In “Hearing Modernity”, Charles Hirschkind analyzes the religious sermon in Egypt. One specific focus of Hirschkind’s writing is the impact of Egyptian nationalism on the sermon. According to Herschkind, “A key aspect of this impact involved the gradual introduction of new notions of agency, authority, and responsibility into practices of pious audition” (131). Herschkind argues that the intrusions of the Egyptian government mentioned in the above quote changed the sermon’s rhetorical strategy.
In order to show the change that occurred in the Muslim sermon in Egypt due to nationalism, Hirschkind shows the reader how rhetoric was originally intended to be used in the Islamic faith. According to Muslim scholars, rhetoric is a tool used by the listener rather than the speaker. Hirschkind writes that “the civic function of speech” was not a concern for the the Islamic preachers known as khutaba (133). In other words, orators did not focus on moving a crowd towards a particular viewpoint. Instead, emphasis was placed on the listener. Since the sermons imparted messages from the Quran, it was the listeners job to open his/her heart to the revealed words of God, and no act of persuasion could embellish the beauty and truth of these divine passages by using rhetoric (Hirschkind, 134).
Hirschkind contrasts the Islamic concept rhetoric with its western counterpart. Western speakers use rhetoric strictly as tool for persuasion. The classic Greek orator, Augustine, argued that “no intrinsic connection exists between the eloquence of statements and their veracity,” which means that it is the orator’s job to use rhetoric to connect moral truth to their speeches (Herschkind, 137). Muslim orators would disagree and highlight the “fundamental unity of the aesthetic and the true,” or that the eloquence of statements is connected to veracity (Herschkind, 137). Furthermore, it is the listeners job to use rhetoric to get something out of the speech (Herschkind, 135). Rhetoric means two different things for Muslim speakers and western speakers.
When the Egyptian government began to influence the sermon, the use of rhetoric changed to resemble its western definition. The nationalist movement used the sermon as a tool for spreading propaganda. Herschkind writes that the sermon began to be used as “a device for the production of modem attitudes, desires, and modes of self identification” (143). Thus, rhetoric was no longer used by the listener, but rather by the preacher, who now used rhetoric as a tool to advance the needs of the Egyptian government. Herschkind effectively develops our understanding of rhetoric so that he can display the shift that occurred in its application in Egyptian sermons.
This article made me think of They Say I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein. Graff and Birkstein emphasize the importance of outlining important assumptions the audience may have about a particular subject, and pointing out the significance of the information that is given. Herschkind does just this in his article. He contrasts the well known, western view of rhetoric with the Islamic view in order to highlight his western audience’s assumptions about what rhetoric is. Furthermore, this contrast elucidates his claim that the Egyptian government shifted the use of rhetoric in religious sermons to suit their needs.
Here is the link to Herschkind’s work: http://moodle.davidson.edu/moodle2/pluginfile.php/190134/mod_resource/content/1/Hirschkind%2C%20Hearing%20Modernity.pdf