Power & persuasion: constructing identity in religious communications
Nairn, AM; Nelson, FM; Johnson, RJK
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According to Geertz (2002, p. 19), religion is “a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long lasting moods and motivations” and provides adherents with a means for understanding the world. The qualities of religion mean that church communications acquire some power in forming the identities of members. In the case of immigrants, the church of the homeland is even more powerful in forming identity, because it not only functions as a repository of tradition, but also as a source of community and aid when acculturating to a ‘new’ land (Cadge & Ecklund, 2007; Ng, 2002; Peek, 2005; Yang, 1999; Vertovec, 2000). For members of the Greek Orthodox diaspora, the Church is presented as a way to be Greek by being Orthodox, which inevitably limits member expression of the self in relation to religious and ethnic identities. The purpose of this paper was to explore how a diasporic Greek Orthodox Church used its communications to establish and maintain relations of power and construct member identity. Accordingly, we applied Cheney’s (1983) rhetorical identification typology to bulletins emailed to the church congregation. At its core Cheney’s (1983) rhetorical identification typology is comprised of four strategies; the common ground technique, identification through antithesis, the ‘transcendent we’ and unifying symbols. In unearthing the presence of some of these strategies, we found that the communications may potentially assist this diaspora group in negotiating their religious and ethnic identities, but they are forced to do so within the confines of the meta-discourses of the church hierarchies they left behind. Therefore, it is not unexpected that the messages of the Greek Orthodox Church advocated participation in the church as a way of preserving members’ ‘Greek ness’, and it may be equally unsurprising that the rhetor disseminated these ideas forcefully and authoritatively despite having no certain knowledge of how the audience would receive and respond to such a strong tone.