Monday, November 02, 2009

112. Rhetoric and Theology Reposted from Blogora:

Thinking Out Loud--Rhetoric & Religion

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Submitted by Jim Aune on October 31, 2009 - 12:06pm

It occurred to me, listening to David Gore, Willie Henderson, and David Beard at the U of Minnesota Modern Rhetoric Project conference, that there seems to be a bit of an explosion of interest in religion across the humanities these days. You have Badiou, Taubes, Derrida, and Zizek thinking about St. Paul and universalism, as well as John Milbank, Terry Eagleton, and others within the Christian tradition smacking modernist intellectuals for failing to engage theology. I have also noticed a fair number of my younger colleagues become active religiously in ways that the post-WWII generation were not--John Sloop's Roman Catholicism, Ron Greene's Eastern Orthodoxy, my ConservaDoxy, and so on. There is only one journal I know of devoted specifically to communication and religion, and it has a rather broad focus, not necessarily rhetorical. Do you all think there might be an audience out there for a new journal on rhetoric/theology, investigating both theory and practice in the links between theology, religion, and rhetoric? It would probably have to be online, which also raises the question: even if it is peer-reviewed, what is your collective sense of how R1 universities treat online journal publications these days? Are the standards getting more flexible or not? We seem to have changed a bit since Daniel Drezner was effectively denied tenure at Chicago for daring to publish a blog.

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Your point about the Communication & Religion group is...
Submitted by syntaxfactory on November 1, 2009 - 10:44pm. interesting, because we should probably distinguish the strength of that journal in two areas:

(a) in studying the rhetorical activities of religious figures, as "the rhetoric of religion"). We see this work, for example, in the article called "The first female public speakers in America (1630-1840): Searching for Egalitarian Christian Primitivism" [Abstract: Overlooked female exhorters and preachers established a two-hundred-year-old tradition of female oratory before the ninteenth-century secular reformers emerged] and in "Corresponding Calvinism and capitalism: The letters of Teunis van den Hoek" [Abstract: This essay explores the correspondence of Teunis van den Hoek to argue that he used letters to create an immigrant identity as he grappled with the exigencies and tensions between his Calvinist beliefs and his burgeoning wealth]

(b) in religious discourse as generative of rhetorical theories (for example, in "Seeing through a glass darkly: Religious metaphor as rhetorical perspective" [Abstract: This essay examines metaphor theories and the role of metaphor in religious rhetoric] and in "Rhetorical interpretation in Augustine's Confessions" [Abstract: In the last three books of his Confessions, Augustine focuses on problems of interpretation germane to ordinary texts as well as Scripture]

These areas are valuable and honed in the work of that journal, but they seem askew of what Dr. Aune is asking. The recent return to religion and spirituality as an area of research, it seems to me, is not reducible to a "rhetoric of" project. It may ask questions more fundamental than that: about whether Burke's rhetorical definition of the person [“Man is the symbol-using animal, inventor of the negative, separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, and rotten with perfection"] is consonant with a spiritual anthropology. When Kristeva first reconsiders religion (in the "Beginning" book), she is investigating the ways that religion has a positive effect, an illusion gluing bits of the subject together (here breaking from Freud). I won't pretend to understand Zizek, or to have finished reading Kristeva's recent book on religion, but the impulses must overlap.

The question is not about religious uses of language and rhetorical or communication theories derived from religious discourse (RCA covers that well). It's about whether the norms of rhetorical culture apply to religious cultures... a thoroughgoing exploration of whether the rhetorical subject (as the liberal subject of the modern era or the non-agent, non-subject of the posthuman era) is consonant with the Christian (or other religious) subject. It's about, I think, interrogating the assumptions below the standard layers of rhetorical theory and getting us back to questions as fundamental as those we once had about the "rhetorical situation," reconsidered from the perspective of a form of subjectivity (the "faithful," the "believer," the "child of god") that persists from the ancient to the medieval to the modern to the postmodern.


Could this be a strand of research fruitfully considered for RCA? Probably. Could it sustain a journal of its own, online or otherwise? Probably not. A good book would be nice.

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Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2009 - 11:57pm.
For what it tries to do, JCR does fine, but it seems a little parochial (so to speak) in its sense of audience--seems mostly evangelical, something I should have greater tolerance for, but don't any more. I'm thinking of more the kind of interchange that Milbank and Zizek have in The Monstrosity of Christ, done along rhetorical lines, or the Political Theology folks at Irvine, notably Julia Lupton.

I think we agree...
Submitted by syntaxfactory on November 2, 2009 - 2:21pm.
...about the role of JCR -- although I admit I hadn't much noted the particular bias you've identified (probably because as a nonbeliever [admittedly, turned away from Catholicism], differentiating varieties of belief in Christianity seems to me like differentiating "vanilla, french vanilla, and vanilla bean").

But yes: moving beyond "the rhetoric of religion" to "rhetoric's encounter with theology" -- that seems to me the ticket. Not just to ask what the rhetoric of Mormons might be (question 1), or the effect of Mormon thought might be on rhetorical theorists (like my personal hero, Wayne Booth; question 2), but to presume that, if psychoanalytic theory [in Kristeva, in Zizek] can presume to speak to theology and to religion, that rhetorical theory can do so, as well (I can't articulate it as a question 3, but I'd like to).

I'm hoping someone else might have more to add... if not on the Blogora, perhaps here?

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