Tropes and Topoi of Anti-Intellectualism in the Discourse of the Christian Right
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Christianity is not anti-intellectual; however, there is a distinct quality of anti-intellectualism in the rhetoric of the Christian Right. This thesis explores the ways in which rhetors in the Christian Right encourage anti-intellectual sentiment without explicitly claiming to be against intellectualism. I argue that the Christian Right makes these anti-intellectual arguments by invoking the tropes and topoi of populism, anti-evolution, and common sense. I analyze how Pat Robertson, as a representative of the Christian Right, used the stock argument, or topos, of populism in his 1986 speech, in which he announced his intention to run for President. I argue that while Robertson used the generic argumentative framework of populism, which is "anti-elitist," he shifted the meaning of the word "elitist" from a wealthy person to an intellectual person. This formed a trope, or turn in argument. Next, I consider the Christian Right's argument against the teaching of evolution. I analyze William J. Bryan's argument in the Scopes Trial, a defining moment in the creation-evolution debate. I show that Bryan used the topos of creationism, which included the loci of quality and order, to condemn the teaching of evolution, arguing that it would be better to not have education at all than for students to be taught something that contradicts the Bible. Finally, I consider how both Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin used the topos of common sense. Reagan used this topos to create a metaphorical narrative that was to be accepted as reality, or common sense. Sarah Palin, then, used the common sense narrative that Reagan had created to support her views. By calling her ideas "common sense" and frequently referencing Reagan, her rhetoric gives the illusion that good governing is simple, thus removing the space for an intellectual in public life.
William J. Bryan
Carney, Zoe L. (2010). Tropes and Topoi of Anti-Intellectualism in the Discourse of the Christian Right. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from