Cultivating Legitimacy in a Religious Context : A Pan-Historical Analysis of Mormon Feminism
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah
Cultivating Legitimacy in a Religious Context brings to rhetoric a study of legitimacy, specifically focusing on female rhetors who pursue authority along nontraditional routes. As a case study, I consider how local histories provide texture to dominant narratives by analyzing the stories of three ex-Mormon feminist women who draw from rhetorical strategies to cultivate a position of authority for themselves inside a hierarchal, religious institution. This dissertation specifically takes a pan-historical approach to archival work by selecting rhetors who span the twentieth century and who were public leaders within their community: Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921), Sonia Johnson (1936-present), and Kate Kelly (1980-present). Through archival critical analysis, I discover that these rhetors focus on certain rhetorical canons in order to articulate their legitimacy and cultivate a position of authority for themselves.
To this point, Wells employs arrangement patterns, Johnson uses invention processes, and Kelly positions her delivery strategically to help Mormon women gain legitimacy. Although all rhetors employ the canons when composing, I argue that these rhetors draw from the canons unevenly because of the changing social context and exigency within which they find themselves—Wells argues for female suffrage in the early 1900s, Johnson for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, and Kelly for female ordination during the 2010s. By emphasizing certain rhetorical canons over others, these women intervene in the advocacy discourse and thereby shape how others after them similarly develop their authority. By examining women’s appeals to legitimacy, this project influences the interpretive and theoretical structures in multiple disciplines including the studies of feminism, rhetorical history, and religion.