Rhetoric of Religion
Crash Course in Rhetorical Criticism and Analysis
Our first method of analysis.
These methods we will be learning are ways for you to analyze pieces of rhetoric. Systematic ways to look at artifacts, all with an eye toward saying something interesting about how rhetoric works.
The basic idea behind this approach is to judge the effectiveness of a piece of rhetoric.
It’s a good foundational method.
Some Basic Tenants of Neo-Aristotelian Criticism
While literary criticism is concerned with permanence and beauty, Rhetorical Criticism is concerned with effect. Effect of rhetoric on an audience.
Herbert Wilchens, the inventor of this method, argued that a rhetorical critic should look at the following in a speech/rhetorical artifact: The speaker’s personality
Public perceptions of the speaker
The audience and what they’re like
The major ideas presented in the speech
The motives to which the speaker appealed
The nature of the speaker’s proofs
The arrangement of the speech
Effect of the speech on the audience in both the short and long term
Procedure for Doing Neo-Aristotelian Criticism
The main question one asks with this method is: Did the rhetor select the best rhetorical options available to him or her to evoke the intended response from the audience?
Selecting an Artifact
Speeches (and their transcripts) and other obvious arguments tend to be the best artifacts for this method. It’s based on classical rhetorical theory, which was developed for teaching people how to make speeches, so it works best on things that have a lot of words.
Analyzing the Artifact
You should do three things when analyzing your artifact:
Reconstruct the context. This includes learning about the rhetor, the audience, and the occasion. Apply the canons. You should look at your artifact through the lens of the canons of rhetoric to see what the rhetor did in the speech. You can look at invention, organization, style, delivery, and memory. More about these below. Assess the effects. You should look at both immediate effects (applause, changes in behavior) and long-term effects (changes in behavior, influence in public debate, etc.)
Applying the Canons of Rhetoric
You should analyze your artifact in terms of the canons of classical rhetoric. Your goal is to accurately describe what the rhetor did in the speech. You look at the speech for instances where the rhetor used these kinds of proofs, or she organized her speech in this way, etc.
To look at invention, you look at the major ideas, or lines of argument, in the speech. You note and classify the speaker’s use of proofs, or kinds of arguments, in the speech.
There are two kinds of proofs:
External or inartistic. These are arguments that come wholly intact, or pre-made, from sources outside the rhetor. These include testimony and documents, like letters, contracts, etc.
Internal or artistic. These are proofs that the rhetor creates. And they fall into three categories (there are three kinds of artistic proofs):
Logos. These are the logical or rational elements of an argument. They are the logical appeals the rhetor uses to make her case. Rhetors use this evidence to encourage the audience to come to some sort of conclusion. They use the process of reasoning to do this, and this process comes in one of two major forms: inductive and deductive. Inductive reasoning. A series of examples are used to draw a general conclusion. Deductive reasoning. The rhetor begins with a generalization that the audience agrees on and applies it to a specific case. Example: Ethos or Credibility. This has to do with the effect or appeal of a rhetor’s character on the audience. They are the credibility appeals the rhetor uses to make her case. When you look at a speech, you look for the ways the rhetor tries to display the qualities below in the speech: Moral character or integrity
Pathos. These are the appeals to emotion. These are the attempts to tug on the heartstrings, so to speak, in order to make her case.
To look at invention, you look at how the speech is organized. The basic organizational pattern.
To look at style, you look at the words, images, symbols, metaphors, etc. that the rhetor uses.
To look at delivery, you look at how the rhetor moved, spoke, etc.
Formulating the Research Question and Writing the Essay
In this kind of essay, your goal is to do two things: pass judgment on the speech and make some sort of small contribution to rhetorical theory.
Your research question is almost always: Did the rhetor select the best rhetorical options available to him or her to evoke the intended response
from the audience? In other words, was it an effective speech? If yes, what made it effective? If no, how could the speech be improved to make it more effective?