Arnaud Vincent will be defending his PhD dissertation on Thursday 2 October 2014 - 2.30 p.m. - in the Salle du Conseil of the Faculty of Philosophy, arts and letters (UCL, Belgium).
The PhD is entitled: "A corpus linguistics approach to the rhetorical God Gap in US presidential campaigns".
Conventional wisdom describes the God gap as the positive relationship between high religiosity and voting preferences towards the Republican Party. Some evidence has been gathered as to how religion influences voting behavior. Yet many aspects remain blurry and call for more evidence. The God gap is often linked to two premises:
A. The Republicans have played the religious card with more intensity and skill than the Democrats;
B. Religious rhetoric matters, notably because it can influence voting choices and appeals to influential religious groups.
Whether or not playing on religious messages impacts on voting behavior remains unclear, notably because much of the literature around presidential rhetoric is pervaded by an endemic lack of evidence. Yet premise A poses another urgent question as to the very existence of a rhetorical God gap between – or even within – the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. No matter how much of a truism the rhetorical God gap seems to be, no study gathers thorough evidence around a rhetorical God gap in presidential campaigns.
The main purpose of my project is to compensate for this lack of evidence by tracking down – mainly by means of corpus linguistics techniques – actual traces of this hypothetical rhetorical God gap, should it materialize across party lines or across time. This multidimensional approach implies that the meaning of the rhetorical God gap is bereft of any preconceived assumption as to which side of the religious-cum-political spectrum employs religious rhetoric the most saliently. The differences in the religious rhetoric employed during the 1952 - 2008 presidential campaigns will be searched after in all directions possible. In the same line of thought, I will not limit my methodology to a top-down corpus-based approach but will instead start from a bottom-up corpus-driven approach so that my research is guided by the data as much as it is guided by my own intuition as to where the rhetorical God gap is expected to materialize.
Through a combination of quantitative, qualitative, macroscopic, microscopic, diachronic and synchronic analyses, this study will unearth a variety of patterns of religiously laden language, ranging from enduring patterns to evolving ones, from patterns overlapping the traditional time and party lines to party-specific, time-specific or still hypothetical audience-specific features, from genre-specific patterns to candidate-specific patterns, and from idiosyncratic features to cumulative wholes. All in all, the picture returned in this study eventually comes out as a patchwork made of different types of political-religious language. Although still incomplete, there is no doubting the fact that the picture returned by this study is not as simplistic as the one suggested by the premise that this research has sought to address, and which narrowly depicts a fairly recent rhetorical gap separating an all religious GOP from a religiously voiceless Democratic Party. One of the conclusions we can certainly draw from this study is therefore that of a picture which is far more complex than the all black and white version still pervading much of the conventional understanding of religion and politics in America.
Supervisor: Prof. Fanny MEUNIER (UCL)
External member of the jury: Prof. Tony MCENERY (Lancaster University, U.K.)
Members of the jury: Prof. Marc LITS (UCL), Prof. Min REUCHAMPS (UCL), prof John DICK (Universiteit Gent) and President of the jury: Prof. Henri Bouillon (UCL)