Rhetoric Society of America (RSA)
"Rhetoric of Religion:
Perspectives and Prospects" -- a workshop
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Friday,
June 22 - Sunday, June 24
Workshop Leader : Bill FitzGerald (Rutgers University - Camden)
Workshop Participants : Laura Carroll, Michael DePalma, Megan Marie,
Christina Knopf, Kurt Stavenhagen, James Webber
This two day workshop examines the intertwined relationship
between rhetoric and religion, as these "key" terms bears upon each
other in theory and in practice. Our mode of exploration will be to
consider, in broad strokes, the multiple ways in which rhetoric and
religion intersect; by examining particular ideas about how and
instances in which religion is informed by rhetoric and rhetoric is
responsive to religion we seek to identify promising trajectories for
further inquiry. A fuller statement may be found here.
In practical terms, we will look at how rhetoric contributes to
understanding religious thought, language and activity, and why
rhetoric, as an academic discipline, benefits from critical
attention to religious phenomena. We will do so through discussions
that push off from a small selection of provocative readings, through
several impromptu writing prompts, and on the last day, through brief,
informal presentations of individualized research projects, ongoing and
anticipated. If there is a consensus that we should move more quickly
toward individualized presentations in our second or third sessions, we
can also do that.
A note on the suggested readings: Ours is a summer workshop, not a
formal, semester-long seminar; please do
not feel obliged to read everything with
exacting scrutiny. Rather, read for the 'gist', following threads of
interest with an eye to sparking
productive discussion. Do read several texts with some thoroughness,
that you can help direct us toward issues and questions of
significance. And come prepared with genuine and 'devil's advocate'
questions for us to consider. For my part, I plan to highlight
the readings (and, in so doing, justify their selection) as well as
connections among these and other texts. Wherever possible, I have
identified an electronic form (in whole, in part, or in summary) of the
readings, and I have also included links to additional materials of
Below the schedule I have also included a list of resources
which will continue to expand both before and after the workshop.
Session One : Friday, June 22, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
After a round of introductions, our first session will address
various ways in which academic
disciplines have understood religion and consider, based upon our own
disciplinary training and sensibilities, what a rhetorical perspective
on religion contributes to the mix. Consequently, our first three
readings present seminal statements by major 20th century scholars
representative, respectively, of psychological, sociological, and
anthropological approaches to religion.
William James. "Lecture Two: Circumscription of the Topic" from The Varieties of Religious Experience.
(handout + html)
Emile Durkheim. "Definition of Religious Phenomena and of Religion"
from Elementary Forms of the
Religious Life. (handout,
summary of EFRL, commentary, biography,
Geertz, Clifford. "Religion as a Cultural System" from The Interpretation of Cultures.
(handout + pdf, commentary)
Jost, Walter and Wendy Olmsted. "Introduction," Rhetorical Inventions and Religious Inquiry.
ed. Jost and Olmsted (handout, book)
Session Two : Saturday, June 23, 9 a.m. - noon
Building on the discussion of the previous day, we will use two pieces,
one each by Kenneth Burke and Wayne Booth, as a springboard for
identifying the "rhetorical" texture of religious thought. Of the two,
irreverent piece by Burke, a summary in dialogue form of his ideas on
logology he lays out in his The
Rhetoric of Religion. We will look fairly closely at Burke's
ideas here and the implications of his methodologies in identifying the
connections between logology, or "words about words," and theology, or
"words about God." And we will consider (and critique) Booth's effort
to discover common ground--in rhetoric--between what are often seen, as
they are for Richard Dawkins, as two opposing, irreconciliable sets of
beliefs and discourses: science and religion,
Kenneth Burke. "Epilogue: Prologue in Heaven" from The Rhetoric of Religion ( handout
analysis, on reading
Wayne Booth. "Rhetoric,
Science, Religion" from The
Essential Wayne Booth, ed. W. Jost (handout)
Gunn, David. "An Occult Poetics, or the Secret Rhetoric of
Society Quarterly, Spring 2004
Ivie, Robert. "The Rhetoric of Bush's 'War' on Evil" in KBJournal, Fall 2004
"Fun at the Creation Museum": a skeptic's review
of the new $27M museum in Petersburg, Kentucky
Session Three : Saturday, June 23, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.
Our third session identifies particular discourse
practices--figures, forms, topoi, warrants--that seem especially
characteristic of religious rhetoric. A second, related strand
addresses the situatedness of religious discourse, whether in its own
'private' sphere or within some contested public space. Here I have
selected a fairly accessible piece on fundamentalism and its relation
to rhetorical practice by Sharon Crowley. For a more theoretical
approach to religion in the public sphere, rather than read sizeable
chunks of important figures in this debate, such as Jurgen Habermas,
John Rawls, or Richard Rorty, I have selected, as an additional
reading, a piece by O'Neill that reviews and situates these scholars.
An overarching theme here is the relation between religious rhetoric
and critique, including the grounds of that critique.
Tracy, David. "Prophetic and Mystical Rhetorics" from Rhetorical Inventions and Religious Inquiry,
ed. Jost&Olmsted (handout)
Stephen. "Theological Reflections on the Hyperbolic Imagination" from
Rhetorical Inventions and Religious Inquiry, ed.
Jost&Olmsted. (handout + similar
Sharon, Crowley. "On (Not) Arguing About Religion and Politics" from
Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism (handout + pdf, link,
Derrida, Jacques. "Faith and Knowledge; The Two Sources of 'Religion at
the Limits of Reason Alone'" (excerpt)
from Religion, ed. Jacques
Derrida and Gianni Vattimo. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1998
O'Neill, Bill, S.J. "Modernity and Its Religious Discontents: Religion
and Public Reason" in Jesuit Philosophical Association
Proceedings (2004) (pdf)
Session Four : Sunday, June 24, 9 a.m. - noon
Our final session is deliberately sparse so that we can return to pick
at threads that have emerged in previous discussion as well as hear
from one another on projects about which we welcome responses from
fellow workshop participants. I will present work-in-progress on the
rhetoric of prayer. What will others present? Our single selection,
recognizing the revival of interest in the rhetoric of religion within
European circles, is a recent piece from Laurence Pernot, the current
chair of the
International Society of the History of Rhetoric (ISHR), whose biennial
conference meets this year, July 24-29, in Strasbourg, France.
Conference theme for 2007: the rhetoric of religion.
Pernod, Laurence. The Rhetoric of Religion (link)
Rhetorica, August 2006
607 Ancient Religious Rhetoric (Jim Watt, Syracuse
Comm 374: The
Rhetoric of Religion (Robert Howard, University of Wisconsin,
English 379: The Rhetoric of
Religion (William FitzGerald, University of Maryland, College Park)
Rhetoric and Christian Tradition: Bibliographies
Religion in America/Literary Cultural Studies:
Burke, Kenneth. The Rhetoric of
Religion: Studies in Logology. Berkeley: U California Press,
Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil
Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. Pittsburgh: U of
Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
Cunningham, David. Faithful
Persuasion: An Aid of a Rhetoric of
Christian Theology. South Bend, IN: U Notre Dame Press, 1993.
Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary
Forms of the Religious Life.  trans. Karen Fields. Free
Press (reprint ed.), 1995.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation
of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
James, William. The Varieties of
Religious Experience. . New York: Modern Library, 1999.
Jost, Walter and Wendy Olmsted. Rhetorical
Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives. New Haven,
Yale UP, 2000.
Taylor, Robert. Varieties of
Religion Today: William James Revisited. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2001.
(reviewed by Robert M. Bellah)
Yaghjian, Lucretia. Writing
Theology Well. Continuum, 2006. (link)
Tracy, David. "Theology
as Public Discourse"