Dissertation Defense: Joshua Kraut

Candidate Name: Joshua Kraut

Major: Linguistics

Advisor: Heidi Hamilton, Ph.D.

Title: Voicing Belief : An Exploration of Constructed Dialogue in Religious Discourse

Wuthnow (2012) notes that in the modern West, “talk about the supernatural is problematic and thus requires construction in ways that reinforce its reasonableness” (p. 296).  Thus, many religious communities sense constant pressure from within and without to conform their accounts of their beliefs to the standards of what van Dijk (2012) calls the surrounding “epistemic community”.  The current study examines the role of reported speech, or what Tannen (1989) more precisely terms “constructed dialogue” in establishing the reasonableness of faith.  

Constructed dialogue constitutes a ubiquitous feature of everyday conversation and has attracted attention within linguistics from myriad perspectives focusing on its form and function in talk (see Holt, 2009).  This dissertation demonstrates how two of constructed dialogue’s roles which have historically received separate treatment – as a resource for managing interpersonal relationships (e.g., Tannen, 2004) and as an evidential or “epistemic” device (e.g., Clift, 2006) – can actually work in tandem.  Examining American Protestant religious talk across a variety of institutional contexts including a journalistic interview, sermons, and Bible study, the discourse analytic approach adopted here blends insights from Interactional Sociolinguistics (Gumperz, 1982; Tannen, 1992) and epistemic discourse analysis (Heritage 2013; van Dijk 2012) in advancing our understanding of the shape and conversational ends of constructed dialogue, as well as offering a novel perspective on the construction of reasonableness in religious discourse.

This dissertation makes a key contribution to epistemic discourse analysis through its integrated vision of contextualization cues (Gumperz, 1982) and constructed dialogue as epistemic phenomena which function together.  Of the few studies of epistemics which deal with paralinguistic signaling mechanisms (e.g., Roseano et al., 2016) or represented discourse (e.g., Clift, 2006; Holt, 1996), none examine these discursive phenomena in conjunction.  I show how the presence of various contextualization cues within stretches of constructed dialogue contribute to the framing of knowledge claims as authoritative or reliable (or not).  Additionally, building on Tannen (1989), I argue that the conversational involvement which constructed dialogue engenders by enlisting listeners in the sense-making process serves as a critical epistemic resource establishing a spiritual worldview as accessible and intelligible to the modern mind.

Tuesday, December 12 at 3:00pm to 5:00pm

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, Linguistics, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Erin Esch Pereira

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