English Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Preaching and Technology: A Study of Attitudes and Practices

Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Katherine Bradshaw (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)

Abstract

Historically, various technologies, print and the television, for example, have been adopted by religious groups to spread their teachings and faith. Presently, many churches are adopting various digital technologies to accomplish this aim. This study examines the adoption of digital technologies into preaching to determine the effects of this adoption on the sermon as a genre and preaching as a rhetorical practice. It contends that understanding genre expectations, which are steeped in the traditions and values of a community, is key to understanding how and why digital technologies are used in particular ways and further, how those uses shape or fail to shape a preacher’s ethos. Thus, it employs a combination of survey and case study research to determine how both preachers and congregants understand the sermon as a genre and how those understandings influence the practice of preaching and the adoption of digital technologies.

The results of the study indicate that many preachers and congregants privilege the spoken word in the sermon because they perceive, for both historical and theological reasons, the sermon as an oral genre. As a result, they situate digital technologies as supplementary or peripheral to the oral act of preaching. Such a separation is a method for preserving existing practices, beliefs, and values, while simultaneously adopting new technologies. However, as long as preachers and congregants expect the sermon to be an oral genre and evaluate preachers by those expectations including digital technologies in the sermon will not help preachers construct or maintain ethos. This study concludes by articulating two options for building ethos through the use of technology: (1) to reconceive the sermon as a multimedia genre that integrates digital technologies as integral to the sermon, thereby taking advantage of their affordances, or (2) to use digital technologies to improve congregational ethos through accessibility. Digital technologies may allow congregations to become more user-friendly, thereby increasing their ethos as a whole. Ultimately, this study suggests that the sermon is a genre in flux, being reshaped by the introductions of new technologies, and that further study is necessary to fully understand preaching in an increasingly digital culture.

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