Investigating the relationship between religious motives and rhetorical activism : an ethnographic study of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.


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This ethnographic study investigates the religiously-motivated rhetorical action of the central office staff of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty (BCHP), a research-based nonprofit project of Baylor University. Knowing that the BCHP staff were at least religiously affiliated, I sought to understand whether or not they articulated their religious identity, beliefs, or commitments as motivation for their work in a field devoted to social good. This study sought to address two questions: What role do religious motives play in civic engagement? and When present, how do religious motives animate rhetorical social action? After determining whether the staff articulated religious motivations for their work, I sought to understand how, if present, those religious commitments might animate the organization’s specific rhetorical practices. This study draws from interviews with the ten BCHP central office staff members; however, it focuses primarily on one: the BCHP’s founder and executive director, Jeremy Everett. Interviews and textual data reveal that Everett’s theological commitments formed the basis for his founding of the organization and actively form its work today. Everett’s experience of divine calling to the poor and his theological beliefs in enacting the Kingdom of God, considering the Levitical practice of Jubilee, and realizing the imago Dei (image of God) in all people, have led him to hold central to his life and work the theologically-animated values of equality, common ground, and humility. Those values—which are shared by many of the BCHP central office staff—then animate Everett and the organization’s rhetorical strategies of rhetorical presence, storytelling, collaboration, and gradualism. This study concludes by considering possibilities for the study’s findings in the university writing classroom. The study’s findings reveal that religious commitments can and do motivate social action and that religiously-animated values can prove rich resources for animating rhetorical action. As the field of Rhetoric and Composition seeks to prepare students to be rhetorically capable, socially responsible citizens, I argue that students should be encouraged to examine their religious and ideological beliefs and values and to consider how those values might animate their rhetorical strategies as they seek to do good in the public sphere.



Religious motives. Rhetorical strategies. Rhetorical activism. Civic engagement. Social change. Religion and rhetoric. Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.