Research




I study the intersection of rhetoric, race, and religion. Grounded in an interdisciplinary understanding of scholarship, I study African American public address and rhetorical criticism, prophetic rhetoric, and rhetorical theology along with political rhetoric, homiletics, critical race theory, and religious and hip-hop studies. It finds a home in both the historical and contemporary. While I have an eclectic research agenda, I primarily focus on the areas below.  To download articles and book chapters, click here.




HENRY MCNEAL TURNER

My primary research centers on the rhetorical career of African Methodist Episcopal Bishop HenryMcNeal Turner (1834-1915). I have devoted my academic career to unearthing and researching texts, speeches, letters, and other writings from Turner. I see my work on Turner as a reclamation project—drawing from the tools of rhetorical criticism, history, religious and African American studies to (re) introduce this vital figure to academic and contemporary audiences. I also see this as a significant addition to the field of African American Public Address, filling a void in the study of African American Public Address in the mid-to-late 19th century. The historiographer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Teresa Fry Brown calls me the “definitive scholar on the works of Henry McNeal Turner.”

PUBLISHED WORKS ON HENRY McNEAL TURNER

BOOKS:

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition. Lexington Books. (2012) *2013 Winner of the African American Communication and Culture Division Top Book Award

EDITED COLLECTIONS:



JOURNAL ARTICLES:


“God is a Negro”: The (Rhetorical) Black Theology of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Black Theology Journal. Vol 13 Issue 1. (April 2015) 29-40

BOOK CHAPTERS:

Fighting the Devil with Fire: The Political Career of Henry McNeal Turner. The Handbook of Research on Black Males: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Multidisciplinary. Theodore S. Ransaw, C. P. Gause, and Richard Majors (eds). Michigan State Press. 2019 27-44

“Is the Negro Like Other People: Race, Religion and the Didactic Oratory of Henry McNeal Turner” in Converging Identities: Blackness in the Modern African Diaspora, Julius Adekunle (ed). Carolina Academic Press, 2013

DIGITAL HUMANITIES PROJECT: 

In addition to my published, forthcoming, and future works on Turner, examining the rhetoric of Turner has led me to create the Henry McNeal Turner Project—a Digital Humanities project devoted to the collection of the writings of Turner. I am doing this work with the help of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Memphis. Currently, we have uploaded texts from 1859-1900. 



PROPHETIC RHETORIC

Studying Turner as a prophetic figure lead me to further study the field of prophetic rhetoric. First, I noticed that while many scholars wrote about prophetic rhetoric, no one defined prophetic rhetoric. Second, much of the prophetic rhetoric examined in our field centered primarily on two sub-genres—apocalyptic and jeremiad. Since then, through my work on Turner, I have 1) crafted a working definition of prophetic rhetoric and 2) offered other sub-genres of prophetic rhetoric. I discovered not all prophetic discourse fit neatly into apocalyptic or jeremiadic rhetoric. Within the African American prophetic tradition, I argued there were at least four other sub-genres of prophetic discourse—celebratory prophecy, disputation/refutation prophecy, pragmatic prophecy, and pessimistic prophecy.

Moreover, my definition of prophetic rhetoric—as discourse grounded in the sacred, rooted in a community experience that offers a critique of existing communities and traditions by charging and challenging society to live up to the ideals they espoused while providing celebration, encouragement, and hope for a brighter future—yielded another contribution. This definition explicated a rhetorical structure that critics can use in rhetorical criticism. To demonstrate if a text is an example of prophetic rhetoric, first speakers must ground their rhetoric in what the speaker and the audience deem as sacred. Second, there is an element of consciousness-raising through a sharing or an announcement of the real situation. Third, there is a charge, challenge, critique, judgment, or warning to the audience(s) and finally, there is the offer of encouragement and hope. 


PUBLISHED WORKS on PROPHETIC RHETORIC 

JOURNAL ARTICLES:

(with Anthony J. Stone) “The Most Dangerous Negro in America”: Rhetoric, Race and the Prophetic Pessimism of Martin Luther King Jr. Journal of Communication and Religion. Vol. 41 No. 1 2018 (p. 8-22).

“The Prophetic Persona of James Cone and the Rhetorical Construction of Black Theology.” Black Theology Journal 8.3 (2010) 266-285 *Top Article Award from the Religious Communication Association in 2011

“To Make the World So Damn Uncomfortable”: W.E.B. Du Bois and the African American Prophetic Tradition. Carolinas Communication Annual 32 (2016): 16-29.

Will We Have Ears to Hear: The African American Prophetic Tradition in the Age of Obama. The African American Pulpit. (Spring 2010) 10-14


RELIGIOUS COMMUNICATION and RHETORIC

My work on prophetic rhetoric led to the study of religious communication; in particular, new work in rhetorical theology. The way that I define it is that rhetorical theology maintains that all theology is at its core argument. It invariably leads the critic to ask, “What rhetorical strategies and personas did the theologian use to produce the document?” and “How did the critic invite the audience to participate in the theological position that the speaker offered?” These and other questions frame the discussion of rhetorical theology.

PUBLISHED WORKS:



(with Earle J. Fisher). “But, I Forgive You”: Mother Emanuel, Black Pain and the Rhetoric of Forgiveness. Journal of Communication and Religion. Vol. 42 No. 1. 2019

“God is a Negro”: The (Rhetorical) Black Theology of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Black Theology Journal. Vol 13 Issue 1. (April 2015) 29-40

“Avoiding Phony Religiosity”: The Rhetorical Theology of Obama’s 2012 National Prayer Breakfast Address. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric Vol. 2, Issue 2 (May 2012) 44-53


CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARSHIP

While much of my research is historical, my research is also contemporary. I study hip hop, presidential rhetoric, and social movement discourse; particularly Black Lives Matter. 

PUBLISHED WORKS

Hip Hop Studies

BOOKS


Presidential Rhetoric

JOURNALS

“The Scold of Black America”: Obama, Race, and the African American Audience.” Howard Journal of Communications. Vol 28, No 2. (2017)

“You Go Out and Make Me Do It”: The Bully Pulpit and the Articulation of Black  Pain Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric. Vol 5. Issue:3/4 (2015) 

“Avoiding Phony Religiosity”: The Rhetorical Theology of Obama’s 2012 National Prayer Breakfast Address. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric Vol. 2, Issue 2 (May 2012) 44-53

BOOK CHAPTERS

(with Dianna Watkins-Dickerson) “Fighting to be Heard: Shirley Chisholm and the Makings of a Womanist Rhetorical Framework” in Gender, Race, and Social Identity in American Politics edited by Lori L. Montalbano. Lexington Books. 2019, 155-168

What Do You Have to Lose”: Donald Trump, Religious Freedom, and the African American Vote.” The Rhetoric of Religious Freedom in the United States. Eric Miller (ed) Lexington Books, 2017. 183-200.

Social Movements/Black Lives Matter

BOOKS

(with Amanda Nell Edgar). The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Lexington Books, 2018

JOURNAL ARTICLES

Dislocations and Shutdowns: MLK, BLM and the Rhetoric of Confrontation. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric Vol. 8 No. 3, 2018

Teaching in Ferguson: A Rhetorical Autoethnography from a Teacher/Activist. Southern Communication Journal. Vol. 81 No. 4. (2016) 267-269.

Understanding the Rhetoric(s) of Race. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric. Vol. 5 Issue 3/4 (2015)