Senior Research Fellow W. David Hall
"What do you hope to accomplish this year as a Martin Marty Senior Fellow, and how does the MMC look as a place to do your work?"
While at the Marty Center, I’ll be pursuing research on a book dealing with figures of speech in religious and theological discourse. This work builds on foundations that were established in past publications, particularly my last book, Paul Ricoeur and the Poetic Imperative (SUNY, 2007). My research explores the function and interaction of analogy, metaphor, hyperbole, and irony by plotting them along two axes that I label “integrative/disruptive” and “explicit/implicit.” Concerning the first axis, I suggest that tropes can function to integrate two or more ideas under a common theme (analogy, metaphor), or they may disrupt thought through tactics like overstatement (hyperbole), strategic misstatement, or the presentation of situations that frustrate expectation (irony). The first of these functions is fairly straightforward, and both analogy and metaphor have received much attention in theology. The disruptive function, however, requires a bit more explanation because there is a tendency to understand the disruptive effect of hyperbole and irony in terms of “disintegration” or deconstruction. While there is frequently a deconstructive moment in hyperbole and irony, I intend to stress that both are fundamentally constructive. The employment of hyperbole and irony is ultimately a productive rhetorical maneuver; the aim is to engender thinking, even if in a fashion that begins by disturbing and perhaps even overturning presuppositions. Concerning the second axis, I suggest that tropes can integrate or disrupt either explicitly – in essence announcing themselves (analogy/hyperbole) – or implicitly, covertly working beneath the surface of the statement and in a sense surprising or shocking the audience into a certain way of thinking about an idea or concept (metaphor/irony).
The Marty Center is an ideal venue in which to engage an interdisciplinary project like this one that employs religious studies, theology, literary theory, and rhetorical criticism. The Marty seminar meetings constitute an exchange of ideas from scholars at various levels and from various areas within the study of religion, and I very much look forward to contributing to and benefitting from them. The Divinity School has long had a focus on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religion, and the University of Chicago has continued to exercise a profound influence on developments in the study of rhetorical theory and criticism. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the structures of accountability placed upon senior fellows of the Marty Center ensure that research is productive.