Responding to the Sacred

An Inquiry into the Limits of Rhetoric

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Michael Bernard-Donals, Kyle Jensen
  • State College: 
    Pennsylvania State University Press
    , April
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Ankana Das forthcoming.


With language we name and define all things, and by studying our use of language, rhetoricians can provide an account of these things and thus of our lived experience. The concept of the sacred, however, raises the prospect of the existence of phenomena that transcend the human and physical and cannot be expressed fully by language. The sacred thus reveals limitations to rhetoric.

Featuring essays by some of the foremost scholars of rhetoric working today, this wide-ranging collection of theoretical and methodological studies takes seriously the possibility of the sacred and the challenge it poses to rhetorical inquiry. The contributors engage with religious rhetorics—Jewish, Jesuit, Buddhist, pagan—as well as rationalist, scientific, and postmodern rhetorics, studying, for example, divination in the Platonic tradition, Thomas Hobbes’s and Walter Benjamin’s accounts of sacred texts, the uncanny algorithms of Big Data, and Hélène Cixous’s sacred passages and passwords. From these studies, new definitions of the sacred emerge—along with new rhetorical practices for engaging with the sacred.

This book provides insight into the relation of rhetoric and the sacred, showing the capacity of rhetoric to study the ineffable but also shedding light on the boundaries between them.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael Bernard-Donals is Chaim Perelman Professor of Rhetoric and Culture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Focusing mainly on the relation between rhetoric and ethics, he has authored or edited ten books in the field.

Kyle Jensen is professor of English at Arizona State University and the author of Reimagining Process: Online Writing Archives and the Future of Writing Studies.



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.