Kristine Elizabeth Johnson

Meeting when he asks to be met: Public religious discourse in the “Catholic Worker”

Kristine Elizabeth Johnson

  • School: Purdue University
  • Degree: PhD
  • Date: 2009 pp: 205
  • Advisor: Weiser, Irwin H.
  • Committee Members: Bay, Jennifer; Johnson-Sheehan, Richard; Ryba, Thomas W.; Sullivan, Patricia A.
  • Source: DAI-A 70/10, April 2010
  • Keywords: Religious discourse, Catholic Worker
  • Subjects: Rhetoric, Religion, Journalism
  • ProQuest Document Number: 1892394091
  • UMI Number: AAT 3378774

Abstract:

    This project demonstrates how religious discourses have the potential to align with rhetorical ideals for public discourse. In this dissertation, I use the writing of Dorothy Day in the Catholic Worker newspaper as a historical lens through which to examine public religious discourse that intentionally speaks beyond its own faith community and aims to be inclusive rather than polarizing. The first question guiding this project asks how Day rhetorically positioned herself and the Catholic Worker to be persuasive to readers outside her own Roman Catholic faith community. My rhetorical analysis of Day’s writing, which is based on a qualitative content analysis of Catholic Worker columns from 1933 until her death in 1980, describes how she consistently offered readers a contingent universal–a transcendent concept beyond religious faith–with which to identify: social action in the nineteen thirties by orienting the stasis of her arguments toward procedure; idealism in the post-war era by exploiting the full range of epideictic rhetoric; and ultimately herself in the sixties and seventies by revealing an authoritative, virtuous ethos. The second question asks how Day’s Catholic Worker writing challenges and informs contemporary theories of public discourse and public religious discourse. I answer this question by considering her rhetorical strategies–and the rhetorical stance they reveal–in terms of two ideals for public discourse: the ideal of communicative rationality forwarded by J├╝rgen Habermas and the ideal of contingent rhetorical invention forwarded by Sharon Crowley. It is my argument that public religious discourse aligns with these ideals when rhetors translate religious commitments into a domain of common concern, open themselves and their arguments to criticism and generative conflict, and negotiate absolutes and contingents to invent kairotic arguments that bring absolute religious truths into a particular historical moment.