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Abstract

This dissertation brings together ethics and rhetorical theory to outline a model for activism and argumentation inspired by the tradition of nonviolent direct action. All too often, communicators subvert their own persuasive efforts by speaking in ways that increase defensiveness, alienating rather than convincing their audiences. The means we use to achieve social change have an expressive dimension, and often how one communicates influences what messages one actually sends to audiences. This dissertation outlines an approach to persuasion in which critics expose illusions to help audiences resolve cognitive dissonance. Applying this analysis, the final chapter argues that Christianity entails a rejection of “us versus them” thinking; hence, the Christian gospel demands to be expressed in ways that facilitate reconciliation between groups, between individuals, and between conflicting voices within an individual’s psyche. The normative shape of Christian witness—even in prophetic protest—is always “good news,” and this form of communication is both more peaceable and more persuasive than antagonistic discourse.

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