Voicing Belief: Constructed Dialogue and Epistemics in Religious Discourse
Wuthnow (2012) notes that in the modern West, “talk about the supernatural is problematic and thus requires construction in ways that reinforce its reasonableness” (296). Thus, many religious communities sense constant pressure from within and without to conform their accounts of their beliefs to the standards of what van Dijk (2012) calls the surrounding “epistemic community.” The current study examines the role of reported speech, or what Tannen (2007) more accurately terms “constructed dialogue” in establishing the reasonableness of faith.Constructed dialogue constitutes a ubiquitous feature of everyday conversation and has attracted attention within linguistics from myriad perspectives focusing on its forms and functions in talk (see Holt, 2009). This study demonstrates how two of constructed dialogue’s roles which have historically received separate treatment – as a resource for managing interpersonal relationships (e.g., Tannen, 2004) and as an evidential or “epistemic” device (e.g., Clift, 2006) – can actually work in tandem. Examining American Protestant religious talk across a variety of institutional contexts including a journalistic interview, sermons, and Bible study, the discourse analytic approach adopted here blends insights from Interactional Sociolinguistics (Gumperz, 1982; Tannen, 1992) and epistemic discourse analysis (Heritage, 2013) in advancing our understanding of the shape and conversational ends of constructed dialogue, as well as offering a novel perspective on the construction of reasonableness in religious discourse.This study makes a key contribution to epistemic discourse analysis through its integrated vision of contextualization cues (Gumperz, 1982) and constructed dialogue as epistemic phenomena which function in tandem. Of the few studies of epistemics which deal with paralinguistic signaling mechanisms (e.g., Roseano et al., 2016) or represented discourse (e.g., Clift, 2006; Holt, 1996), none examine these discursive phenomena together. I show how the presence of various contextualization cues within stretches of constructed dialogue contribute to the framing of knowledge claims as authoritative or reliable (or not). Additionally, building on Tannen (2007), I argue that what she calls “conversational involvement,” which constructed dialogue engenders by enlisting listeners in the sense-making process, serves as a critical epistemic resource establishing a spiritual worldview as accessible and intelligible to the modern mind.
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