A Job Talk by Gavin Hurley: “Inclusive Transcendence: Rhetorical Dissociation Within Contemporary Discourse of Spirituality”

On Wednesday, February 19th Rhetoric & Composition Ph.D. Candidate Gavin Hurley delivered his “job talk” to Writing & Rhetoric department faculty and fellow students. The “job talk” is practice for graduating Ph.D. students who are getting ready for the job market. This was Gavin’s opportunity to deliver research from his dissertation, as well as field questions about his work in preparation for upcoming job interviews.  During the presentation, titled “Inclusive Transcendence: Rhetorical Dissociation Within Contemporary Discourse of Spirituality,” Gavin shared the research and results from one chapter of his near-complete dissertation. [br]

In his work, Gavin examines how authors of Catholic and Anglican epidictic texts utilize rhetorical strategies of persuasion in order to appeal to particular audiences. Using the lens of Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (1991), Gavin argues that authors of these “instructive” and spiritual texts intentionally dissociate the concept of spirituality from the more scrutinized concept of religion or religiousness, so as to invite readers into their discussion of spiritual truths without overtly preaching a system of beliefs. In these texts, often times the more collective, flexible, and experimental notion of “spirituality” is conveyed more than the strict or limited notions of religion, or of specific denominational beliefs. Gavin claims that while this dissociation is intentional, authors of epidictic texts—without preaching “religion,” so to speak—still manage to “propel action” from their readers in some way, shape, or form.

In using The New Rhetoric as a framework for analyzing a set of texts by authors such as Margaret Silf and Martin Laird, Gavin performed text and discourse analyses to establish the intersections of rhetoric and of this particular type of spiritual writing. Both authors are known for works that convey a philosophy of inclusion rather than exclusivity of religion; within their writing styles, there exists a similar type of discourse that, relative to dissociation, aims to invite an audience into their texts by adapting interfaith dialogue that is inclusive, but that still uses familiar religious references. In other words, according to Gavin, authorities on religion, per se, use dissociation in their writing as a means to resolve the tension that exists between “spirituality” and “religion.”

Within the spiritual and instructive epidictic texts that make up Gavin’s corpus for this research, the intentional separation of the two concepts leads to a powerful persuasion that, perhaps, stand-alone religious texts are not capable of on their own. In fact, whether readers employ new methods of meditation—on God or otherwise—or whether they respond to authors’ invitations in other ways, readers may be persuaded by a “not this, but this” philosophy or mentality portrayed in the texts.

Amazingly brilliant, Gavin!

Good luck to you!

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