Jon Radwan, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and director of the Institute for Communication and Religion (ICR), was recently invited to give a lecture on Saint Augustine's rhetorical gift at LCC International University (LCCIU) in Klaipeda, Lithuania — a new experience for the veteran faculty member.
While Radwan has presented his work at numerous conferences around the world, this marked the first time a university sought him out and asked him to talk about his research. This invitation occurred after a Lithuanian scholar thought highly of Radwan's presentation to the Rhetoric Society of America and proposed bringing him in to speak at LCCIU. Radwan certainly appreciated the opportunity.
"It's a big honor," Radwan said, explaining that something like this "doesn't happen to me all the time. Rhetoricians usually aren't famous. We have good colleagues and we go to our conferences and we work together and applaud and ask questions, but this is a different level. This is a fellow academic asking 'Please bring your work abroad to our country and share it with people who wouldn't usually have an opportunity to hear you speak.'"
Radwan was also grateful for the chance to speak about Augustine, a figure he described as one of the most influential rhetoricians in history. As he explained in his lecture, Augustine started his professional career as a "shady law professor" who taught how to use persuasive techniques to manipulate others. But after slowly realizing the heretical religion he practiced was nothing but convoluted superstitions, he started learning from Bishop Ambrose, who introduced him to genuine eloquence growing from truth and love. This is when Augustine converted to Catholicism and completely turned his life around. Specifically, he started using his oratorical gift to draw people to God and the Church instead of pursuing power and self-interest.
As a result, Radwan said everyone can learn from Augustine's example — even millennia after his death.
"One of Augustine's main lessons is forgiveness," Radwan said. "Augustine was a pretty bad guy in the early phase of his life. As a communication professor, he said he was the 'chair of the lie department.' But he made a turn. He saw the light, felt God's love, responded to it and went on to do good work. So the lesson is no matter how low you are, if you take some responsibility and confess and try to turn with God and turn with neighbor, you can be forgiven."
Plenty of people heard this message during Radwan's visit. In addition to students, LCCIU's entire theology faculty attended the lecture, which he admitted was a bit nerve-wracking. After all, he pointed out, he is used to presenting research to communication scholars — not religious experts. But Radwan said everyone was very welcoming, and they asked many insightful questions following his talk. Overall, he was pleased with how the event turned out and would be willing to speak at other communication and religion-themed gatherings.
Jon Radwan, Ph.D., discussed St. Augustine's rhetoric at LLC International University.
But Radwan is not finished with Augustine yet. The saint is featured within a book chapter called "Meaningful Work and Human Flourishing: Communication Lessons from the Judeo-Christian Tradition" that Radwan co-authored with Benjamin Giffone, Ph.D., who heads LCCIU's Center for Faith and Human Flourishing. That chapter has been submitted to the Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Well-Being, and Radwan is now waiting to hear about revisions. He also recently submitted a manuscript to the Quarterly Journal of Speech and will present research on the Bhagavad Gita in August at the 2019 Academy of Management conference.
In the meantime, Radwan is continuing to expand the ICR as it enters its third year. The professor said the Institute will bring in guest speakers to discuss politics and religion in advance of the 2020 presidential election. And now that he has established a relationship with LCCIU, Radwan said he is developing a study abroad course that will enable students to explore papal rhetoric in Lithuania. This program will help students understand how religion survived Soviet oppression and include tours of a range of cathedrals and museums. It would also further the ICR's goal of ecumenical outreach — LCCIU being a Protestant university — which Radwan said is vital for any Catholic institution.
Of course, Radwan would love to incorporate Augustine in future initiatives when the opportunity arises. Though the saint's work is old, the professor stressed that it is not irrelevant.
"Every generation needs truth, and every generation needs love," Radwan said. "The ancient Roman culture was fairly corrupt, and many people would say 'So is ours.' So the same lessons that Augustine uses to deal with his culture's disdain for the truth could be used to help us figure out how to handle ours because the problems with manipulative rhetoric don't seem to be going away."
About the Institute for Communication and Religion Launched in Fall 2017, the Institute for Communication and Religion within the College of Communication and the Arts provides a nexus for ongoing scholarly exploration of communication topics critically important to religion and society. Guided by the spirit of ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, the Institute seeks to engage in public dialogue and debate, promote academic inquiry and support the religious dimension of creativity — all while upholding the values of servant leadership, curricular innovation and intellectual excellence. For more information about the ICR, visit the Institute's website or email Jon Radwan, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: Arts and Culture