Eric C. Miller is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. A contributor at Religion Dispatches and Religion & Politics, his research area sits amid Christian rhetoric and public advocacy.
Despite boasting a rich, 2500 year history, rhetoric is dogged by negative associations and misunderstanding. When it is invoked at all, it usually appears alongside qualifiers such as “only” or “empty.” It is commonly used as a synonym for insincere or deceptive speech. Even in many academic contexts, rhetoric is understood as little more than a counterpart to philosophy. But for rhetorical scholars, rhetoric is much more involved – and much more important – than these perceptions allow. They understand rhetoric as the theory and practice of symbolic expression. In that sense, it infuses and constitutes everything that humans think, say, and claim to know. It is architectonic in that it supplies the building blocks of all other knowledge. This foundational quality demands attention.
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