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CAS 506 - Contemporary Rhetorical Theory

Professor: Jeremy Engels
Office: 215 Sparks
Email: jde13@psu.edu

The Rhetoric and Philosophy of Kenneth Burke’s The Rhetoric of Religion

In The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), Kenneth Burke claims that we can learn about the nature of words by studying humanity’s words about God. In short, for Burke how we speak of and about the divine illuminates the nature of speaking in general. In this seminar we will study the rhetoric and philosophy of Burke’s Rhetoric of Religion closely, carefully, and in detail, for on this point Burke seems correct—to speak of the divine is to speak poetry, and the words we invent to describe the divine are words that make a difference, both in how we choose to live as individuals and to live with others in communities. We will also investigate several alternative visions of the rhetoric of religion that challenge the Burkean hegemony in rhetorical studies, with the aim of opening up alternative possibilities for thought and action.

Readings

Tentative course readings include Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, Augustine’s Confessions, Richard Weaver’s Ethics of Rhetoric, Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, Rowan Williams’s The Edge of Words, Alain Badiou’s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Slavoj Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf, and, of course, Burke’s Rhetoric of Religion (as well as other selections from Burke’s canon). 

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