Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses

Manipulative rhetoric in 17th and 18th century sermons: aporia, the borders of reason

Cristina Garrigós González



It is my aim in this paper to explore the role of aporia as a rhetorical instrument that is used in religious sermons in order to manipulate the audience and try to convince them of a truth derived from the textual evidence of the Bible. In this context, aporia appears as a rhetorical figure by which the speaker expresses to be in doubt about a question, or presents an insoluble paradox or contradiction in the text’s meaning. I believe that the function of aporia in religious sermons has never been analysed as yet. To that extent, I will illustrate my thesis with three examples by John Donne, Jonathan Edwards and Laurence Sterne, three preachers who, faced with an insurmountable border – the necessity of explaining rationally the ineffable – recur to aporia in their discourses. It is my contention that the three sermons that I will discuss here exemplify what Derrida called the “plural logic of aporia” and show different ways in which the ministers can manipulate their audience to make them reach a certain truth, by convincing them of the impossibility to have access to that truth by themselves, therefore relying on the final authority of the Bible.


Religious sermons; Rhetorical manipulation; Persuasion; Aporia; 17th-18th centuries


Copyright (c) 2009 Cristina Garrigós González

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