Inks:The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, vol. 4, no. 1, Spring 2020, pp. 44–65.
Abstract:Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir centering on her family’s experience with war in Vietnam and with resettlement in the United States,earned critical acclaim upon publication in 2017. It touched a nerve with U.S. readers attuned to their country’s rising xenophobia, eliciting praise for humanizing refugees. Her comic certainly stirs compassion with its fusion of emotive drawings and text—but it does more. Bui subtly encourages readers to not only see refugees as human but to realize that no polity exists apart from migrancy. Situating her book in recent postcolonial theory, I read it as a commentary on the shifting nature of history and nation. Bui presents no singular homeland, past or present, implicitly calling into question Americans’ desire for a walled nation and bounded culture.
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Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 30, no. 1–2, 2020, pp. 19–44.
Abstract: Scholars have wrestled with the question of how people can be persuaded to extend feelings of kinship beyond their own ethnic or national groups. This article identifies spiritual cosmopolitanism, whose principles of universal love and harmony can be found in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, as key to such borderless solidarity. Drawing on data gathered from interviews with Iranian refugees who have settled in the United States, the article demonstrates how cosmopolitan principles shape the worldviews of Bahá’ís. Through this case study, spiritual cosmopolitanism’s potential to enrich public arguments for the inclusion of Others such as immigrants becomes apparent.
Reframing Immigration through Religious Advocacy: Rhetoric, Cosmopolitanism, and the Divine. 2020. Penn State U, PhD dissertation.
In the United States, nativist rhetoric is propelling increasingly violent attacks on immigrants and other minority populations. Conversely, discourse taking a more cosmopolitan approach—positing border-transcending obligations to all humanity, unlimited by national or ethnic group—struggles to elicit a comparably passionate following, as I explain in the introduction (chapter one). Perhaps cosmopolitan rhetoric can gain persuasive power by joining forces with religion. In the realm of faith-based immigration advocacy, cosmopolitan arguments leverage appeals to divine, rather than merely manmade, imperatives toward love and fellowship. For many potential audiences in this country, the divine plays a potent role in their lives, as over 75% of Americans belong to a religion—a statistic that suggests the influence of religious rhetoric. What resources can religious rhetoric provide to pro-immigrant arguments? By responding to this question, my project addresses a gap in studies of immigration rhetoric, which have hitherto overlooked the border-crossing potential of religious advocacy. The project also addresses a gap in studies of religious rhetoric, which have predominantly focused on Protestant Christianity, by drawing attention to the contributions of rhetors adhering to other religions.
Every world religion offers some cosmopolitan principles, and many also feature sacred stories of migration, as chapter two demonstrates. To elucidate how these elements invigorate arguments for hospitality toward immigrants, I analyze the rhetoric of Bahá’í, Catholic, and Islamic advocacy organizations through the lens of religious cosmopolitanism (a theory that chapter two elucidates). In each organization’s advocacy, I find a model for reframing immigration rhetoric. In chapter three, I demonstrate how the Tahirih Justice Center uses the Bahá’í principle of nonpartisanship to enlist support across the aisles for its work on behalf of immigrant women. In chapter four, I survey the Kino Border Initiative’s rhetoric of journeying, which draws from Catholic traditions to spiritualize undocumented migration. Chapter five presents Hijabis of New York, a social media campaign that claims public space for a much-maligned immigrant group, U.S. Muslim women.
All three of these organizations mobilize religious tenets that mandate universal justice and compassion. Through their arguments for border-transcending policies and dispositions, these organizations reframe the commonplaces of immigration, replacing the xenophobia that dominates discourse today with recognition of migrants’ humanity and spirituality. This dissertation’s discovery of innovative strategies in cosmopolitan rhetoric has several implications for research and teaching, as I point out in the conclusion (chapter six). In the arena of rhetorical research, my project shows that religion can contribute to arguments that we should welcome them—or, more radically, that there is no them, just a global us. It also implies the need for much more research in cosmopolitan theory even—and especially—in the face of rising xenophobia. The project also offers some practical takeaways for pedagogy, recommending anti-nativist teaching strategies. Overall, by bringing to light advocacy rhetorics that refuse to operate on nativism’s terms, it offers the reader hope for humane responses to those who have come across borders.
Journal of Communication and Religion, vol. 42, no. 4, 2019, pp. 5–27.
Abstract: During her brief life in the early nineteenth century, the Persian poet and theologian Táhirih advocated for a spiritual revolution. Authorities executed her for heresy in 1852. After death, Táhirih attracted admirers around the world; Western writers—especially women—have interpreted her history to argue for gender equality, religious renewal, and global interdependence. This Middle Eastern preacher has established a posthumous pulpit in the United States, as members of the Bahá’í Faith there have authored a dozen books about her. After introducing Táhirih’s rhetorical rebellions, this essay demonstrates her transnational influence by analyzing her afterlives in U.S. Bahá’í discourse.
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Rhetoric Review, vol. 38, no. 4, 2019, pp. 445-462
Abstract: Nativist ideology, which dominates public discourse, implements ableist hierarchies to reduce immigrants to diseases of the body politic. Immigrants’ graphic narratives, on the other hand, reveal the disabling effects of xenophobic environments. Rhetoricians have begun to recognize comics’ persuasive potential but thus far have not explored their role in immigration rhetoric. Using this medium’s affordances, immigrants critique the nativism-ableism matrix, as exemplified by Parsua Bashi’s comics memoir about immigrating to Switzerland from Iran, Nylon Road (2006/2009). Bashi’s self-worth, displaced by her unreceptive context, depends on accepting a mental (dis)ability. Her comic counters nativism’s eugenic underpinnings by visualizing variation.
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Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition, vol. 21, no. 1, 2018, pp. 132-157.
Abstract: This article introduces Martha L. Root’s cosmopolitan rhetoric, which exemplifies how women speaking from (religious) margins interpret traditions to create calls for social change. In lectures delivered between the world wars, Root argued for “cosmic education,” a global peacemaking program promoting openness and civic service in learners, which she distilled from precepts of the Bahá’í Faith. Root implored every listener, from her US co-nationals to audiences worldwide, to evangelize peace. Her rhetoric of unity harnessed principle with practice to animate the cycle of cosmic education, a cycle she modeled by inventing transnational sisterhood with the 19th-century Persian poet Táhirih Qurratu’l-Ayn.
Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 28, no. 1–2, 2018, pp. 7–31.
Abstract: The discipleship of the young American Laura Clifford Barney to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the early 1900s resulted in a flow of spiritual teachings from East to West. After several years of intense engagement with her teacher in Palestine, Barney sought to disseminate in her Western homelands what she had learned. Her private and public writings demonstrate how she employed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings in her efforts to influence social discourse by promoting the Bahá’í Faith in Europe and the United States. Examining these teachings and Barney’s applications thereof in her rhetoric allows us to witness how a transnational channel of theological knowledge developed.
Constitutive Visions: Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador (Review), Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 103, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 186-190.
Christa J. Olson’s first book provides a model for rhetoricians who, like her, wish to transcend disciplinary divisions and the geographic scope of their homelands to study the rhetorics of other lands through an array of artifacts. In Constitutive Visions, Olson ambitiously intervenes in two significant projects: first, to “demonstrate the powerful roles played by resilient commonplaces in the constitution of national identity,” and second, to “emphasize the particular force that elements of visual culture lend to the constitutions of strong identifications” (24). That is, she exposes the processes through which rhetors compose a national identity for their country.