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Cover of "Responding to the Sacred" co-edited by Kyle Jensen
April 2021
Penn State University Press

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Responding to the Sacred

An Inquiry into the Limits of Rhetoric
Edited by: 
Michael Bernard-Donals
Kyle Jensen

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.


Kyle Jensen is professor of English in writing, rhetorics and literacies at ASU, where he directs the university's writing programs.

Praise for this book

"'Responding to the Sacred' provides a capacious and prismatic view of communicating that which is not fully communicable, and in doing so, it ventures to rhetoric’s very edges — and beyond."

Debra Hawhee
Author of "Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation"