theology, book review, William Fitzgerald


Spiritual Modalities is arguably the first major work to take up the high theoretical questions of rhetoric and religion since Burke's Rhetoric of Religion published more than half a century ago. While a number of other studies deal with the relationship between religious discourse and other phenomena, such as politics, social movements, or particular rhetors and periods, Spiritual Modalities makes a strong claim to understand the primeval stuff of prayer's varied and complex discourses. As Burke writes: "we are to be concerned not directly with religion, but with the terminology of religion" (vi). So Fitzgerald is not concerned with prayer as an efficacious means to access God, but with prayer as a discourse with motives grounded in human experience. Fitzgerald's contribution deserves praise, then, by virtue of its very manifestation in our literature, for it engages broadly and deeply the discourses of prayer in their complexity, situatedness, diversity, and embodiment. In order to cover this broad ground, Fitzgerald employs Burke's pentad, which is an appropriate choice because it provides a natural vocabulary for the various and compelling motives that undergird the discourses of prayer. Fitzgerald focuses primarily on three of the pentadic elements: scene, act, and, the belated sixth, attitude. Prayer, Fitzgerald affirms, is a fusion of "distinct, though interrelated, elements of discursive performance expressible as a 'scene of address,' an 'act of invocation,' and an 'attitude of reverence'" (7). These three essential elements then serve to guide the overall structure of the book.

Original Publication Citation

Crosby, Richard Benjamin. Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William Fitzgerald. Invited book review for the Kenneth Burke Journal 11.2 (Spring 2016)

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Kenneth Burke Journal







University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor