell, Patricia. “Historical Notes on Rhetoric in Jesuit Education.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 39-59. Print. 

Bizzell begins with an explication of Jesuit education as it emerged in the 16th century. Initially, Jesuit schools were designed to educate their own members, but soon lay demand led them to open the schools to others. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, insisted that Jesuit schools should be free for all, regardless of wealth or class. Though the first members of the Society had been educated in medieval scholasticism and emerging classical humanism, the latter increasingly characterized Jesuit curricula. In classical letters, they found what they thought were the best resources for educating their students for lives of public service. As Bizzell notes, Jesuit education proved durable. The program laid out in the 1599 Ratio Studiorum survived the suppression of the Jesuits from 1773-1814.

Bizzell then turns to the way Jesuit education was carried on at the College of the Holy Cross, which was founded in 1843. Though there were some changes made to the curricular order, particularly as all American schooling split into our current high school-college model, references to the Ratio remained in the course catalog until 1963. The sixties saw other changes as the College began hiring PhD specialists in theology and philosophy, regardless of the hire’s own religious identity. As the undergraduate curriculum stopped requiring classical languages and literatures, many Jesuits lamented what they saw as weakening commitment to eloquence. Bizzell describes her own experiences teaching at Holy Cross and working on various curriculum committees. Through these descriptions, she traces the waxing and waning influence of traditional Jesuit education.

Finally, Bizzell describes her experiences teaching at Sognag, the Jesuit university in South Korea. She briefly traces the history of Catholicism on the Korean peninsula before turning to an examination of the writing and rhetoric curriculum. The closing section examines Sognag and Holy Cross together, discussing their aspirations and commitment to the original Jesuit commitment to egalitarian education.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Jesuit, Rhetorical History


Crosby, Richard Benjamin. “The Agentive Play of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 48-61. Print. 

Crosby examines the role agency plays in religious rhetoric through the case of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee, who was central to the effort to build the National Cathedral in Washington. One might be inclined to say “led” the effort, but that is the very question Crosby means to raise: How does rhetoric account for the role of agency in religious efforts? Rhetoricians have long been interested in agency, and he links this interest to the rhetorical notion of kairos. As Crosby notes, the classical notion of kairos suggests that agency is not the straightforward possession of a single rhetor; rather, it may be the feature of a given situation, occasion, or location. A rhetor does not simply employ kairos; a rhetor is at least as much employed by kairos. Crosby then links this discussion to the idea of prophetic rhetoric, suggesting that a prophet does not claim prophecy but is rather claimed by it. In prophetic rhetoric, God is the agent and the prophet is more the agency.

With this analytical equipment established, Crosby then turns to the case of Bishop Satterlee who sought to establish the National Cathedral. Satterlee thought that an American “Westminster Abbey” would not only unite the nation but also unite Protestantism under the Episcopal banner. The end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 provided a useful rhetorical occasion for the establishment of a “peace cross,” a large cross to be erected on the grounds of the National Cathedral (53). This even, Satterlee hoped, would sacralize national events and thus accomplish his purposes for the cathedral. But as Crosby examines archival material, he notices that Satterlee constantly effaces and underplays his own role in this project. This “elision of agency” (49) creates an impression that parallels the play of the prophetic rhetor: the rhetor certainly acts, Crosby argues, but does not position himself as the only or primary actor.

Tags: Agency, Christian/Christianity, Civic Rhetoric, Protestant/Protestantism, Rhetorical History, Public Sphere/Square


Duffy, William. “Transforming Decorum: The Sophistic Appeal of Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 222-239. Print. 

Duffy examines the rhetorical strategies of Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907). Christianity and the Social Crisis (CSC) was a key text of “The Social Gospel,” an early twentieth century Christian movement that insisted on “a social-scientific analysis of the economic misfortunes of America’s poor and working class” (223). Duffy attributes CSC’s success to Rauschenbusch’s rhetorical strategies, which he interprets through a sophistic framework. Rauschenbusch succeeds in what the chapter describes as “transformation of decorum,” a sophistic strategy that not only makes a claim but also reconfigures the conditions under which and the audiences by which that claim will be heard. Duffy constructs his framework from the work of John Poulakos who distinguishes sophistic rhetoric from Aristotelian rhetoric: Whereas the latter is concerned with the “actuality” of rhetoric, the former is concerned with its possibilities. 

CSC succeeds because it re-imagines the possibility of a Christian commitment to social change. Rauschenbusch captures a particular kairos in order to bring the problem of the poor to his readers’ attention. His rhetoric is described as prophetic insofar as it describes the condition of the poor as a crisis that needs to be immediately addressed. Most importantly, Duffy argues, Rauschenbusch manages to make his appeal in civic terms while also maintaining his religious bona fides. Thus CSC should invite further study of how religious rhetorics can operate in secular and democratic settings.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Civic Rhetoric, Protestant/Protestantism, Public Sphere/Square, Rhetorical History, Sophists


Gannett, Cinthia, and John C. Brereton. “Introduction: The Jesuits and Rhetorical Education–Looking Backward, Moving Forward.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. 1-38. Print.

In the introduction to their edited collection, Gannett and Brereton lay out the collection’s project: to recuperate Jesuit rhetoric as part of the general contemporary recuperation of rhetoric. As they outline, the Jesuits were the great rhetoricians of the Renaissance. Their approach has wielded an enormous influence on the Western rhetorical tradition, an influence that somewhat waned along with the teaching of rhetoric generally. Traditions of Eloquence aims to reassert the Jesuit influence on the teaching and study of rhetoric in the present day.

The chapter begins with background on the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, who were founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. The early members of the society were thoroughly educated in the humanistic education re-emerging at that time. Their engagement with classical letters and thought led them to develop an attitude that Gannett and Brereton, following Jesuit scholar John O’Malley, call “accommodation.” As the name suggests, accommodation refers to adapting teaching, preaching, and other forms of ministry to particular persons, times, and circumstances. In their education, accommodation shaped not just the content of their pedagogy but also its approach. The 1599 Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuits’ general plan of education, insisted that students imitate the masters, engage in frequent debate and public performance, and that all of these practices and approaches be adapted to the particular students and particular prevailing conditions. Within the first century of their founding, the Jesuits were running a worldwide school system, teaching students from a dizzying range of nations, cultures, and languages. But the ultimate goal of all their pedagogy was eloquentia perfecta, or “perfect eloquence.”

Gannett and Brereton theorize as to why the Jesuits’ enormous influence on rhetorical history has been largely invisible in contemporary American rhetorical studies. Their reasons include the marginalization of Catholics in 18th and 19th century American history and the field’s lack of interest in the historical textbooks. Although the Jesuits were great practitioners of rhetoric, they were not great theorists. Their theory manifested itself in textbooks. The authors also acknowledge problems with reviving Jesuit rhetorical practice in the contemporary period: the pedagogy of an all-male priesthood might seem inappropriate in the secular classrooms of public universities. Nevertheless, they insist that collection’s chapters, which they preview, offer a rich array of contributions to the contemporary revival of rhetoric.

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Jesuit, Pedagogy, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Glascott, Brenda. “Evangelical Masculinity in The Pilgrim Boy: A Historical Analysis with Methodological Implication.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 141-158. Print. 

Glascott argues that historians of the 19th century have tended to focus on particular intersections of gender and rhetoric using particular feminist methodologies. Glascott argues for expanding the field’s repertoire of historical approaches to include study of masculinity. The object of her analysis is The Pilgrim Boy, with Lessons from its History, an American Tract Society novel from the 19th century. The Pilgrim Boy traces the story of a young man’s fall into debauchery and wickedness along with his eventual conversion to evangelical Christianity. The story of conversion is particularly interesting to rhetorical scholars because it includes the protagonist’s efforts to become a preacher.

Masculinity studies, Glascott explains, researches the ideological functions and institutional manifestations of groups of men; in essence, it applies a basic gender studies model of investigation to masculinity. This study has revealed that autonomy and self fashioning are both crucial ideals of American manhood. These ideals fit American capitalism quite easily, but American religion challenges them. Indeed, some scholars have alleged that certain forms of liberal Christianity have “feminized” hardier evangelical forms. Glascott also suggests that higher numbers of women adherents added to the impression of feminization of evangelical Christianity.

These are the fault lines revealed in The Pilgrim Boy. During his dissolute period, the protagonist indulges in the usual masculine sins (i.e., hunting when he’s supposed to be at church). Yet his conversion does not culminate in the kind of achievements one might associate with traditional masculinity. He does not become wealthy or powerful; instead, his great challenge is to become the public rhetorician (preacher and teacher) to which he is called. He struggles to overcome his fear of being ridiculed as he contemplates “unmanly” pursuits such as family prayer. Glascott also discusses the way 19th century attitudes toward literacy are revealed in Pilgrim: the protagonist begins to lose his way after reading a “bad” book. Such fears were prominent in the 19th century, when the reading of books was often analogized to the eating of food. Finally, Glascott urges other scholars to take up masculinity studies in their investigation of 19th century rhetorics.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Evangelical/Evangelism, Feminist/Feminism, Gender, Literacy, Protestant/Protestantism


Gregory the Great. The Book of Pastoral Rule. Trans. George E. Demacopoulos. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary P, 2007. Print.

After Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule (commonly known as Cura Pastoralis) is the most influential early Christian work on later preaching theory. The treatise outlines Gregory’s views on the responsibilities of the clergy with a focus on spiritual direction. Though it is not specifically about preaching, many of its principles were adopted by later preaching theorists, in particular its focus on different types of audiences.

Gregory is heavily influenced by treatises on duty by Ambrose and Cicero, and the book accordingly has a high level of emphasis on the pastor’s personal conduct as well as a rhetorical background. Gregory emphasizes the importance of study, of a humble mode of life, and of providing a virtuous example to laypeople. He describes the type of person who ought to conduct preaching and spiritual direction as humble, spiritual, repentant, and prayerful, and insists that those still subject to vice should not rule over others as bishops.

Gregory then dedicates the bulk of the book to describing how the pastor ought to teach and minister to different kinds of people, organized by numerous binary pairs including men and women, the poor and the rich, the impatient and the patient, the whole and the sick, and the gluttonous and the abstinent. His most typical advice for how these individuals ought to be counseled turns on directing them back to some sort of mean—correcting for their position in the binary by encouraging them toward a balanced perspective. Typical is his advice for counseling the joyful and the sad: “Before the joyful are to be set the sad things that accompany [eternal] punishment, but before the sad the joyous promises of the kingdom should be set” (93).

Gregory thus models an audience-focused approach to sacred rhetoric. After his catalogue of types of people, he stresses the difficulty of public preaching, which must consider many if not all of these types, and by reaffirming the need for the pastor to live a holy life. He concludes the book by describing his picture of the pastor as an ideal for others to follow, but an imperfect one, as he himself still struggles with sin. He thus requests the prayers of his readers while also cautioning them against considering his ideas uncritically.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Sacred


Herbert, George. The Country Parson, The Temple. Ed. John N. Wall, Jr. New York: Paulist P, 1981. Print.

Though George Herbert’s reputation is that of a poet, he was also a student and a practitioner of rhetoric. Prior to taking up his priestly vocation at the rural parish of Bemerton, Herbert was professor of rhetoric at Cambridge, where he was eventually elected to the prestigious post of Public Orator to the university. His treatise on rural ministry, A Priest to the Temple, or, The Country Parson, draws on this rhetorical background heavily.

Herbert introduces the work as describing “the Form and Character of a true Pastor,” much in the manner of rhetorical considerations of the orator like Cicero’s De Oratore (54). His country parson is an ideal figure, set up to provide Herbert himself and others in his position “a Mark to aim at” (54). Accordingly, Herbert spends a significant portion of the text describing the character of the parson: his mode of life, the necessary education and habits, and how he should set up his household. In this, Herbert demonstrates the influence of preaching treatises like Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, which place great stress on the preacher’s ethos and personal holiness, as well as early modern conduct manuals like Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier.

The treatise also offers guidance on how the parson ought to conduct his ministry, both in and out of the pulpit. Herbert insists that he should possess thorough knowledge of Scripture and theology, and also knowledge of the rural vocations of his parishioners. He insists that the parson should not scruple to draw analogies between spiritual truths and pursuits like farming if it will help him be understood by his audience. He outlines the other duties of the parson in the church, such as to administer the sacraments, pray, and care for the chapel. He also requires involvement in the life of the parish through providing hospitality, visiting the sick, offering basic medical care, and making personal visits. The work concludes with two example prayers for before and after a sermon. Throughout the book, Herbert emphasizes how the country parson can persuade his parishioners toward the Christian life through all aspects of his ministry, from his preaching and liturgy to his personal interactions and even his own spiritual disciplines. The work therefore exhibits a thoroughgoing rhetoricity.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Protestant/Protestantism, Rhetorical History


Higden, Ranulph. Ars componendi sermones. Trans. Margaret Jennings and Sally A. Wilson. Leuven and Walpole, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2003. Print.

Ranulph Higden (c. 1280-1364), a Benedictine monk and chronicler, is best known for his history of the world, the Polychronicon, which compiles numerous sources into a long work of history and theology. His Ars componendi sermones is, similarly, a compilation of numerous previous sources, resulting in an exemplary rendition of the medieval preaching handbook, or ars praedicandi (see Murphy, James J.). Many of these handbooks exist from c. 1220-1350; Higden’s Ars, composed around 1346, thus benefits from incorporating almost the entire tradition.

The treatise is written as a brief, practical guide to help clergy who lack extensive theological and rhetorical training to create effective sermons in the thematic style associated with the new universities of Oxford and Paris (see Murphy). It is divided into twenty-one short sections, with the initial letter of each section combining to spell out “ARS RANULPHI CESTRENSIS,” that is, “an art of Ranulph of Chester.” The initial sections emphasize the medieval commonplace that the preacher must be a good Christian as well as a good public speaker, stressing good intentions and holy behavior. Higden gives the structure of a sermon as including the theme (a short biblical passage), antetheme or protheme (a summary of the sermon’s thesis), amplification of the theme through various rhetorical tropes, and the “key,” which, although explained somewhat obliquely, seems to be a final amplification which clarifies the thesis once more (58). The majority of the work is dedicated to offering different strategies for amplification, such as citation of authorities, word studies, and analogies from life. Higden also insists that a prayer for grace upon the sermon must form a part of discourse as well, echoing Augustine in On Christian Doctrine. He allows for rhetorical techniques designed to win over the audience, “as long as this is inoffensive to God,” including attention-getting stories, explanation of obscure sayings, the use of fear, or the promise of rewards (49).

The translation by Margaret Jennings and Sally A. Wilson includes a prefatory essay that sets the work in context in medieval rhetoric and preaching theory, as well as a thorough set of notes and index to authors and biblical passages cited.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Prayer, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Scripture


Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric & its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 1999. Print.

A now-standard introduction to the history of rhetoric in the West, Kennedy’s Classical Rhetoric recounts the ways in which religion–particularly Christianity–shaped and was shaped by secular rhetorical theory. Chapter 7, “Judeo-Christian Rhetoric,” offers the most explicit and sustained focus on religious rhetoric. Kennedy’s overview includes both the Old and New Testaments and then turns to the Church fathers and preachers. He observes that rhetoric presented a problem for the early Church, which struggled to reconcile its pagan origins and an emerging Christian culture. Chapter 7 culminates in a detailed study of Augustine and his influential De Doctrina Christiana. Kennedy’s discussion focuses on the Ciceronian character of DDC, but he also notes Augustine’s more original contributions. Here, the text emphasizes Augustine’s influence on Christian hermeneutics, particularly the spiritual rewards of textual difficulty and obscurity. Kennedy also notes Augustine’s restoration of ethos to rhetorical theory while at the same time observing that Augustine understands ethos as a part of the speaker’s personal character rather than a feature of a given speech. Most importantly, Kennedy writes, Augustine’s DDC settled the question of whether pagan rhetoric could be assimilated to Christian culture. Later chapters return to the intersection of religion and rhetoric. Kennedy goes on to discuss the arts of preaching in both the Middle Ages (Chapter 9) and the Neoclassical Period (Chapter 11).

Tags: Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical Theory, Rhetorical History, Sacred/Secular


Kennedy, George A. New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1984. Print. 

George Kennedy brings his profound expertise in classical rhetoric to bear in an analysis of the New Testament. Kennedy pursues a project in rhetorical criticism, which, because of its focus on the audience, can fill in a gap left by form criticism and literary criticism. Rhetorical criticism insists on reading through the texts within the rhetorical context or situation in which they were composed. Although Kennedy acknowledges that “there is a distinctive rhetoric of religion” and that “Jesus’ message was essentially proclaimed, not argued on the basis of probability” (6), he nevertheless argues and then demonstrates that rhetorical criticism can illuminate our understanding of the New Testament.

Kennedy spends most of the first chapter sketching classical rhetorical theory for readers who might not be familiar. He then outlines the moves of a rhetorical critical method, which first includes deciding on the rhetorical unit to be studied. Kennedy’s opening example, analyzed in the second chapter, is the Sermon on the Mount. Next, the rhetorical critic should determine the situation. Though Kennedy acknowledges that Bitzer’s original conception has come under critique, he nevertheless insists on some notion of situation as important to his method. Kennedy then suggests that determining the speaker’s or writer’s rhetorical problem–that is, the challenge the speaker or writer is undertaking–is crucial. Next, we are directed to stasis theory and Aristotle’s species as ways to understand a given unit of speech. (The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is cast as a form of deliberative rhetoric.) Finally, Kennedy suggests looking at the arrangement of the given text.

For the rest of the book, Kennedy applies his method to various units of the New Testament, including the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain (understood as deliberative), John 13-17 (epideictic), and Second Corinthians (judicial). The book also offers a comparative analysis of the four gospels, speeches in Acts, and several of Paul’s letters. He closes the book with an apologia for rhetorical criticism, arguing that a better understanding of the original rhetorical intentions of the New Testament authors is more likely to make their messages available and applicable to our own time.

Tags: Bible, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Kinneavy, James L. Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. Print. 

In this study of the New Testament, Kinneavy offers a new take on an old claim. The old claim is that the New Testament offers an idea of faith different than the idea of faith found in the Old Testament. The distinction largely hinges on the claim that the New Testament conceptualizes faith as such in a way that doesn’t appear in the Old. Kinneavy’s new take on this claim is to add that this new conception of faith has its roots in Greek culture. Kinneavy’s argument begins with the simple observation that the New Testament’s word for faith is also the rhetorical term for proof: pistis.

Kinneavy develops this argument in three parts: a semantic argument, an historical argument, and an analytical argument. The semantic argument concentrates on the meanings of the word pistis and relates those to various nuances of the Christian idea of faith. Part of his work here is to recover an honorific idea of faith and to educate some of his readership on the full conceptual complexity of ancient Greek rhetorical theory. His main influence is Aristotle. The historical argument describes the ways in which the culture in which Jesus taught and from which the Gospels emerged was deeply immersed in Greek influence. Here, Kinneavy offers a brief overview of the geography of first-century Palestine, tracing Hellenistic influences through the names and locations of various cities and towns. He complements that overview with a description of Hellenistic educational practices and compares them to contemporary Jewish education, again showing various overlapping aspects of Greek and Hebrew culture. Finally, Kinneavy offers an analytic argument in which he turns to the texts themselves for evidence. Having established New Testament analogues for familiar Aristotelian rhetorical moves, Kinneavy produces a lengthy table indicating various nuances of meaning contained in every mention of pisteuo and pistis. Kinneavy closes his books with a summary of the arguments, an admission of the study’s limitations, and a call for further research.

Tags: Bible, Christian/Christianity, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Murphy, James J. Rhetoric in the Middle Ages. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1974. Print.

In this influential overview of medieval rhetoric, Murphy divides medieval rhetorical treatises into three genres: arts of poetry, arts of letter-writing, and arts of preaching.

Murphy describes medieval Christian preaching as a product of an existing tradition in Judaism, noting that the preaching of Jesus assumes a familiarity with the genre. Christ, however, models a new use of Scripture: whereas Jewish thought already uses Scripture as apodeictic proof (argument by probability), Christ’s interpretation of his arrival as the affirmation of prophecy gives the text greater authority as an absolute apodeictic. Christ, Murphy writes, also pioneers a rhetorical focus on a variety of audiences and multiple interpretations through his parables. Saint Paul develops these tendencies into the first fully worked-out theology and rhetoric of preaching.

The next major theoretical work on preaching is Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, which develops a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between Ciceronian rhetoric and Christian faith. Though Doctrine has great influence, it does not provoke additional preaching theory until late in the medieval period.

For Murphy, the preaching of the early medieval church is largely in the “homily” mode, a personalized commentary on the Scriptures that deliberately eschews rhetorical precepts. The dominance of this formless form began to fade in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, with treatises on preaching by Guibert of Nogent and Alain de Lille. In the thirteenth century, preaching theory explodes with intellectual activity in the genre Murphy labels the ars praedicandi or art of preaching. These arts expound a new style called thematic preaching, in which the preacher takes a short biblical text and expands upon its meaning through numerous rhetorical effects, while following a standard form reminiscent of a proof. Scholars link the emergence of this style to the founding of medieval universities. Murphy argues that only the analytic synthesis of various rhetorical elements, not the elements themselves, is new in the ars praedicandi. Nonetheless, he treats the ars praedicandi as the first new form to enter the rhetorical tradition since the time of Cicero. Accordingly, Murphy concludes his chapter with a thorough summary of many of the most important writers of the genre, including Alexander of Ashby, Thomas Chabham, and Robert of Basevorn.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History


Murphy, James J. “St. Augustine and the Debate about a Christian Rhetoric.” The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo: De Doctrina Christiana and the Search for a Distinctly Christian Rhetoric. Eds. Richard Leo Enos and Roger Thompson. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008. 205-218.

Whereas previous scholarship discusses Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana (DDC) mainly in regard to its rejection of the Second Sophistic, Murphy argues that Augustine also demonstrates a positive program of Christian rhetoric for the early church. Church fathers like Gregory of Nyssa Saint Ambrose or Saint Jerome demonstrate feelings about pagan rhetoric and culture that range from ambivalence to outright hostility as they try to create a church distinct from broader Roman culture. This resistance to rhetoric can be seen in the most common form of preaching during the period, the simple, unstructured homily style. In contrast, though the DDC opens by resisting the idea that Christian preachers need rhetorical training, Murphy argues that the fourth chapter constitutes “an outspoken plea for the use of eloquentia in Christian oratory” (215). Augustine draws on Ciceronian teachings about levels of style and rhetorical invention to argue that the same care employed in constructing rhetorical statements should be applied to the interpretation and exposition of Scripture.

Though DDC does reject the Second Sophistic, Murphy argues for a view of the book resisting not just sophistic rhetoric, but the dangers of rejecting rhetoric altogether to merely offer plain statements of truth, following the example of Plato or other early Christian figures. In the debate over the relationship of the Christian church to pagan knowledge, then, Murphy sees Augustine firmly on the side of those who would appropriate non-religious teaching for the ends of the church. This integration of Ciceronian rhetoric into Christian discourse would continue to shape the church for the next thousand years and more, serving as the most important preceptive text for Christian preachers until the rise of the thematic sermon in the thirteenth century.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Rand, Lizabeth. “A Rhetoric of Opposition: The Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Sabbath Tradition.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition. Eds. Elizabeth Vander Lei, et al. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2014. 17-27. Print. 

Rand traces the history of the Seventh-Day adventist (SDA) church and SDA church’s commitment to observing the sabbath day on Saturday (the seventh day of the week) rather than Sunday (the first day of the week). The Christian shift from Saturday to Sunday has been premised on a rejection of Judaism and an adoption of pagan tradition, which associated Sunday with divine power. This shift, argues Rand, set the initial stage for “blue laws” and their official government and cultural endorsement of Sunday as a day of rest. The SDA church opposed this cozy relationship between civil and religious practice as symptomatic of America’s nearly idolatrous faith in its quasi-religious mission. For SDAs, the rejection of Sunday worship was and is a way to reject the nation’s assumption of redemptive power. This resistance required a great deal of public literacy and public rhetoric. The church directed these activities especially toward support for the First Amendment’s insistence on separation of church and state. While Rand does not extensively detail these activities, she does suggest that resistance to Sunday worship can be understood as what John Schilb calls a rhetorical refusal, a refusal that continues to define the SDA church up to the present day.

Tags: Literacy, Public Sphere/Square, Secular/Religious


Robert of Basevorn. The Form of Preaching. In Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts, ed. James J. Murphy. Trans. Leopold Krul, O.S.B. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1971. Print.

Robert of Basevorn’s Form of Preaching is the best-known of medieval preaching treatises thanks to its inclusion in Murphy’s Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts. The work contains most elements of the medieval ars praedicandi genre, dealing with all the standard elements of the thematic sermon that became popular in the late Middle Ages, including guidance about the person of the preacher, an outline of the form of the sermon, guidance on selecting the theme (a short biblical passage to be exposited), and a selection of rhetorical colors for interpreting and elaborating upon the theme.

Robert opens the work with a discussion of the person of the preacher, insisting that one who would preach should live a holy life, have good knowledge of the Scriptures, and be given authority to preach by the church. Like other works of preaching theory from Augustine onward, Robert rates the ethos of the preacher as extremely important to the value of the sermon.

Turning to the form of the sermon, Robert looks at numerous examples from the preaching of Christ and other important figures of the church to show that Scripture can be interpreted in a variety of ways. However, his primary emphasis rests on the “thematic” style of preaching, which begins by selecting a short passage of Scripture (often as little as two or three words), which will be exposited for the length of the sermon. Robert dedicates several chapters to how the theme ought to be selected, recommending that the preacher consider how the theme can best be made comprehensible to the audience. He praises preachers who are able to successfully exposit difficult themes, such as those containing only a single word like “go,” but does not recommend that most preachers attempt such feats of artistry.

In the final, most detailed section of the book, Robert gives means of dividing the theme—that is, expositing it with rhetorical tropes such as verbal ornament or allusions to other parts of Scripture. He also gives a more detailed structure for how the sermon ought to be organized, including the appropriate places for prayer and discrete sections for different ways to divide the theme.

Tags: Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History


Schaeffer, John D. “The Dialectic of Orality and Literacy: The Case of Book 4 of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana.” In The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo: De Doctrina Christiana and the Search for a Distinctly Christian Rhetoric. Eds. Richard Leo Enos and Roger Thompson. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008. 289-310.

Schaeffer argues that analyses of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana (DDC) have neglected the orality of preaching in the early church. Whereas Stanley Fish and others treat DDC as a treatise on writing sermons, Schaeffer argues that it is in fact a work on delivering sermons extemporaneously.

Reading Augustine’s preaching manual as concerned with oral sermon development rather than written has implications for how we view its relation to the rhetorical tradition. Whereas Fish’s reading, based on the assumption that Augustine is concerned with writing sermons, finds the work to be against rhetoric in general, Schaeffer argues that it in fact reflects a rejection of the Second Sophistic in favor of a return to the older, oral rhetoric of republican Rome. Schaeffer argues that this oral aspect of DDC has largely been neglected in the work’s reception history from the early Middle Ages to today. Yet Augustine’s own preaching was extemporaneous, and oral performance was an essential part of the life of the early Christian church, as many of the members could not have read their own sacred text. Schaeffer therefore understands the first three books of DDC as being about how the preacher ought to read the Scriptures aloud, with book four serving as a guide to interpreting the reading in an extemporaneous manner. He shows Augustine to be deeply concerned with performative aspects of rhetoric including memory and gesture. For Schaeffer, Augustine’s primary contribution to the rhetorical tradition is to link this oral, Roman rhetoric to a newly emerging sense of interiority found through the Christian faith. The result is not an anti-rhetoric (as Fish would have it), but rather a new Christian rhetoric that carefully navigates the overlapping domains of orality and literacy in the early church.

Tags: Hermeneutics, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History


Sullivan, Dale L. “Kairos and the Rhetoric of Belief.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 317-332. Print.

Sullivan examines the role of kairos and pistis in the New Testament and concludes that the meaning of both words resembles a sophistic rhetoric far more than an Aristotelian rhetoric. The piece begins with an investigation of the various meanings of kairos, focusing on two major definitions: right time and proper measure. Turning to Gorgias’s Encomium, Sullivan observes what he calls a kairos of inspiration, which he opposes to a kairos of invention, the latter of which he associates with techne. The kairos of invention, meanwhile, has more to do with a rhetoric of “romanticism” or “vitalism.” Other important Gorgianic nuances include a kairos of indecision, in which one wavers between two possible actions, and a kairos of breaking through indecision that then results in action.

Taking this framework derived from sophistic rhetoric, Sullivan then turns to the New Testament, where he finds four meanings for kairos, including means for a single moment of great importance to an extended time of fulfillment. All these, he writes, share a sense that some time(s) are particularly opportune for spiritual encounter. These means, Sullivan argues, resemble sophistic notions of rhetoric far more than philosophical notions. Primitive Christian rhetoric is a kind of kairotic, epideictic rhetoric by which is occasioned a state of mind prone to or open to the numinous: “Such rhetoric is not characterized by rational arguments, for its end is not judgment (krisis) but belief (pistis); it is aimed not at the mind but the heart” (327). Sullivan then links this kind of rhetoric to slightly more recent historical articulations of the power of imagination in rhetoric, including Francis Bacon to Cardinal Newman. Seen from this perspective, the rhetoric of belief can be understood less as an act of rational assent and more of an attitude of wonder occasioned by rhetorical experience.

Tags: Belief, Faith, Kairos, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture, Sophists


Tell, Dave. “Augustine and the ‘Chair of Lies’: Rhetoric in The Confessions.Rhetorica 28.4 (2010): 384-407. Print. 

One of the standard interpretations of Augustine’s Confessions is that the book reveals Augustine’s struggle, and eventual failure, to reconcile his Christianity and his career as a rhetorician. Augustine’s resignation from his rhetoric chair, recorded in in Book IX of the Confessions, seems to suggest that his conversion to Christianity required him to renounce rhetoric as thoroughly as the Manichean heresy. According to this argument, Augustine perceives the piety and humility of Christian faith to be in irreconcilable conflict with the display and worldliness of rhetoric. As Tell observes, this problem challenges the historian who would claim Augustine for the rhetorical tradition, a tradition that Augustine seems to reject. Although some have tried to solve the problem by suggesting that Augustine is simply rejecting sophistic rhetoric, Tell rejects this interpretation, arguing that Augustine is in fact rejecting Manichean rhetoric, characterized by an empty loquacity. This excess does not express the self but, paradoxically, silences it. Here, Tell distinguishes between what he calls the Manichean “distended self” and the Augustinian “gathered self” (400-401). In the Manichean style, the self is lost in a stream of vain professing; conversely, the Augustinian style collects the self through the act of confessing. The restless heart that opens the Confessions finds rest in a new kind of rhetorical expression. “So understood,” Tell writes, “the resignation is no longer an embarrassment to be explained, but an achievement to be heralded” (386). In other words, Augustine’s resignation of the chair of rhetoric is actually an act that preserves rhetoric.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History; Rhetorical Theory


Wenzel, Siegfried. “The Arts of Preaching.” The Cambridge History of Literary, No. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. 84-96. Print. 

Despite the centrality of preaching in Christian tradition, it was only in the twelfth century that a formal, teachable art of preaching began to emerge. This new ars was articulated in response to the sermon itself. What had once been a general exposition of a scriptural text, or pericope, gave way to the scholastic sermon, which featured a more regimented and regulated structure. Often these scholastic sermons could focus on a thema of as little as a single word, though the divisio of the thema became centrally important. The origins of this shift are not entirely clear, but it resulted in a set form whose parts could be organized, identified, and taught.

The rules of these sermons were promulgated in artes praedicandi. Between approximately 1200 and 1500, over 200 treatises of the artes were written. Wenzel notes that relatively few have been edited or translated into English. He then goes on to describe some of the variety found in these treatises, from some that treat the entire sermon, to others that concentrate only on amplificatio. These works, particularly those of Robert of Basevorn, also indicate an awareness that this new form represented a significant change from the previous form.

Wentzel also notes the difficulty of discerning just how much these treatises affected actual preaching practice. There is evidence, for example, that certain occasions called for preachers to forgo the new scholastic form and revert to the earlier style. Often, these treatises lack any indication of how the sermons were actually delivered. Some manuscripts contain fully written sermons, while others only contain outlines. The artes also recommend a consideration of audience, particularly the distinction between learned audiences, who were thought better prepared for the scholastic sermon, and common audiences, for whom the old style was recommended. Wenzel then goes on to discuss the ways in which the artes praedicandi may have influenced poetry, including Chaucer. Though there is some evidence of influence, Wenzel recommends skepticism.

Tags: Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Wenzel, Siegfried, trans. Preaching in the Age of Chaucer: Selected Sermons in Translation. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic U of America P, 2008. Print.

Although many medieval sermon texts are extant, they are difficult for the non-specialist to access, as few have been produced in modern editions and most are recorded in complex medieval Latin. Wenzel’s anthology aims to address this lack of availability by translating 25 sermons collected during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, including pieces from many authors and occasions and employing a variety of styles.

Wenzel’s brief introduction provides several key points of context for the collection. He discusses the status of the sermons as commonplace late medieval literary artifacts, and he cautions the reader against assuming too much connection between these formal texts and what was actually preached in medieval churches. Records of preaching and liturgical practices are fairly scattered when compared to the large number of sermon texts. Nonetheless, Wenzel argues that sermons were the mass media of their time, as the only vehicle of communication aimed at a large audience and as encompassing laity at all social levels as well as those engaged in religious life. Wenzel also discusses common topics, the influence of the church calendar on preaching, the literary quality of the sermons, and the division between simple “homily” type sermons and the more complex sermons dictated by the thematic style.

The collection includes sermons by a variety of authors, ranging from those of whom nothing is known but their name to the well-known reformer John Wycliffe. Twenty-four are translated from Latin, with one Middle English sermon derived from the Festial of John Mirk, a popular collection of vernacular sermons for the use of undereducated clerics. The first section illustrates how a sermon might be prepared from a biblical text, including a Vulgate text from the Gospel of Luke, an excerpt from a standard medieval commentary on the passage, and several sermons on the passage from different sources. Other sections of the book include sermons from major feasts in the church year (Advent, Lent, Easter), from feasts for particular saints, and for special occasions such as funerals or academic events.

Tags: Christianity, Preaching/Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Rhetorical Theory

Althouse, Matthew T., Lawrence J. Prelli, and Floyd D. Anderson. “Mapping the Rhetoric of Intelligent Design.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 161-79. Print.

Althouse, Prelli, and Anderson use Burkean pentadic cartography to analyze the rhetoric of intelligent design. This analysis reveals that intelligent design relies neither on the usual rhetorics of religion or the usual rhetorics of science in order to advance its claims. Instead, intelligent design employs rhetorics of the agent, and then extends that rhetoric to what Burke calls the “agentification of the scene.”

The authors examine the writing of Lee Strobel, a journalist who had once been an atheist. After experiencing a religious conversion, Strobel became a proponent of intelligent design. Strobel’s strategy appeals neither to scientific argument nor to religious testimony; rather, it focuses on the agents whom Strobel interviews. Through their authority and expertise, along with his own story, Strobel continually builds a rhetoric of personal appeal. That personalism then is extended to the entire universe in the “agentification of the scene,” which in this case offers an account for the intelligent in the design. That is to say, with agent being the dominant implicit appeal, the scene/material emphasis of Darwinism becomes imbued with a sense of agency.

Althouse, Prelli, and Anderson then use pentadic cartography to invent the key counter-arguments that challenge Strobel’s account of intelligent design. Their purpose, they insist, is not to take a side on either the science or theology of intelligent design, but rather simply to observe the ratios ignored in intelligent design. For example, one set of counterarguments comes from scene, or materialism, which not only reasserts standard scientific accounts, but suggests that intelligent design itself may be a product of material processes (as in, humans have evolved to the point that they can produce culture, which has then produced the notion of intelligent design). The authors also offer arguments from pragmatic, realist, and even mystic perspectives.

Tags: Burke, Science/Religion


Appel, Edward C. “Kenneth Burke: Coy Theologian.” The Journal of Communication and Religion 16 (1993): 99-110. Print.

Appel argues that Kenneth Burke is a “coy theologian” (99) a claim that has been asserted and disputed in other Burkean scholarship. Though Burkeans have regularly insisted (like Burke himself) that dramatism and logology are purely secular systems, Appel nonetheless insists that Burke’s attitudes reveal a theological cast of thought. The article supports this thesis with a wide-ranging, systematic reading of the Burkean corpus. Appel makes several claims about the theological cast of Burke’s work. In addition to the repeated references to theology in Burke’s corpus, Appel also observes that Burke’s reliance on the negative necessarily involves metaphysical claims insofar as the pentad always assumes an unexplained excess of motivation. In other words, the negative that founds Burke’s system is itself is empirically unexplainable from within that system. Dramatism is theological insofar as it presupposes not only the principle of perfectionism but also the infinite and absolute. Moreover, Appel argues, Burke sees speaking and writing as redemptive actions.

Ultimately, Burke’s continuing reliance on theology reveals theology to be more than a helpful analogue for describing his own project. Instead, theology characterizes that project. That is not to say that Burke’s theology is traditional. It would, for example, share with process theology a skepticism toward perfectionism and toward a division between the redeemed and unredeemed. In addition, Appel observes a pessimism about creation in Burke’s work, writing that dramatism ¨seems dubious about man and woman’s ability . . . to preserve their material environment, to live among themselves in relative peace¨ (107). Any putative Burkean theology would have to be articulate and understood through Burke’s comic frame.

Tags: Burke, Christian/Christianity, Theology


Bennett-Carpenter, Benjamin. “Still the King of Queens? Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion, and the Theorizing of Rhetoric and Religion Now.” Kenneth Burke and His Circles. Ed. Jack Selzer and Robert Wess. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2008. 161-173. Print. 

Bennett-Carpenter begins by taking up a question asked by Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle: does Burke’s Rhetoric of Religion offer an essentialist understanding of the relationship between the two topics? That is, does the work, in effect, short-circuit theoretical analysis by analogizing too easily between rhetoric and theology? And if so, is the work destined to become obsolete, dismissed as a “classicist” text? Bennett-Carpenter argues that Boyle’s analysis does not fully account for the complexity of Religion, particularly its use of irony and the negative.

Bennett-Carpenter begins with a brief review of previous literature on the topic, particularly the works of Wayne Booth and Walter Ong. He argues that Booth and Ong both observe a central role for rhetoric in religion, not simply as the promulgation of religious doctrine, but also in the actual creation and mediation of religious experience. From this review, the argument turns to Burke, starting with the six analogies that open Religion and quickly following with Burke’s treatment of Augustine, the main focus of the rest of the chapter.

Here, the chapter returns to Boyle in order to challenge her view of Augustine as an “anti-rhetorical” figure. Bennett-Carpenter insists that rhetoric is essential to understanding Augustine, whose Confessions can be seen as epideictic discourse and whose conversion is linguistically mediated. Turning to Wendy Olmsted’s treatment of Augustine, Bennett-Carpenter argues that Augustine’s conversion is essentially rhetorical, and that his hermeneutic of love bridges any gap between persuasion and truth. Finally, Bennett-Carpenter closes by crediting Burke’s Religion for animating and influencing his own analysis. 

Tags: Burke, Classical Rhetoric


Booth, Wayne C. “Kenneth Burke’s Religious Rhetoric: ‘God-Terms’ and the Ontological Proof.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Ed. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2000. 25–46. Print.

Booth makes a case for viewing Burke as a “modern prophet engaging in a postmodernist, postpositivist revival of religious inquiry” (33). He pursues this analysis by offering personal reflections on his history of studying Burke, including excerpts from correspondence between the two scholars. Where his early work neglected The Rhetoric of Religion to make a case for Burke as “a modified Aristotelian,” it was through further study and interactions that he came to view logology and analysis of God-terms as far more central to the Burkean project than he had previously realized (27).

In order to uncover Burke as “a disguised theologian” while still doing justice to his complexity, Booth examines the many different voices Burke adopts throughout his work (27). He briefly notes eight different ways of speaking that can be found in Burke and gestures toward many more. Booth believes that this chorus of voices can best be understood as united in harmony by the voice of The Rhetoric of Religion, which investigates religious questions through logology.

In analyzing Burke’s logological voice through The Rhetoric of Religion and his other writings, Booth does not attempt to make a case for Burke as a conventional believer, but as an inquirer within an ambiguous faith centered on the affirmation of a sense of meaning and value in the cosmos. Burke is an always-skeptical inquirer into hierarchies of values, a grappler with the big questions raised by Augustine and the Book of Genesis. For Booth, Burke always rejects scientistic disdain for religious impulses as such, even if he never affirms a particular faith. He sees this impulse toward the religious growing over the course of Burke’s life, with The Rhetoric of Religion as his major step forward in this regard. He concludes by reprinting a late unpublished essay by Burke, “Sensation/Memory/Imitation/Story,” which seems to gesture strongly in this direction by making a strong case against behaviorist materialism.

Tags: Burke, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Rhetorical Theory, Theology 


Booth, Wayne C. “The Many Voices of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet, as Revealed in His Letters to Me.” Unending Conversations: New Writing by and about Kenneth Burke. Ed. Greig E. Henderson and David Cratis Williams. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001. 179-201. Print. 

Booth recounts his long exchange of letters with Burke, beginning with their famous exchange in Critical Inquiry in 1974. Throughout the essay, Booth follows the lead of William Rueckert, who claimed that there were in fact several Kenneth Burkes. Booth discerns at least eight Burkean voices. The first, for example, objects strongly to being misunderstood by interlocutors or critics; the second shifts from impatient criticism to impatient self-criticism, and so on.

But the voices Booth is most interested in are the voices interested in religion. Voice seven, Booth writes, plays with religious terminology in search of critical insight. This is not the voice of Burke interested in religion qua religion but the Burke who uses religious language as frequently and naturally as any other. Voice eight, meanwhile, turns explicitly to systematic inquiry into religion itself. Here, Booth begins to speculate as to Burke’s own religious leanings. Although he acknowledges that he can make no firm claims, he does think that Burke’s intellectual project could not help but continue drawing him into religious thought. Booth sums up that project in this way: when we speak, we express value; when we express value, we express hierarchy; when we express hierarchy, we imply a supreme value that validates the hierarchy. Although that drive to perfection may push us toward destruction, the only way to evade destruction is to think about that drive to perfection. Thus, we cannot avoid religious thought. Ultimately, Booth concludes that Burke, although religious in no conventional sense, was religious in his own idiosyncratic sense.

Tags: Belief, Burke, Faith


Boyle, Marjorie O’Rourke. “Rhetorical Theology: Charity Seeking Charity.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2000. 87-96.

In this brief essay, Boyle articulates the role that rhetoric plays in the theological method of early modern humanism. Using Erasmus as her primary example, Boyle explains some of the foundational tenets of the humanists’ rhetorical theology, especially as those tenets differ from the previous scholastic tradition.

The essay begins with a brief explanation of the emphasis the humanists placed upon Christ “as Rhetoric,” “as Speech,” and as the consummate practitioner of rhetorical decorum. The next section compares the dialectical method of the scholastics, which Boyle summarizes as “faith seeking understanding,” to the rhetorical method of the humanists, summarized as “charity seeking charity” (90). Boyle explains that for the humanists, it is the persuasion of the will, rather than the conviction of the intellect, that moves one toward conversion and union with God, and thus the persuasive power of rhetoric plays an indispensable role in Christian theology.

Boyle’s final section explains how the humanists’ rhetorical methodology leads to an alignment with the mystical tradition. Because the rhetorical theology of the humanists moved the locus of conversion from the intellect to the will, they understood conversion to and communion with God as the Holy Spirit’s recognition of itself in another (thus charity seeking charity). But since this understanding involves ineffability recognizing ineffability, Boyle explains that the humanist notion of rhetorical decorum carries with it an appreciation for the hyperbolic, the exaggerative, and paradoxical expressions of a fool in love.

Tags: Contemplation, Decorum, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory 


Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2006. Print. 

Winner of four major awards (2006 JAC Gary A. Olson Award; 2008 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award; 2008 CCCC Outstanding Book Award; 2007 NCTE David H. Russell Award), Crowley looks with alarm at the rise of “apocalyptic” discourse in American political and public life. Apocalypticism, she writes, demands belief in the Second Coming of Jesus, at which time the saved will enter heaven while the rest will be damned. This belief, which Crowley links to fundamentalist faith, motivates a conservative, even reactionary, politics that threatens democratic order. This brand of religiosity does not admit difference or dissent. It cannot tolerate the familiar image of a marketplace of ideas in the public sphere. Much of the book is dedicated to an analysis of apocalypticism and what Crowley sees as its corroding influence on public life.

But the marketplace of ideas has its own limitations. Against the apocalyptic threat, Crowley positions a classical liberalism, but a liberalism enervated by its overemphasis on reason and rationality. Where apocalypticism offers a densely woven set of connections among belief, emotion, and affect, liberalism counters with arguments and appeals to evidence that cannot compete. Liberalism, in a sense, has no word for conversion, and no available means to effect conversion.

Crowley’s answer to this problem is rhetoric; her argument is that liberalism must develop available means that include appeals to the emotional in addition to the rational. This project, she writes, should look to rhetoric, a practice of discourse that affords a fuller range of appeal. Here, Crowley articulates a complex rhetorical theory drawn not only from ancient Athenian sources, but also from contemporary, postmodern thinkers. This rhetorical approach, she argues, can actually reach the level of belief and therefore has the possibility to change them. Ultimately, Crowley believes that rhetorical invention can find a path through the dense thickets of ideology. 

Tags: Apocalyptic Rhetoric/Apocalypticism, Christian/Christianity, Fundamentalism, Postmodern/Postmodernism, Public Sphere/Square, Rhetorical Theory


Daniell, Beth. “More in Heaven and Earth.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 243-261. Print.

Daniell begins with the way American culture construes the difference between the “religious” and the “non-religious.” In our bifurcated understanding, on one side sit the politically conservative and religiously devout (who are also portrayed as reactionary and intolerant). On the other side, there are secular liberals who are supposedly open-minded and peaceful. She then turns to a report published by the Public Religion Research Institute, a report that reveals the insufficiency of the bifurcated understanding: a person’s religiosity does not necessarily predict cultural or political attitudes. So problematic are terms like “liberal,” “conservative,” “evangelical,” and so on that she refuses to use them.

Daniell then shifts her discussion to the scholarship and theology of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, two New Testament scholars who work on historically contextualizing the sayings and teaching of Jesus. She offers a brief sketch of their historical methods and then discusses their work on scripture, including the letters of Paul and the parables of Jesus. One of the main focuses of her analysis is the rhetorical approach used by Borg and Crossan to communicate their findings. As seasoned teachers and public speakers, Daniell argues, Borg and Crossan are able to relate complex scholarly ideas effectively and eloquently.

Finally, Daniell turns to Maurice Charland’s “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois.” Charland employs interpellation and identification in his analysis of the white paper that helped create the people of Quebec. She uses these ideas to explain the way in which Borg and Crossan’s scholarship help interpellate audiences into Christian identities that do not fit the simplistic divide of “religious vs. secular.”

Tags: Bible, Scripture


Deans, Thomas. “Sacred Texts, Secular Classrooms, and the Teaching of Theory.” Mapping Christian Rhetorics: Connecting Conversations, Charting New Territories. Eds. Michael-John DePalma and Jeffrey M. Ringer. New York: Routledge, 2015. 86-99. Print. 

Deans explores the question of examining sacred texts in the classroom. As he notes, studying such texts is a tricky business. For many students, the reading of scripture may seem to violate their religious beliefs and attitudes; for others, meanwhile, reading scripture may seem to violate the separation of church and state. Deans begins by relaying two anecdotes from previous scholarship: Richard Miller discusses the problems an Orthodox Jewish student encountered when a class read Genesis, while Chris Anderson examines the issues around his classroom self-disclosure as a Roman Catholic deacon. Each of these indicates the challenges of introducing scripture into the classroom.

Deans then goes on to discuss his experience of using two distinct pedagogical approaches to scripture: New Criticism and reader-response. The first, he argues, allows students to maintain a safe critical distance when examining sacred texts. There is still the risk that religious students will resist this critical distance as inappropriate for scripture. Deans suggests there are greater problems in approaching texts through reader-response, which blurs the line between an academic reading and a personal one. Yet this risk offers certain rewards, including revealing to students the  presence and operations of interpretive communities along with hermeneutic and rhetorical frames. As Deans puts it, this move shifts attention “from analysis of the drama among characters within a text to analysis of the drama among readers within our classroom” (92). This classroom drama not only occasions richer discussion and insight about the particular texts in question, but also positions the students for more productive engagement with other literary theories as well.

Tags: Interpretive Community, Literary Theory, New Criticism, Reader-response, Scripture


Eden, Kathy. “Koinonia and the Friendship between Rhetoric and Religion.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2000. 305-322.

In this brief essay, Eden makes a case for the friendship between rhetoric and religion by pointing out their shared foundational reliance upon the concept of friendship, given as koinonia in classical Greek (a term also defined as “commonality” or “communion”). Eden begins by referencing a passage from Erasmus’s Adages in which he in turn references Pythagoras, Plato, and a number of others to support the adage, “Between friends all is common.” Taking her cue from Erasmus, Eden offers a survey of how  the idea of koinonia operates in ancient (Plato, Pythagoras, and Iamblichus) and early Christian (Basil and Augustine) texts, not only as a philosophical principle but as a rhetorical one as well.

Looking first at the Phaedrus and then at the Gorgias, Eden notes that, for Plato, the same bond of commonality underlies justice and social order, and connects mortals to immortals, mortals to each other, and parts to the whole. It is the same bond that is reflected in a good speech, one in which there is an organic unity where the parts all relate to one another and to the whole. Similar principles are at work in the work of Pythagoras and Iamblichus.

Eden then draws a connection between this philosophical understanding of koinonia and its deployment by Saints Basil and Augustine, whom she sees as inheriting the Platonic notion of commonality that is “at once social and discursive, religious and rhetorical.” For ancient communities, this concept of koinonia, both in Christian and non-Christian contexts, manifested itself in a praxis of communal living, education, worship, and rhetoric. Eden ends the essay with an invitation to reflect upon koinonia, not only as it relates to communal wisdom adages and proverbs that connect the ages to one another but also as it relates to contemporary notions of intellectual property.

Tags: Faith, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Fitzgerald, William T. Spiritual Modalities: Rhetoric as Prayer and Performance. University Park, PA: Penn State UP, 2012. Print.

Spiritual Modalities investigates the rhetorical nature of prayer. Using Burke’s dramatism as his primary framework, Fitzgerald explicates the scene, act, and attitude of prayer before turning to the canons of memory and delivery as means of analysis. Fitzgerald’s goal is to discern the particular rhetorical nature or essence of prayer.

He begins by describing the situation and kairos of prayer as one that tries to apprehend situation itself. Presence plays a key role here and throughout the book. Eventually, Fitzgerald defines prayer as “a techne for generating or maintaining presence” (58). The argument then turns to prayer’s act, which Fitzgerald characterizes as “invocation,” in which a being calls upon another to attend. The attitude of prayer is then defined as one of reverence. Thus, not all addresses to divine beings can be understood as prayer. In Fitzgerald’s estimation, prayer cannot be understood through “empirical measures of efficacy” but rather must be understood through “the character of the discursive relationships human beings may have with divine beings” (39). Given the distinctions between human and divine beings, the author also insists that prayer assumes an asymmetrical orientation between speaker and audience. The book then examines the role of memory in prayer, not only as a way to link present and past but also as a way to develop the habitus of prayer, and it closes with an examination of the delivery of prayer, including in digital contexts.

Ultimately, Fitzgerald concludes that prayer is, if not Burkean pure persuasion, at least a space in which the managerial ends of rhetoric are temporarily suspended. It is a rehearsal for living, “a space of retreat and recalibration in which . . . rhetoric is tested and trued” (23). Fitzgerald demonstrates his claims through close readings of several prayers, including Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn to Matter,” and of course Burke’s “Dialectician’s Hymn.”

Tags: Burke, Classical Rhetoric, Genre, Prayer


Gilyard, Keith. “Tracking Prophetic Witness.” Composition and Cornel West: Notes toward a Deep Democracy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP: 2008. Print. 

Gilyard’s book traces the ways in which composition has already engaged with Cornel West and suggests deeper engagement in order to further the field’s democratic project. The fourth chapter outlines the “prophetic witness” that Gilyard observes in West’s public project. The chapter begins with a literature review of composition’s examination of religion, particularly the ways in which the field’s interest in religion has intersected with the field’s interest in critical pedagogy. Gilyard’s review includes scholars outside of composition to include scholars like bell hooks and Bradford Stull; hooks writes about her desire to include spirituality as part of her own critical thought, and Stull writes about the ways in which American religious discourse interweaves with political discourse. This review suggests that any project linking literacy and democracy must also account for and engage religious experience. More particularly, Gilyard challenges those who claim that religious expression faces particular problems in the secular academy; rather, he argues, it is conservative religious thought that the academy rejects.

Gilyard then turns the chapter to West and his focus on race as a structuring feature of American culture and politics. Gilyard reviews West’s thought, particularly in Race Matters, which Gilyard claims is West’s most cited book in composition. Gilyard takes the engagement of three scholars—Richard Marback, Krista Ratcliffe, and Morris Young—as representative. Marback writes about ebonics, Ratcliffe about listening, and Young about the ways in which West’s thoughts on race can illuminate the study of Asian Americans. Gilyard then reviews composition’s literature on class and the ways in which that study has affected the field’s views on race. West reminds us, Gilyard writes, that a democratic and rhetorical pedagogical effort must include organizing that extends not only across race lines but also class lines. The chapter closes with a brief meditation on Foucault’s influence on the field and the ways in which West might offer a constructive corrective to what Gilyard sees as the anti-political tendencies in Foucault’s thought. 

Tags: Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, Race, Socioeconomic Class


Grassi, Ernesto. Rhetoric as Philosophy. Trans. John Michael Krois and Azizeh Azodi. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001. Print. 

Grassi’s main project is to offer rhetoric first as a philosophy based in an affirmative tradition of Italian humanism rather than as a contrary or supplement to German idealism. The book closes, however, with an essay on “Language as the Presupposition of Religion.” Religion, writes Grassi, provides a way to construct a cosmos in the face of chaos; however, religion is no longer recognized as having any prior or primary claim to this construction. That is to say, a text is holy only for its adherents, not for the culture at large.

Grassi then attempts to understand the essence of religious speech, the features that make it religious per se. He argues that religious speech as basically five characteristics: it is revelatory rather than demonstrative; it operates without mediation; it is metaphoric; it has a claim to urgency, and it claims that its announcements are valid outside of time. The chapter then takes a surprising turn as Grassi asserts that these characteristics also perfectly describe animal communication, which operates, he writes, on an immediate, nonverbal code rather than language in its human understanding. Human beings, however, always experience a breaking up of the nonverbal code–that is, human beings become conscious of themselves and of others in a way that ejects them from the immediacy of the code. Language is not the cause of this break, which happens through a power that Grassi does not identify. Language is rather the result of this break, and thus language becomes the primary means of managing the anxiety caused by this break and restoring some order to the cosmos.

This word, enunciated in response to the break, becomes for Grassi the only evangelical word available. It is articulated in the struggle and demand of concrete situations and human experiences: “The word as the presupposition and announcement of the religious thus is expressed in rhetorical language, in that language that urges itself on us in our desperate and pathetic engagement, for with it the chief concern is the formation of human existence” (113). Thus, sacred language emerges from the same “desperate and pathetic engagement” that makes “the formation of human existence” a rhetorical project.

Tags: Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy, Secular/Sacred


Griffin, Em. “Journal of Communication and Religion: A State-of-the-Art Critical Review.” Journal of Communication and Religion 21 (1998): 108-140. Print.

This article reviews the Journal of Communication and Religion (JCR) in terms of research method and types of topics covered by the journal through the 1990s, as well as pointing to the problematic gaps in methodology and choice of subject. Griffin considered 87 articles that are specifically discovery and integration research as defined by Boyer (108). Of the 87 articles reviewed, 75 of these fall into the category of “discovery” and 12 fall into a category of “integration,” and from here, Griffin makes useful definitions of further categories used to understand these articles. In applying a critical lens to the production of one journal, Griffin creates a map of 90s-era scholarship around rhetoric and religion.

Griffin categorizes and critically reviews the articles (111), which include 64 textual analysis, 2 experiments, 7 surveys and 2 ethnographies. Starting with the textual analysis category, Griffin found that much of the textual analysis focused on a specific person’s rhetoric, revived from history or reviewed for specific viewpoints. In the next section Griffin applies the critical rubric to those articles that are constructing and analyzing religious movements through multiple texts. Griffin moves on to his section on the experimental work of 11 articles, two of which used controls and thus could be more completely analyzed. The author finds that of the seven survey-based articles, one shows solid quantitative and qualitative analysis, while the remainder are lacking. Griffin offers similar findings in the section on ethnography; of the two, one study is very strong, while the other is lacking.

Finally, Griffin turns the examination to the integrative practices of the authors in JCR, finding that those authors who bring together various pieces of work tend to have a stronger grasp on the field, and that their work tends to highlight important gaps and interesting applications of theory, and bring together disparate questions to strong effect. Griffin concludes by suggesting that there needs to be much more diversity in who and what is studied, showing that most of the scholarship is on white men and Christians. Only 7% of the articles examined were concerned with non-Christian faiths (132) and only 12% were interested in non North American caucasians. Additionally, Griffin calls for higher research standards overall, including a review of relevant scholarship (133), interaction with a theoretical orientation (133-134), and practical application (134), all of which are lacking in the general scholarship of the journal.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Method/Methodology, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory


Gunn, Joshua. Modern Occult Rhetoric: Mass Media and the Drama of Secrecy in the Twentieth Century. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005. Print.

Gunn pursues an understanding of “the ways in which individuals use language (and the ways in which language uses individuals) to harbor secrets, creating insiders and outsiders” (xv). In particular, he is interested in how difficult, esoteric language operates to discriminate between those who know the jargon and those who do not. Beyond just explaining the history and grammar of secrecy, however, Gunn employs rhetorical criticism to expose the power dynamics at work in secrecy, and he argues that even in an age of mass media and mass surveillance, secrecy is inescapable because language inherently lends itself to mystery.

These topics relate to the rhetoric of religion in terms of what Gunn calls “theological form,” which he defines as how transcendence and ineffability appear in language (xxi). Gunn acknowledges Kenneth Burke as the pioneer of understanding how people seek to represent ineffability in supernaturalist language, but argues that we can go further: that our everyday experience of the world in fact brings us into constant contact with things that cannot be represented in language, merely through the experiences of our senses. Accordingly, he argues that occult or secretive language better represents not just spiritual experiences but totally mundane ones.

Gunn accordingly looks to occult discourses as ways of achieving this presence of secrecy in language. Though he argues that the occult—defined as a coherent, elite tradition of secrecy and mysticism—no longer exists after the rise of modern media, the more inchoate and diffuse form of this discourse, which he terms the occultic, still has great relevance. Modern examples of such discourse include the prose of figures like Deleuze and Guattari, which deploys a neologistic and dense vocabulary to create a group of followers absorbed in the esoteric language of the central figures, and one which conveys ineffability in language without being supernaturalist. In order to understand how we arrived at the existence and prevalence of the occultic, Gunn traces the transition from occult to occultic through the twentieth century. Looking primarily at the occult figures H. P. Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley as well as Satanist movements, he makes a case for the occultic as a pervasive theological and religious form that influences numerous elite and popular objects of culture, from academic style to news media and thriller films.

Tags: Burke, Rhetorical Theory, Spirituality


Herndl, Carl G. and Danny A. Bauer. “Speaking Matters: Liberation Theology, Rhetorical Performance, and Social Action.” College Composition and Communication 58.4 (2003): 558-585. Print. 

Herndl and Bauer analyze liberation theology as a rhetorical practice and relate that practice to two rather different contexts: 1) the “patriotic” fervor that consumed the nation after 9/11 and stifled dissent; 2) academic discussion of the possibility of dissent in any context of oppression. After a friendly critique of Habermasian-derived notions of the public sphere, the authors reassert Spivak’s question of whether the subaltern can speak. They then suggest that although a single oppressed agent might not be able to speak (or be recognized as speaking), a social movement might be able to find a voice. Liberation theology is offered as one such movement.

The article then offers an overview of liberation theology, which the authors insist is more than simply a branch of Christian, Catholic theology. Instead, liberation theology is a cultural movement that includes not only theological inquiry but also art, liturgy, and education—in other words, a total way of life that grows from the experience of the poor. While liberation theology has developed branches around the world, its roots lie in the struggle of the oppressed in Latin America. And though it draws on Marxism for its social analysis, liberation theology also makes traditional scriptural exegesis central to its method. Most importantly for the present argument, liberation theology is a confrontational rhetoric and a form of social action. The question is how such a rhetoric avoids being dismissed as irrational or undermined by “cynical reason” (578), a concept they borrow from Žižek. This possibility, they argue, is sustained by liberation theology’s status as a form of social action, one that sees social relations as fluid, evolving, and therefore subject to revision. Within this model, liberation theology’s subversive means of invention are more likely to emerge. 

Tags: Agency, Liberation Theology, Prophetic Rhetoric, Public Sphere/Square


Jost, Walter. “Rhetoric, Conscience, and the Claim of Religion.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2000. 97-129. Print.

In this essay, Jost explores the similarities, differences, and limitations of three different conceptions of “conscience” as a rhetorical topos for religious inquiry, especially as that inquiry relates to what Jost refers to as “limit-questions”: questions that refer to the possibilities and limitations of human knowledge, understanding, etc. (97). Using a Burkean conception of rhetoric as identification rather than merely persuasion, Jost analyzes John Henry Cardinal Newman’s  “antecedent considerations” (103), Michael Novak’s “intelligent subjectivity” (109), and Stanley Cavell’s “criteria” (115), noting the rhetoricity inherent in each of these conceptions of conscience. For all three of these thinkers, human understanding, in all matters including religion, is necessarily contingent, incomplete, socially constructed, and “always-already” orienting us toward a certain way of being in the world.

Jost begins by examining Newman’s work on reasoning, which examines two forms of reasoning about religion: highly formal, objective reasoning that seeks to justify religion in the terms of secular reason; and highly informal, romantic reasoning that assigns religion to the category of private experience. Newman finds both modes destructive of religion, and he therefore pursues a notion of reasoning that sees formal reasoning as grounded in the informal, concrete reasoning that we build up through our practices, habits, commitments—everything that makes up the “hermeneutical or rhetorical horizon” of our understanding (103). Formal reasoning is not absolutely divided from informal, and both forms are employed in rhetorical thinking using practical reasoning, or phronesis.

In keeping with this emphasis on the practical aspects of reason, Newman places heavy emphasis upon the role of conscience as a key rhetorical topos. Conscience, as a way of being in and perceiving the world, serves as a key test of one’s beliefs and one’s rhetoric, as well as “the most common of commonplaces” to which one can always appeal (107). Although Jost finds Newman’s account of conscience compelling, he sees it as contextually limited by the author’s masculine, Western, and Victorian cultural background. He therefore turns to Novak and Cavell for an account of conscience more rhetorically amenable to our age. Each thinker deploys a Newmanian style of reasoning by considering a critical issue (in Novak’s case the existence of God and the importance of conscience; for Cavell, skepticism and the criteria for belief) using the tools of practical, rhetorical reasoning. Jost concludes by considering the continuities and discontinuities among the three thinkers, showing that all three see limit-questions as having a fundamental rhetorical claim upon us. For Newman and Novak, a religious way of life provides the essential way to respond to that claim, whereas Cavell takes a more skeptical tack. Jost views this skepticism as an avoidance of the call of conscience, yet also sees the religious thinkers as subject to the perennial question: “What, or Who, is the other that is said to call?” (123).

Tags: Argument/Argumentation, Burke, Hermeneutics, Rhetorical Theory, Secular/Sacred


Klemm, David E. “The Rhetoric of Theological Argument.” The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and Public Affairs. Eds. John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987. 276-297. Print. 

Klemm analyzes the rhetoric of theological argument in light of recent developments in theology, particularly those in the twentieth century that moved theology to a hermeneutical activity. This shift to hermeneutics comes about as the result of a changed conception of God from one of God as “Lord” or ultimate sovereign to one of God as “the breaking-in of ‘otherness’ to human existence” (279). Reoriented in this way, the nature of theological argument changes. No longer is theology addressed solely to theologians; now, it is written for a potentially universal audience, including both the theistic and atheistic. If God is the breaking-in of the wholly other, the speaker or writer of theology can no longer assume a critical position outside the terms of a given argument. The “I” is always implicated. Moreover, construed as wholly other, God cannot be demonstrated through argument, for any argument would encompass that which cannot be encompassed.

To elucidate this argument, Klemm then examines Gerhard Ebeling’s contemporary analysis of Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God. Though the metaphysical underpinnings of Aquinas’s argument are no longer taken to be self-evident, the metaphysical claim still does important hermeneutic work in the construal of God as wholly other. Ebeling’s purpose is not simply to dismiss Aquinas, but rather to reinterpret his argument in a hermeneutical key, which then allows Ebeling to find new possibilities for meaning. The exhaustion of metaphysics is therefore not the end of theology, or even of God, but rather the occasion for a reinterpretation of the divine through the experience of language. God is a word, a word whose speaking challenges human control over language. The divine belongs just as firmly to narrative, metaphorical contexts as he does to philosophical contexts. Both dogmatic and hermeneutical theology continue to seek good reasons for their claims, but where the former finds good reasons in rationality, the latter does so in the norms and assumptions implied in the narratives on which theology relies. It is this contextual shift, rhetorical in character, that defines contemporary theology.

Tags: Hermeneutics, Rhetorical Theory, Theology


Maddux, Kristy. “Finding Comedy in Theology: A Hopeful Supplement to Kenneth Burke’s Logology.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 39.3 (2006): 208-32. Print. 

Maddux reads Burke’s Rhetoric of Religion for its reliance upon sacrificial atonement, the idea that Christ died in order to make up for the sins of human beings. She argues that this standard Christian account of the meaning of Jesus’s death undermines the possibility of human agency. As she notes, agency has become a major concern for rhetorical scholars, who, she writes, locate it “somewhere between the free will of a rational, stable actor and the determining power of structure and language” (208). But wherever agency may be found, it is suppressed by the atonement cycle, which suggests that only the sacrifice of a perfect (i.e., nonhuman) person can appease divine wrath.

The theological danger of this account is that it makes God perversely vengeful; the logological danger is that it excludes the agency of human beings who cannot construct or participate in their own salvation. This problematic was a major concern for Burke throughout his writings, particularly in Religion. However, she also argues that Burke was “unable to find a theological way out of the atonement cycle” (209). Although Burke clearly saw the connections between a tragic view of life and atonement, he never developed a comic articulation of Christian theology. Her essay therefore articulates such a corrective. To construct it, Maddux draws not only on Burke’s work, but also upon both liberation and womanist theology, two areas of inquiry that reject standard accounts of atonement. The key lessons she draws from these theologies are forgiveness and “recommitment to core values” (228). Taken together, these attitudes may free humans from an inexorably violent and paternalistic order and restore some form of human agency.

Tags: Agency, Burke, Feminist/Feminism, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology, Rhetorical Theory


Mailloux, Steven. “Notes on Prayerful Rhetoric with Divinities.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 47.4 (2014): 419-433. Print.

Mailloux begins his essay by asking whether a humanist rhetorical frame is sufficient or appropriate for communicating with a divinity. A humanist rhetorical frame privileges human being and becoming while at the same time construing the divine in human terms. God may be a really big and complex person, but humanist rhetoric still understands God as a person, one who can receive and respond to communications in much the same way ordinary people can.

Against this humanist frame, Mailloux offers a Heideggeran rhetorical hermeneutics, which understands personhood as occasioned by the accompaniment of others. That is, persons are persons to the degree to which they go along with other persons. Mailloux then asks whether the divine might be understood as being outside this “comportment.” But if that is the case, then humanist understandings of communication cannot account for relationship with the divine. Thus, traditional prayer–as a request from one person to another–no longer seems viable.

Having arrived at an impasse, Mailloux returns to his Heideggerian rhetorical frame in order to find a way around it. Key to his workaround is Heidegger’s idea of disposedness, which is also sometimes understood as attunement or mood. This new frame suggests that human-divine communication might be more productively understood as a moving with that depends on both words and silences. Thus, prayer describes an attitude, an orientation, a question rather than an answer. Borrowing from Derrida by way of John Caputo, Mailloux asserts that God might be understood as an addressee rather than an object. He then turns to an idea of angels as a kind of divinity that mediates or translates between the divine and the human. This exploration leads him to consider Latour, who sees angels not as carriers of information but rather transformers of beings. Mailloux challenges this assertion, arguing that a Heideggerian rhetorical hermeneutics would understand the rhetorical role of angels as both informative and transformative.

Tags: Hermeneutics, Prayer


Moss, Beverly. “Creating a Community: Literacy Events in African-American Churches.” Literacy Across Communities. Cresskill: Hampton, 1994. 147-178. Print. 

In this study, Moss investigates the preaching and literacy practices of three African-American preachers in the Chicago area. Each approaches preaching slightly differently: the first writes out his sermons in toto prior to preaching; the second does not prepare a text; the third only partially prepares his text beforehand. She attends ten services for each minister and studies five sermons from each, either through a written text or through an audio recording. Between participant-observer field notes and ethnographic interviews, Moss creates a rich portrait of each minister. Her questions are three: What are the central literacy events of each church? What are the features of those events? And how does the literacy of these church communities compare to academic literacy?

Moss then offers a profile of each minister and each church. Though they are different in many ways, she argues that all three preachers and all three churches can be understood as African-American, not simply in the demographic composition but also in the ways in which sermons operate in the liturgies. Her study of these rhetorical contexts includes not only the background and compositional approaches of the ministers but also the way literacy operates and occasions each church’s worship service. She also notes rhetorical strategies each minister has in common. All three, for example, make frequent use of first-person plural pronouns in order to establish a connection with their audiences.

Moss connects the implications of her study to the question of academic literacy. She argues that the African-American sermon has dialogic and community features that contrast with the monological model of the academic ideal. She also notes that, in the African American sermon, the boundary between the oral and the literate is routinely blurred: the ministers are all thoroughly literate men as the academy understands literacy, yet their delivery displays rhetorical features often associated with oral tradition or practice. Ultimately, Moss concludes that the academy must recognize the kind of “multiliteracies” she observes in these churches.

Tags: Academy, Literacy, Preaching/Sermons, Race


Moss, Beverly. “From the Pews to the Classrooms: Influences on the African American Community on Academic Literacy.” Literacy in African Communities. Eds. Joyce L. Harris, Alan G. Kamhi, and Karen E. Pollock. Mahwah: Lawrence Earlbaum, 2001. 195-211. Print. 

Moss examines the literacy practices of three African-American churches in order to compare and contrast them to academic literacy practices. Noting that the African American church has played an enormous role in African American literacy, Moss engages in an ethnographic study of four particular faith communities. She begins with the approaches of the ministers, noting how each approaches the sermon differently. Where one might write a text in full, another does not write out a text at all. She also describes the literacy events of the various churches, including the ways they rely on texts to create the liturgies.

Of particular interest is the Bible. At this point, Moss begins to contrast the church’s use of the Bible with its possible academic use. She relates having to explain to students in her classroom that they cannot rely on scripture in the academy the same way they do in church. Yet she also notes the ways in which the literacy practices of church and academy complement each other. At the beginning of the service, for example, the “responsive reading” (202), as she calls it, offers what the academy might call a close reading of a text.

Moss then goes on to examine the ways in which the sermon challenges traditional conceptual divisions regarding speaker, audience, and language. The power of the speaker, for example, depends so thoroughly on the audience that it is hard to say finally who actually authors a text. She also notes the ways in which rhetorical practices of African American churches cross over boundaries between orality and literacy. Finally, Moss suggests that these sites of negotiation within churches will be mirrored by the sites of negotiation between academics and literacy. These sites should be cultivated rather than evaded.

Tags: Academy, Literacy, Preaching/Sermons, Race


Olmsted, Wendy. “Invention, Emotion, and Conversion in Augustine’s Confessions.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2000. 65-86. Print.

Olmsted identifies Augustine’s Confessions as a site to investigate religion as productive of a rhetoric that is neither sophistic nor philosophical: it is concerned with both truth and persuasion. Augustine is after neither sophistic eloquence nor mere probability but divine truth. Yet he pursues that truth not through dialectic, but through a Christian rhetoric that draws on doctrine (truth) and a full range of topoi to pursue Christian conversion.

Olmsted reads the early books of the Confessions as revealing the partial, misguided rhetorics of Augustine’s youth. His analysis of children’s language, of his classical education, and of his delight in theatrical spectacle all prefigure aspects of his ultimate, Christian rhetoric, particularly a strong emphasis on the importance of the sign and the power of emotion. Augustine sees his early rhetorics, however, as inherently limited. Even after his conversion to a search for wisdom by Cicero’s Hortensius, after which point he becomes a Manichean for a time, Augustine’s rhetoric continues to be aimed at the limited goal of delight in language rather than enjoyment of God.

Only the preaching of Ambrose and his reading of the Neoplatonists finally turns Augustine toward his mature understanding of rhetoric as a search for God, a search exemplified in the prayerful form of the Confessions. At the same time, Olmsted finds Augustine continuing to struggle to fully realize truth through rhetoric even in the very text of the Confessions, as he acknowledges the limited knowledge possessed by human beings. Augustine’s critique of “corrupt forms of rhetoric,” then, cannot be understood as a straightforward turn to philosophy, but rather a reorientation of rhetoric toward an acknowledgement of human limits and an ultimate goal in the love of God (82). The Confessions, therefore, “tests and ultimately includes deliberative activity,” modeling for Augustine’s readers the rhetorical examination of truth aimed at an emotional—not purely intellectual—conversion to faith in Christ (82).

Tags: Affect/Affective; Christian/Christianity, Invention, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy, Sophists


Ong, Walter J. “The Word as History: Sacred and Profane.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000; 15-24. Print. 

Originally published as a chapter in The Presence of the Word (1967), this essay offers a brief analysis of “the Word of God” through the lens of the word as a changing technology that restructures and reorients human consciousness. Ong begins the essay by linking the gradual shift in Western consciousness toward an ever-increasing sense of interiority with gradual shifts in our relationships toward and development of technologies of the word. He notes also that the concept of the Word of God is often treated in visualist, typographic terms and that an alternative treatment in terms of orality and sound could offer a complementary contribution to understanding the Word.

Ong then provides a brief treatment of some of the most common meanings of “the Word of God,” analyzing each sense of the phrase in terms of its orientation toward the word as a technology. For instance, he notes that the conception of the Son as the Word is often set in visualist, spatial, relational terms more conducive to chirographic consciousness, while the notion of God’s word as the efficacious utterance of creation puts us closer to the oral-aural orientation toward the word as sound. Ong ends the essay by offering an interpretation of God’s Word as a person, a set of texts, and an event in human history that was providentially timed with respect to technologies of the word. He argues that in order to have the greatest impact, the Word of God (in all the senses outlined in the essay) entered history at a time when oral-aural consciousness was still dominant, but when chirographic technologies were offering new possibilities for thought. 

Tags: Orality/Literacy, Presence


Shuger, Debora K. “The Philosophical Foundations of Sacred Rhetoric.” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. Eds. Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. 47-64. Print. 

Shuger frames her argument by quarrelling with Stanley Fish, whom she accuses of reducing Western thought to a binary between truth-seekers (philosophy, Plato, etc.) and advantage-seekers (rhetoric, sophists, etc.). Shuger offers sacred rhetoric as a rejection of this simplistic binary. Preachers, she argues, “unequivocally sanction the emotional power and shimmering surfaces of rhetoric” (48). Their texts reveal preachers to be “simultaneously rhetorical and serious” (48). In the Renaissance, orators’ commitment to the rhetorical arts was a measure of their seriousness and passion, not their flippancy or playfulness. The real distinction between Renaissance rhetoric and philosophy rested on questions of decorum rather than epistemology.

Christianity, she argues, has always understood knowledge to be passionate–that is to say, Christian epistemology considers faith and love to be prior to knowledge. As a result, Christian rhetorics can engage in affective and emotional appeal without sacrificing a commitment to or zeal for truth, which is experiential as much as it is epistemological. Thus, the Platonic view of rhetoric does not apply to Renaissance religious rhetoric, for which moving the audience is “no longer thought of as subrational obfuscation” (54). In sacred rhetorics, and even in non-sacred rhetoric (such as Francis Bacon’s), rhetoric is construed as prior to reason insofar as rhetoric is necessary for the imagination to grapple with the matters on which reason must operate. Without persuasion, matters of concern–whether religious, scientific, or philosophical–cannot be brought close enough to be reasoned about at all. Shuger locates evidence for her argument in Renaissance divines such as Richard Hooker and John Donne.

From these observations, Shuger concludes that the standard rhetoric-vs.-philosophy account of Western thought must be thoroughly reconsidered. 

Tags: Epistemology, Preaching, Sermons, Rhetorical History, Rhetoric-vs./and-Philosophy


Webb, Patricia and Zach Waggoner. “Analyzing Dominant Cultural Narratives of Religious Pluralism: a Study of” JAEPL 10 (Winter 2004-2005): 37-51. Print.

Webb and Waggoner examine changes in Oprah Winfrey’s website from 2002-2004 to understand the changing fact of religious pluralism in contemporary culture. They argue that changes in over that period show Oprah’s work shifting from an emphasis on pluralism to a more individualistic, circumscribed understanding of spirituality, with implications for our understanding of religion in society at large.

Webb and Waggoner begin their examination of with a brief historical consideration of pluralism in America, especially as it relates to popular culture. Though it is a commonplace that pluralism is increasing, they insist that it remains fraught due to Christian resistance to it and an embedded tendency toward Christ figures or salvific heroes in popular entertainment. They outline three forms of pluralism, including toleration, inclusion, and participation, noting that the last represents the most progressive form.

Turning to, Webb and Waggoner note that although Oprah has always presented as a kind of Christ-like hero, her 2002 website includes the distinct presence of other voices, such as her frequent guests Dr. Phil McGraw and Gary Zukav. By 2004, this pluralism has declined in favor of a greater emphasis on Oprah’s various heroic qualities, including constructing her as a source of wisdom. This presentation of Oprah as hero serves a commodification of her person, selling Oprah as a brand and reducing pluralism to no more than inclusion. For Webb and Waggoner, the presence of any other voices in Oprah’s discourse is ultimately overshadowed by “a commodified image of Oprah as savior” (46).

Additionally, Webb and Waggoner argue that the 2002 site included resources that attempted to engage with other traditions, such as discussion boards designed for dialogue across religious traditions. In the 2004 site, this emphasis on communities has become subsumed to an overwhelming focus on the individual. Moreover, we can see Oprah’s continued reduction of pluralism to commodification in her discussion of meditation, which does not engage with authentic Buddhist traditions, but instead uses a decontextualized understanding of meditation to sell bath products.

Webb and Waggoner conclude that the declining pluralism of Oprah’s popular media shows that a full religious pluralism has yet to be achieved. Dominant ideologies and power structures can continue to work even through media with a veneer of pluralism and tolerance, requiring continued work to create true dialogue.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Community, Ideology


Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation

Anderson, Chris. Teaching as Believing: Faith in the University. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2004. Print. 

Anderson’s book offers an example of what compositionists have sometimes called “hybrid discourse” or “alt dis,” in which an author combines personal experience with more traditional academic argument. In this particular example, Anderson relates his experience of being a Catholic deacon to his teaching at Oregon State University, and from this perspective he examines the usual separation of the secular and the sacred in the university classroom. Anderson ultimately challenges this separation, arguing that religious experience and feeling cannot finally be excluded from the purposes of the university.

Anderson divides his book into three sections and two chapters. The book’s first two chapters discuss his teaching of two religious texts–Genesis and the Gospel of Mark–and the next two his teaching of The Odyssey and Augustine’s Confessions. In the first two, Anderson maintains the line of separation between the sacred and the secular while at the same time arguing that explicitly religious texts offer insight beyond the usual, disciplinary academic interest. In the next two, Anderson argues more forcefully that the religious permeates the secular, even within the study of a non-Christian text like The Odyssey. There, for example, Anderson interprets the meeting between Odysseus and Nausicaa as a kind of eucharist. In his discussion of The Confessions, this argument becomes even more explicit. Anderson argues that any serious literary education, whatever its pretensions to the secular, must involve a depth and identification that are unavoidably religious. Throughout these first four chapters, Anderson weaves experiences of his teaching and then study at a local seminary, culminating in his ordination as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.

In the last two chapters, the book edges towards a more traditionally argumentative stance, even as Anderson relates experiences in which his students reject the Christian perspective he brings to his reading of texts. In spite of this rejection, Anderson insists that he need not leave that perspective at the classroom door. The university, like the church, is an institution that requires religious attitudes to be sustained, including faith in its aims and humility in the face of complexity and uncertainty.

Tags: Academy, Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Identity, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Bytwerk, Randall L. “A Calvinist and a Scholar.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 461-68. Print.

Bytwerk examines how his convictions as a Calvinist Christian shape his scholarly work on the rhetoric of National Socialist and Marxist/Leninist movements. He notes that the Calvinist tradition places a high value on education, as modeled by the classical learning of John Calvin himself. Calvinist theology emphasizes God’s sovereignty over the earth, and thus insists that all knowledge—not merely that which is explicitly religious—is valuable for Christians. Though human society is suffused with both individual and structural evil, God provides the grace to allow people to conduct the business of the world and pursue meaningful knowledge.

Following the Dutch Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper, Bytwerk argues that all knowledge rests on presuppositions that are not susceptible to proof, and that faith therefore forms the basis of all worldviews. Calvinist Christians are thus free to pursue expertise in “secular” fields as a service to God.

Bytwerk notes that although he developed expertise in Nazism and Marxism almost through happenstance—he had intended to study Calvin in graduate school, but knew German and not French—he gradually came to understand them as perverted religious phenomena, making “the same kind of all-encompassing claims” as his Calvinist faith (464). He traces his interest in the base, rather than the superstructure, of these beliefs to that fundamental commitment.

His analysis of totalitarian rhetoric focuses on its internal consistency, pervasive presence throughout society, and uncompromising demands. While he observes certain parallels between these quasi-religious systems and Calvinism, he notes that the Christian worldview at its best implies a willingness to wait on the action of God and a sense of human fallibility—both traits lacked by totalitarian rhetoric. His Calvinist faith thus informs both a particular approach to totalitarian rhetoric and a distinct critique of it.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Protestant/Protestantism, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Campbell, John Angus. “On the Way to Canterbury: a Rhetorician’s Tale.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 469-86. Print.

Campbell parallels rhetoric and Christianity as practices that employ a comic perspective, often causing them to fall afoul of more “serious” persons, whether Aristotle or the Enlightenment. Both rhetoric and Christianity revel in paradox, incongruity, and renewal—all the stuff of humor. Despite these resonances between Campbell’s Anglican Christianity and his vocation as a professor of rhetoric, his work has not to this point displayed a Christian motive. The essay therefore seeks to draw out how rhetoric and Anglican Christianity have together built up Campbell’s thinking.

Campbell gives an account of his biography in the church and the academy, stressing a sense of wonder and mystery that always accompanied his encounters with the natural world and with other people. Though he tells the story of going to graduate school in communications rather than seminary (college seemed to undermine his faith), he arrives at the end of his PhD and realizes that his core convictions remain Christian. A 1960s-era interest in myth and symbol combined with his reading of C.S. Lewis and, ironically, J.H. Newman led him to the Anglican Communion, which offered “a reasoned counter-Enlightenment language I in some measure understood and wished to listen to more intently” (477). He describes Anglicanism, following the influence of Richard Hooker, as a highly political and intellectual tradition, making it amenable to a rhetorician.

Campbell concludes his essay by making a case for a rhetoric that critiques liberalism and its need to privatize religion. In parallel with his work on the rhetoric of science and the teaching of evolution, Campbell engages with the work of Eugene Garver to advocate for open civic discussion of challenging issues like religion.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Protestant/Protestantism, Public Sphere/Square, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Casey, Michael W. “‘Come Let Us Reason Together’: The Heritage of the Churches of Christ as a Source for Rhetorical Invention.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 487-98. Print.

Casey argues that the religious heritage of public leaders profoundly shapes their rhetorical performances and examines how this might be seen in the Churches of Christ, a religious movement arising primarily in the South from the Second Great Awakening.

Although the Churches of Christ have in some ways been anti-intellectual, Casey argues that the movement has a strongly rational cast that contributes to a distinctive rhetorical style. Along with other groups (the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church), the Churches of Christ arise from the Restoration Movement created by Barton Stone (1772-1844) and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) who sought to unite Christians around a return to the primitive church of the New Testament. Restorationists like Campbell argue that imitation of the New Testament church can be achieved by following a careful process of inductive reasoning as a guide to interpretation of the Scriptures. Church practices are derived by rationally analyzing the Bible using a detailed hermeneutic in which one identifies biblical commands and examples, and makes “necessary inferences” (489).

Having established the rational character of the Churches of Christ, Casey looks at various public figures with a background in the Restorationist traditions, including British prime minister David Lloyd George and U.S. presidents James A. Garfield, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. He identifies common rhetorical topoi among these orators that can be tied to Restorationist practices, including rationalism, optimism, and pragmatism.

Casey concludes by suggesting further places where the rhetoric of the Restorationists might be analyzed (such as the clash between the Church of Christ Ken Starr and the Southern Baptist Bill Clinton) and with personal reflections on his own history as a rhetorician-in-training as he grew up in Churches of Christ.

Tags: Bible, Christian/Christianity, Hermeneutics, Identity, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture


Chappell, Virginia A. “Teaching–and Living–in the Meantime.” Eds. Mary Louise, Buley-Meissner, Mary McCaslin Thompson, and Elizabeth Bachrach Tan. The Academy and the Possibility of Belief: Essays on Intellectual and Spiritual Life. Creskill: Hampton Press, 2000. 39-53. Print.

Chappell offers a meditation on being a teacher as religious person and at a religious university. She begins by reflecting on the Advent sermons of her pastor (an associate professor of theology at her university). These sermons lead Chappell the central problem of the text–namely, how to reconcile the intellectual demands of academia with moral, ethical, and political demands. Chappell then turns to Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, a text that examines the problems of cultivating an individualist ethos with the need for civic commitment. With this framework established, Chappell then turns to her students’ writing and the difficulty they sometimes experience as they confront moral, ethical, and political problems. Although her students can sometimes fall into cliche, she admits, they are often struggling to comprehend problems far beyond their experience. Moreover, they are addressing problems that do not admit easy solutions. They are operating, Chappell writes, in the “meantime,” a phrase borrowed from her pastor that refers to the time in between “Calvary and some unknown final end” (51). She relates the middle space to Martin Buber’s notion of “between,” an intersubjective space of encounter. Buber argues that this space is a central feature of human experience, and Chappell tries to situate her pedagogy in the space. She approaches the writing produced in this space with what she calls “active receptivity,” a paradoxical attitude of intentional openness to complexity, uncertainty, and need. Finally, she relates this work to her school’s Jesuit mission, which seeks to connect its education to social change.

Tags: Civic Rhetoric, Community, Disciplinarity, Jesuit, Pedagogy, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Christians, Clifford G. “Christian Scholarship and Academic Pluralism.” Journal of Communication and Religion (2004): 11-24. Print.

Christians insist that religious scholarship and interest in the field of communications is now inescapable. This development raises questions about the scientific naturalism that, Christians argues, is the overarching worldview of communication studies. This worldview conforms with the general academic worldview. Within this context, Christians calls on Christian scholars to assert their thinking far more assertively than they have. He finds some possibility for this within mainstream academic scholarship, citing thinkers like Polanyi and Kuhn as evidence that the academy itself has identified the limitations of its positivist epistemology. In contrast to this worldview, Christians cites the Bible, whose implicit communication theory conceives of truth in relation to authenticity and disclosure, which he distinguishes from the “correspondence and coherence” epistemology (14). He also contrasts the Christian assumption that human beings possess a particular relationship to God to the assumption that humans are simply a “rational animal” within evolution (15). More important than the simple clash between these perspectives is that they are both perspectives; neither is any less situated historically and culturally than the other. Given this symmetry, any notion of academic pluralism should make room for religious perspectives as surely as secular perspectives. At the same time, Christians argues that Christian scholars should not demur from making objectivist claims about ethics. Within the context of globalism, which Christians sees as an extension of postmodernity, Christians sees the main problem facing humanity as a tension between universalism and particularity, the one and the many. He asserts that Christianity offers a particularly appropriate response to this problem as it offers a universalist message within local contexts, cultures, and languages. Ultimately, Christians insists that Christian scholars must make claims and arguments that challenge what he sees as the “real enemy,” which is “an empty consensus that neglects or trivializes serious issues and matters of moral substance” (22).

Tags: Academy, Christian/Christianity Disciplinarity, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


D’Angelo, Frank. “Being Educated by the Jesuits.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 248-251. Print. 

Halloran, S. Michael. “Jesuit Rhetoric at Holy Cross College, Circa 1957-58.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 252-256. Print. 

Hauser, Gerald A. “The Cutting Edge of Engagement.” Traditions of Eloquence: the Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 257-260. Print. 

Lauer Rice, Janice. “Walter Ong: A Jesuit Rhetorical and Interdisciplinary Scholar and Educator.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. NY: Fordham UP, 2016. 188-199. Print. 

Nelms, Gerald. “Edward P.J. Corbett, the Revival of Classical Rhetoric, and Jesuit Tradition.” Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton. NY: Fordham UP, 2016. 200-217. Print. 

Each of these chapters examines how Jesuits influenced key theorists in the American rhetorical revival. D’Angelo, Halloran, and Hauser provide first-person accounts of the Jesuit educations they received; Lauer and Nelms, meanwhile, offer third-person accounts of two key figures, Walter Ong and Edward P.J. Corbett, respectively. Each essay describes either the Jesuit education the authors received, or, in the case of Ong, the way his Jesuit training influenced his research and teaching. 

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Identity, Jesuit, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation 


Farrell, James M. “Rhetoric and the Catholic Imagination.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 499-512. Print. 

Farrell offers a vision of rhetoric from a Roman Catholic perspective. He situates this reflection within the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandal, which he admits has severely damaged the church’s public standing. In spite of these difficulties, Farrell nevertheless remains committed to his own Catholicism and the church itself. He describes the church’s rhetorical imagination as “mysteriously sacramental” (500), a phrase he spends the rest of the essay unpacking. Key to this idea is that God makes himself present in human history and experience, even today. Farrell also says that his own vocation as a teacher is grounded in this sacramental imagination. For him, rhetorical activity is ultimately geared toward advancing the kingdom of God.

Part of this sacramental imagination, he writes, is a faith in a transcendent order, signs of which can be observed and interpreted in material creation. Thus, nature is a sign of God’s purpose, and it is meant be experienced and enjoyed, even in ordinary events like working in the garden. For Catholics, he writes, other kinds of everyday events can be shot through with religious significance. This is also true for political work, as Farrell argues using the example of César Chavez. He also insists that Mel Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ reveals a sacramental imagination in its iconography and structure.

Farrell also links the sacramental imagination to key rhetorical concepts. Because Catholics believe that sacraments occasion an encounter with God, they have a strongly developed sense of kairos. Catholics also possess what he calls a “natural epideictic instinct” (505), which makes Catholics receptive to celebrations of community and the past. Farrell also suggests that the Catholic imagination requires one to be persuadable, particularly in regards to the Magisterium, or teaching of the Church. Farrell defends this last argument in the face of what he assumes will be academic and critical dismissal. 

Tags: Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Kairos, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Ghani, Zulkiple Abd. “Islamic Values and Ethics in the Life of a Communication Scholar.” Journal of Communication and Religion 27 (March 2004): 58-62. Print.

Ghani describes the experience of being a rhetorical scholar and a devout Muslim. He argues that he sees no possible division between his religious identity and his scholarly vocation and that Islam itself does not see such a division. Ghani grounds his argument in the Qur’an. He describes the ways in which Islam distinguishes between praiseworthy and blameworthy character traits. Among the former is a commitment to the truth, a commitment that informs Ghani’s attitude toward communication. He also notes that Islam’s great philosopher Ghazali insists that truthfulness is inextricably tied up with intention and sincerity. These three central virtues are hard to maintain, but they become easier with practice. Ghani describes them as the three virtues he tries to observe in his professional work.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Islam/Muslim, Scripture, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Griffin, Em. “A Believer’s Attempt to Integrate and Scholarship.” Journal of Communication and Religion 27 (March 2004): 25-31. Print.

Griffin describes his attempts to integrate his Christian faith into his teaching and scholarship as a professor of communication at Wheaton College. As a Christian, Griffin believes that truth resides at the center of the universe, but he also believes that it is his job to challenge his Christian students’ easy surety about their own faith. Griffin does this in part by disclosing to his students his own struggles with faith. He also notes the ways in which he included a Christian perspective in his textbook, A First Look at Communication Theory, written for the general reader. Though he feels he only hinted at this faith perspective, at least one atheist reader complained of being preached at. Griffin then recounts ways he has engaged in Christian service to the community, including setting up a food co-op and, in keeping with his scholarly profession, working in conflict mediation and resolution. Ultimately, he concludes that his faith is inseparable from his vocation as teacher and scholar.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Evangelical/Evangelicalism, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Graves, Michael P. “One Friend’s Journey.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 513-23. Print.

Graves begins his essay by giving a historical account of his denomination, the Quakers or Society of Friends, a movement that arose as a radical outgrowth of the Puritans in seventeenth-century England. He focuses his account on the doctrine of “the Inward Light of Christ,” the Quaker belief that believers necessarily have an immediate and personal experience of divine revelation. In Quaker theology, knowledge of the Bible and theology are valuable, but insufficient as a source of knowledge about Christ. Instead, each believer’s immediate experience of God’s presence provides the governing spirit for the life of faith.

Though religious experience is thus primary for Quakers, Graves notes that their epistemology does allow for this primary source of spiritual insight to be checked and verified by scripture, reason, and the community of the church. Quaker epistemology, though deeply personal, thus retains a place for “external” sources of religious knowledge.

Following his account of Quaker epistemology, Graves reflects upon what it means for a scholar to follow the “Inward Light.” Despite early difficulties in publishing analysis of early Quaker rhetoric, he persevered due to inner guidance which encouraged him not to turn to another subject. His belief in God’s immediate leading kept him working on Quaker rhetoric prior to having any success on the topic. He thus sees his Quaker heritage and faith as leading him toward a unique research project, in an attempt to be faithful to his calling from God.

Tags: Belief, Bible, Christian/Christianity, Faith, Identity, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Gumpert, Gary. “The Search for a Jewish Communication Scholar.” Journal of Communication and Religion 27 (March 2004): 48-52. Print.

Gumpert recounts the way in which he first discovered the desire to conceptualize the Jewish rhetorician. During his classical rhetoric course in graduate study, which included Christian rhetoricians like St. Augustine, he began to wonder about the absence of Jewish rhetors from the curriculum. Gumpert admits that while this question has dogged him, it has not been at the forefront of his scholarly work. At the same time, he does not feel that he can divide his professional work from his personal identity, including his Jewishness. Ironically, he identifies Plato as the thinker that most readily sparks reflection on his religious identity and rhetorical vocation: Socrates’s interactions with his interlocutors, along with his skepticism toward the conventional, strikes Gumpert as very Jewish in its preference for asking questions rather than asserting answers.

Tags: Disciplinarity, Judaism, Rhetorical History, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Hariman, Robert. “Apologia Pro Curriculum Vitae.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 525-38. Print.

After a brief account of his personal history with Presbyterianism, Hariman examines seventeen possible responses to the question “What is the relationship between my scholarship in rhetorical studies and my religion?” (527). The responses move from absolutely no relation to an incidental relation to a series of more complex understandings, and they often move between personal reflections and more generalized understandings of scholarship and faith. Hariman rejects all of the more straightforward possibilities, such as that the church might provide doctrinal guidance for his scholarship or that the relationship is purely personal. In contrast, he endorses a series of complementary ideas without linking them explicitly. A few of the more notable are summarized here.

The first complex relationship Hariman considers is a psychological connection, suggesting that his work might be expressive of a “Presbyterian personality” (528). This includes a dialectic of rebellion and order grounded in the Presbyterian movement’s Reformed history. Other character traits include a work ethic, administrative mentality, a democratic spirit, and an interest in justice. Hariman sees many of these traits as having a parallel in rhetoric.

Hariman also takes a Burkean tack in which Presbyterianism furnishes a deep system of language that provokes an interest in institutions, language, cultural forms, and textuality. Even in a secular practice of academic study, this system would underlie the rhetorician’s ideas and practices.

Other directions Hariman considers include that the church might prompt inspiration toward utopian ideas and that it might guide ethical values. He reserves his strongest affirmation, however, for an endorsement of “radical bifurcation” between faith and rhetoric (532). Against conventional Christian arguments that one’s faith and life ought to form a unity, Hariman insists that the bifurcation of faith and life is “the structure of the modern self” and provides protection for both sides of the binary (533). He thus endorses a divided self that recognizes faith as a code, absolute in its own domain but separate from the work of thought.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Protestant/Protestantism, Secular/Sacred, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Huxman, Susan Schultz, and Gerald Biesecker-Mast. “In the World But Not of It: Mennonite Traditions as Resources for Rhetorical Invention.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 539-54. Print.

Huxman and Biesecker-Mast articulate the “paradoxical rhetoric” of public Mennonite witness, which attempts to hold together their pacifism and patriotism in times of war. As a historic Christian peace church within the Anabaptist tradition, Mennonites believe that they are called to pacifism as followers of Jesus Christ. Historically, Mennonites have been a radical, marginalized sect that often adhered to modes of life conspicuously outside the mainstream of society, including plain dress or rejection of certain technologies (much like their Anabaptist cousins, the Amish). However, in the twentieth century, some Mennonite groups began to experience growth and a degree of assimilation into public life. With that change, Mennonites did not compromise on their unconditional pacifism, but they did struggle to make a more positive case for why they could be good citizens through charity rather than military service.

Huxman and Biesecker-Mast thus categorize Mennonite rhetoric in a paradoxical, Burkean style as depending upon two contradictory rhetorical strategies: “tragic” separatist arguments and “comic” assimilationist arguments. Mennonites who seek to address American military ventures often find themselves blending these tropes in a tragicomic attempt to articulate themselves as both good Christians and good Americans. Within that frame, they employ rhetorical resources like transformative argument and martyrdom myths to communicate the value and nobility of Mennonite viewpoints and lives.

The essay concludes with personal reflections from the two authors on how their lives as rhetorical scholars have been shaped by their Mennonite faith. Biesecker-Mast notes that his life has been thoroughly shaped by Mennonite rhetoric due to his upbringing in that community, study of historic Anabaptist texts, and teaching at a Mennonite university. He describes his work as inquiring into the possibility of compatibility between Mennonite rhetoric and the Greek rhetorical tradition, as well as the pursuit of a nonviolent public rhetoric. Huxman traces her interest in Mennonite rhetoric to her experience as a college student at a Mennonite school, which led her to an interest in countercultural rhetoric. In her role in a large, public university, she describes her attempts to practice peacemaking and servant leadership as an outgrowth of Mennonite rhetorical strategies.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


McCurrie, Kilian. “Spiritual Identities, Teacher Identities, and the Teaching of Writing.” JAEPL 9 (2003-2004): 1-11. Print.

McCurrie reflects on the tensions and convergences of spiritual and teacherly identities, and how those identities operate in specific contexts from his position as a Catholic monk teaching composition in a state university. He articulates his own understandings of how these identities can productively work together in the classroom, one which takes for granted neither the standard operating procedures of the secular university, nor more unreflective understandings of Christianity. Even a commitment to critical pedagogy, he argues, can serve as an unexamined spiritual attitude that replays sin and redemption in the classroom. In contrast to spiritual identities based on absolute binaries, McCurrie advocates a dialogism that emphasizes connection between teachers and students as a spiritual practice.

To further explore connections between pedagogy and spirituality, McCurrie looks at the pedagogical ideas of reflection, collaboration, and mutuality. For him, these teacherly values can be productively paralleled in the Christian tradition with practices of meditation and brotherly community. Such connections help him articulate teaching as about not power over his students, but presence with them in what he terms a “creation spirituality,” a religious understanding of time focused on the present, not the past or future.

To draw out the significance of this creation spirituality for the writing classroom, McCurrie offers a case study drawn from his work as the FYC instructor for a learning community at a state university. He notes that although students can resist a pedagogy of creation spirituality or “original blessing,” his understanding of student resistance differs from that of critical pedagogy, which would tend to understand it as reflective of false consciousness (6). Instead, McCurrie’s spiritual pedagogy understands the relationship between individual and community as fundamental, and resistance is thus met by an appeal from the community not to see more clearly but simply to look from another perspective. Furthermore, his pedagogy emphasizes personal relationships within the community of students and teacher. He argues that the emphasis critical pedagogy places upon social concerns can often cause practitioners to overlook the actual relationships within their own classrooms. He sees his communal pedagogy as re-emphasizing those relationships in order to empower students to explore important issues within a community that aims to support them in doing that rhetorical work.

McCurrie concludes by describing pedagogy as an aspect of “contemplation in action,” the spirituality proposed to Jesuit monks by their founder, Ignatius of Loyola. Through the spiritual negotiation of solitude and community, teaching and learning can be made activities that give life, even within an institution focused upon less lofty goals.

Tags: Academy, Catholicism, Christian/Christianity, Critical Pedagogy/Radical Pedagogy, FYC, Identity, Liberatory Pedagogy/ Theology, Meditation, Pedagogy, Presence


Medhurst, Martin J. “Introduction.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 445-448. Print.

Medhurst introduces this special issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs by describing the impetus for creating the issue and giving the questions he provided as a guiding framework for the contributors. He describes the political environment of the early 2000s as saturated by religious rhetoric, most notably in George W. Bush’s overtly religious language, but also in public figures like Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman. Medhurst argues that if Bush’s rhetoric is so deeply shaped by religion as a mode of invention, “might [this] not also be true for people in other walks of life not quite so public as the American presidency?” (445). This question prompted the conversations that led to a special issue on how religion serves as a source of rhetorical invention for scholars in the field.

Medhurst argues that “there are, in the main, only two ways to explore religious traditions: from the top down (as in official histories and doctrinal statements) and from the bottom up (as in the lived experiences of individuals)” (447). His prompting questions suggest the bottom up approach, aiming to uncover how religious traditions work to prompt invention in rhetoricians. They focus on various ways that a particular religious tradition might influence how an individual scholar thinks about rhetoric: standard topoi, essential narratives and doctrines, formative rituals, or distinctive tropes and figures. These rhetorical concepts were offered to the writers in order to get at how their work is shaped by their religious traditions, as well as how their work and religion connect to each other. Medhurst sees this bottom up style of religious exploration as beneficial for understanding how public communication is shaped by religious traditions. He also sees this mutual, personal disclosure as a step toward shared understanding and tolerance.

Tags: Identity, Method/Methodology, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Medhurst, Martin J., “Filled with the Spirit: Rhetorical Invention and the Pentecostal Tradition.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 555-72. Print.

Medhurst begins his essay with a history of modern Pentecostalism, identifying the roots of the movement in the “outpourings of the Spirit” experienced by the believers in chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles (556). In the Bible’s telling of the story, the Holy Spirit—promised to the apostles by Jesus Christ—comes upon them on Pentecost, producing an experience of visions, miracles, and inspired speech (xenolalia or glossolalia). Though Medhurst describes such movements of the Spirit as rare in Christian history, he identifies the revivals that took place in America in the latter half of the nineteenth century as one such moment, leading to the founding of the churches that preceded his denomination, the Assemblies of God. Across the United States, various preachers within the Methodist holiness tradition—both white and African-American—experienced such movements of the Spirit and founded churches that placed a strong emphasis on gifts of the Spirit as an essential part of the believer’s life. The Assemblies of God were later founded based on a different understanding of sanctification than that of the mainstream holiness churches. This split also had the effect of creating a largely white movement, as the African American and mixed-race churches remained with the prior movement.

Medhurst’s home town of Alton, Illinois has a history with Pentecostalism going almost back to the founding of the Assemblies of God in 1914, and his family was tied to the church nearly from the beginning. He describes his church as unabashedly distinct from “the world” in their practices (speaking in tongues, praying for miracles, refusing to drink or go to a movie) and accordingly somewhat insular. He describes the songs and hymns as the most memorable part of his training in the church. As a normal part of maturing in a Pentecostal church, he was filled with the Holy Spirit as a young man and spoke in tongues, an experience he describes as one of great joy. Though in college he eventually ceased attending a Pentecostal church regularly, he still describes himself as Pentecostal and views his forms of thought and communication as shaped by the tradition.

Medhurst concludes the essay by expositing five enthymemes characteristic of Pentecostal rhetoric as follows: “(1) God is in control, (2) Pray without ceasing, (3) Expect a miracle, (4) Trust and obey, and (5) Work” (565). Each enthymeme is warranted by Scripture and serves as an integral piece of how Pentecostals understand their lives and faith. Though Medhurst is now Roman Catholic, his thinking is still pervaded by these enthymemes, both in his faith life and in his study of rhetoric. He sees his Pentecostal background as drawing him toward his focus on prayer and the intersections of politics and religion, as these flow easily from (at least) the prayer and work enthymemes. Finally, he sees the very performance of his scholarship as echoing Pentecostal enthymemes, as a form a prayer calling for a response, and a work that is ultimately led by the power of the Spirit.

Tags: Identity, Method/Methodology, Prayer, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


O’Reilley, Mary Rose. The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. Print.

O’Reilley offers a series of short essays on the problem of teacher burnout. Writing late in her career, she reflects on the role of suffering and humility in the teaching life. She alludes as well to the challenges of working in and living in an English department. Though she makes references to difficulties specific to her institution, she does not name or elaborate on those difficulties. Instead, the book is a meditation on the need for a spirituality of teaching and the harm a lack of such a spirituality may cause over the long term.

Her first chapter argues that breakdown and burnout are inevitable parts of the teaching life. “Human beings,” she argues, are “wired for devotion” (21), an English department is a community, and long-term devotion to any community, even a beloved community, will wear people out. O’Reilley argues that this “dark night of the soul” is better anticipated in spiritual literature than in pedagogical or academic literature. The second chapter argues for a changed relationship to time. Against the usual rush of modern academic life, O’Reilley argues for slowing down, stopping, and being more attuned to the present moment, including moments that may cause discomfort or suffering. Chapter Three turns to “prophetic witness,” which entails what O’Reilley calls a “pedagogy of risk,” a pedagogy open to the new and unexpected. Such pedagogy does not know in advance what may be produced, and this openness may reveal, and even occasion, suffering. The fourth and final chapter imagines “sustainable teaching.” Sustainable teaching would provide the resources for a teaching life that avoids being co-opted by outside influences, whether institutional or disciplinary. The sort of attitude and attunement O’Reilley describes would accept the difficulties of institutional life without being overwhelmed by them. 

Tags: Academy, Buddhism/Zen, Christianity, Contemplation, Identity, Spirituality, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


O’Reilley, Mary Rose. Radical Presence: Teaching as a Contemplative Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1998. Print.

In this long essay, O’Relley argues for re-seeing teaching not as an exchange of information, nor as a means to an end, but rather as practice with its own inherent worth. She argues that the great challenge of teaching is not to successfully impart knowledge, but rather to be fully present to our students at our moments of encounter with them. Thus, she describes teaching as a contemplative practice.

This practice is not about religious faith, at least as it is traditionally understood. Rather, O’Reilley draws on her experience with Zen Buddhist meditation to argue that teaching is a kind of practice, and it is in the practice itself that we discover its true worth. She also draws upon her experience with Quaker spirituality to argue for the importance of silence in the classroom. Listening is therefore a key aspect of her pedagogical approach.

In response to the potential charge that she is undermining or ignoring the intellectual activity of teaching and learning, O’Reilley counters that her approach results in an ever-greater appreciation of concrete reality. She also argues that students have spiritual hungers for greater meaning, hungers which cannot be satisfied by the usual ways of teaching and learning in the academy. She argues that teachers also have these spiritual needs and that they must consciously seek to address them.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Christianity, Contemplation, Spirituality, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Procter, David E. “For the Least Among Us: Articles of Faith of a United Methodist Rhetorician.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 573-85.

Procter begins with a brief history of the United Methodist church, focusing on the founding of Methodism in the eighteenth century by John Wesley who emphasized personal holiness and evangelistic preaching in underserved areas, including the American colonies. Following the history, Procter details his own articles of faith, drawn from the Methodist Book of Discipline, from his experience in the church and from interpretation of the Bible. His key principles are as follows: “help the helpless” (575), “be inclusive and welcoming” (576), and “be humble in the use of power and expression of certainty” (577). He explains each of these principles based on the distinctives of the Methodist tradition.

Procter then turns to his rhetorical articles of faith, deriving from his training at the University of Nebraska. These are as follows: “rhetorical criticism is epistemic” (579), “the rhetorical critic is a social actor” (580), and “the rhetorical critic advances moral arguments” (580). In keeping with these principles, he articulates his work as a rhetorician as a highly socially involved mode of scholarship that prompts public reflection of values and social justice. In the final section of the article, Procter attempts to link his Methodist and rhetorical articles of faith, noting that these two sets of beliefs have led him toward a certain group of interests as a scholar. These include issues of power, issues of knowledge, issues of social activism, and issues of message orientation. In each domain, he sees both his rhetorical thought and his United Methodist theology informing his practice. The Methodist tradition, with its emphasis on personal holiness worked out in social activism, has helped lead him toward the work he has done on power, knowledge, and activism. At the same time, it has prompted him toward a certain message orientation that he calls “a rhetoric of hope”: a mode of critical writing that is oriented toward those outside the systems of power, prompting activism that leads toward new, positive social possibilities. Procter concludes by observing that having fully examined his beliefs, it is clear that his religious faith and academic work could not be described as integrated, but they are rather so fused together that they could not be separated—his core beliefs are ultimately the same in both arenas, and they merely find expression in different ways in each realm.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Protestant/Protestantism, Rhetorical Theory, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation 


Reid, Robert Stephen. “Being Baptist.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 587-602. Print.

Reid defines Baptist rhetoric through a strong emphasis on argument and engagement with text. Baptist belief and practice encourage intense personal examination of the Bible in order to determine the meaning of the book and its importance to one’s life—it is an interpretive practice expected of every believer and is fraught with eternal significance. For Reid, “Nothing in my university experience could begin to compare to this rich engagement with text” (588). Through his training as a Baptist pastor and a rhetorician, his religious life—including his authority as pastor—has been defined by biblical interpretation as the first task of the Christian.

Unlike many other Christian traditions, Baptists do not have official orders of worship or creedal statements. Instead, Baptists place a strong emphasis on the believer’s individual liberty to interpret the Bible and follow his or her conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This decentralized and highly interpretive character of the movement means that Baptists are constantly in a situation of trying to persuade one another, with various internal movements in perpetual controversy over difficult points of interpretation. Baptist unity thus arises, Reid suggests, primarily from its dissenting rhetorical posture.

Reid describes Baptist rhetoric as characterized by two inventional resources: arguments for truth over appeals to corporate identity and a predilection for persuasion over exploration of shared values. Employing a four-part matrix of contemporary Christian persuasion styles, he argues that these two inventional sources mean that Baptists are comfortable in three of the four styles: explaining meaning, facilitating an encounter with the holy, and creating self-awareness. They are unlikely to be comfortable with a proclamation of confessional truth, which appeals to the corporate values of the church over against secular presuppositions.

Reid describes how the very structure of his essay reflects Baptist thinking, as it employs a sermonic structure with the goal of creating self-awareness. However, he professes himself to be intellectually attracted to the proclamational style of rhetoric that Baptist thought does not support, suggesting that it offers a stronger way forward for the faith in postmodernism. He thus concludes with a call for Baptists to continue examining and revising their rhetorical methods.

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Protestant/Protestantism, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Sullivan, Dale L. “Rhetorical Invention and Lutheran Doctrine?” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004): 603-14. Print.

Sullivan begins his piece with a brief summary of different Lutheran movements and his complex history in the faith. He describes this as an attempt to establish his identity or ethos as a Lutheran rhetorician in order to pursue an understanding of how Lutheranism shapes his view of invention. He defines invention in a slightly nontraditional manner not as the means of persuading others, but as how the rhetor guides his or her own actions, and he seeks to understand Lutheran means of doing so through Aristotle’s categories of ethos, pathos, and logos.

He begins with ethos as the site of place, time, and presence, the moment of creating an identity for the rhetor. A Lutheran understanding of this means of persuasion derives from Luther’s doctrine of two kingdoms, which conceptualizes the Christian as situated between two identities founded in the Kingdom of God and the secular state. Sullivan finds Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exploration of these ideas particularly helpful, as he struggled between his Christian duties and the secular work he felt called to: to resist the Nazi regime. For Sullivan, a Lutheran understanding of ethos positions the Christian rhetor between these two domains, negotiating between law and grace.

His Lutheran understanding of logos derives from two sources: Scripture and reason. Lutheran churches negotiate hard questions, such as the place of homosexual relationships in the church, with reference to both sources of invention, and Sullivan sees the church as being at something of an impasse between the two. He does note, however, that both Luther and Bonhoeffer held Scripture in much higher esteem than human reason.

Finally, he locates a Lutheran understanding of pathos in the relationship between the self and the other, the I and the Thou. For Luther and other thinkers in the tradition, human life must always be conducted in responsible relations to the Other, whether God or other human beings. Ultimately, Sullivan articulates the Lutheran demands of ethos, pathos, and logos as an incredibly high standard, one that no human can fully meet without the aid of God, following Luther’s claim that “the Holy Ghost is a rhetorician.”

Tags: Christian/Christianity, Identity, Protestant/Protestantism, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Medhurst, Martin. “Religious Belief and Scholarship: A Complex Relationship.” Journal of Communication and Religion 27 (March 2004): 40-47. Print.

Medhurst reflects on his move from a large public research university to a private Christian school that is striving to become a research university. Though he has always pursued scholarship and teaching on rhetoric and religion, he surmises that his new position will necessarily require a changed approach to his scholarship and teaching. These reflections lead him to consider the possibility of a distinctly Christian approach to rhetorical scholarship. Such an approach, he argues, would begin with the Bible, particularly the precepts and example of Jesus. It would also take into account the work of Christian rhetors throughout the ages, including work being done in the present day. Though he acknowledges that such a project will be massive and challenging, he insists that it is a necessary project, one that will reshape his work as a scholar, teacher, and program director.

Tags: Bible, Christian/Christianity, Disciplinarity, Rhetorical History, Rhetorical Theory, Scripture, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation


Wood, Julia T. “Buddhist Influences on Teaching and Scholarship.” Journal of Communication and Religion (2004): 32-39. Print.

Wood, like many of her coauthors in March 2004 issue of JCR, questions the conventional assumptions about the relationship between researchers and their research. She is skeptical about the idea that the former must be, can be, “objective” toward and about the latter. She insists that researchers approach their work with their entire person, including more than their intellects. She finds a model for this kind of engagement in Buddhism, which she calls strictly a philosophy rather than a religion (33). This philosophy includes four main features: self creation, compassion, mindfulness, and attachments. The first of these holds that our actions shape our selves. Buddhism has no deity, so it is the responsibility of the Buddhist to cultivate oneself. Compassion assumes and focuses on our ultimate interdependence with other human beings and indeed all of creation. Mindfulness refers to our ability to give our attention to present experience in the fullest way possible. Attachments, finally, refers to the Buddhist concern with shedding preoccupations or possessions that prevents us from fully engaging with each other. These are the attitudes Wood carries into her research and teaching.

Tags: Buddhism/Zen, Disciplinarity, Mindfulness, Teaching and Scholarship as Vocation