God Talk

The Problem of Divine-Human Communication

by Mark Ward Sr. (Volume editor)
©2023 Textbook XXII, 192 Pages


God Talk: The Problem of Divine-Human Communication is a landmark publication, the first book to address the problem from the perspective of communication studies. In ten thought-provoking essays, communication scholars confront the "God Problem" by describing diverse approaches they have used in field research to study groups that claim to hear God while also balancing respect for informants’ claims with their own personal beliefs.
The intelligence of this exceptional book is a perfect ten. The theoretical depth of every chapter reflects research brilliance. The authors’ clarity with ideas, ancient and contemporary, is knowledge production at its substantive best.
—Clifford G. Christians, Research Professor of Communications Emeritus, University of Illinois
Whether your interests include communication theory, rhetorical criticism, ethnography, or theology, regardless of your faith tradition—or absence of a faith tradition—it is a stimulating read. I highly recommend it.
—Steven A. Beebe, Regents’ and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Texas State University; Past President, National Communication Association
As a religious communication scholar who also identifies as a theist-scholar, I found every chapter empowering, as they encourage the field to reconsider its positionality towards an area of scholarship that attempts to "measure the immeasurable." This book is a must!
—Tina M. Harris, Professor, Endowed Chair of Race, Media, and Cultural Literacy, Louisiana State University
God Talk: The Problem of Divine-Human Communication is a timely contribution to religious communication and communication studies. The authors examine the absence of God in communication theory and in engagement with others. I highly recommend this relevant work.
—Ronald C. Arnett, Professor Emeritus, Duquesne University
A much-needed contribution to the growing body of research at the intersection of communication and religion, this scholarly volume gathers work from established and emerging scholars to address a long-standing issue in the field of religious communication: the conundrum of divine-human communication. —Janie M. H. Fritz, Duquesne University; Executive Director, Religious Communication Association

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction: “A Possible Relationship between Belief and Knowledge” (Mark Ward Sr.)
  • Chapter One: The “God-Problem” in Communication Studies (Quentin J. Schultze)
  • Chapter Two: Let Them Take the Lead: A Holistic, Culture-Centered Approach to Divine-Human Communication (Lakelyn E. Taylor)
  • Chapter Three: The Politics of Knowledge Production: Situating the “God Problem” in the Context of Decolonization (Elaine Schnabel)
  • Chapter Four: Religion and Spirituality in Communication Research: Moving Toward a Sociocultural Identity Framework (Arielle Leonard Hodges)
  • Chapter Five: The Researcher as Translator: Locating the God Problem in Researcher Identity (Christine J. Gardner)
  • Chapter Six: “Silence is the Communication Behavior of God”: Contemplation and Collaborative Autoethnography (Kathleen D. Clark)
  • Chapter Seven: The “Still Small Voice”: A Phenomenological Approach to Divine Communication (Joshua D. Hill)
  • Chapter Eight: Toward a Theory of Divine Communication? Prospects and Problems (Mark Ward Sr.)
  • Chapter Nine: Who Owns the God Problem? A Reader Response Solution (Edward Lee Lamoureux)
  • Chapter Ten: Reconsidering the “God-Problem” in Communication Studies (Quentin J. Schultze)

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List of Contributors

Kathleen D. Clark (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is a professor in the School of Communication at the University of Akron. She explores spirituality and communication through research on contemplative communication in Christian traditions and is a practicing spiritual director. Her research interests also include intercultural and interracial communication, and her work has been published in the Journal of Communication and Religion, Journal of Intercultural Communication, Communication Quarterly, and Iowa Journal of Communication.

Christine J. Gardner (Ph.D., Northwestern University) is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication Arts, Theatre, and Art at Gordon College. She previously held faculty positions at Wheaton College, Willamette University, and the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Her research explores the intersection of rhetoric and cultural sociology with a focus on gender, sexuality, religion, and social movements. In 2012, she received the Stephen E. Lucas Debut Publication Award from the National Communication Association for her book, Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns. Her work has been published in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Christian Scholar’s Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Christianity Today.←ix | x→

Joshua D. Hill (Ph.D., Duquesne University) is an associate professor of communication and composition at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. In 2017, he received the Dissertation of the Year Award from the Religious Communication Association for his research on Augustinian rhetorical and hermeneutical theory and the current crisis in evangelical Christian hermeneutics. His research interests focus on rhetoric as a means for religious communities to better understand themselves and their communication, and he has published essays on the works of Paul Ricoeur, Kenneth Burke, and C. S. Lewis.

Arielle Leonard Hodges is a Ph.D. student at the Chapman University School of Communication and has served as an adjunct instructor at multiple California colleges and universities. Her research interests lie at the intersection of interpersonal and health communication, especially how identity concerns such as religion, mental health, and sociocultural group membership shape romantic relationship development. In particular, she has researched cross-sex relationships and identity gaps in evangelical Protestant same-faith dating relationships. Her research and teaching are informed by a commitment to promoting holistic wellbeing through the inextricable links between physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

Edward Lee Lamoureux (Ph.D., University of Oregon) is a professor of interactive media and communication at Bradley University. His research interests include ethnographic field research, rhetoric, religious communication, conversation, teaching and learning in virtual worlds, and non-linear writing. He has published books on intellectual property law and on privacy and surveillance, as well as numerous articles and reviews on rhetoric and communication. Formerly, he served two terms as editor of the Journal of Communication and Religion.

Elaine Schnabel is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on how power operates at the intersection of communication and religion, specifically how the storying of Christian organizations in the United States impacts identity, community, and spirituality. Her current work examines practices of place-making in American churches, what it means for a space to be labeled a church, and what effects such places have on the broader American sociopolitical landscape. She holds master’s degrees in organizational rhetoric from Purdue University and in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Quentin J. Schultze (Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urbana) is a professor emeritus of communication at Calvin University. His many books include Televangelism and American Culture, Christianity and the Mass Media in America, Habits of the ←x | xi→High-Teach Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age, and Communicating for Life. Following a 40-year career in academe, he now devotes his time to writing, speaking, and mentoring. He has published guides to effective public speaking, interpersonal communication, and leadership communication, and his latest volume is Communicating with Grace and Virtue. He has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Fortune, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, and other national media outlets.

Lakelyn E. Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Central Florida and graduate teaching associate in the Nicholson School of Communication and Media. She is a fellow for a National Science Foundation grant-funded project at UCF and a graduate fellow of the Christianity and Communication Studies Network. Her teaching is informed by a holistic, feminist, and critical communication pedagogy, while her research applies religion, ethics, and instruction to risk and crisis communication—all with a goal to introduce alternative ways of knowing into communication theory and understanding.

Mark Ward Sr. (Ph.D., Clemson University) is a professor of communication at the University of Houston-Victoria. His ethnographic research on popular religious communication and media has been published in more than 40 scholarly articles and essays. His seven books include the multivolume series The Electronic Church in the Digital Age, which received the Clifford G. Christians Ethics Research Award, and Introduction to Public Speaking: An Inductive Approach. He is a winner of the David R. Maines Narrative Research Award and Digital Religion Research Award and has received multiple Article of the Year awards from the Religious Communication Association. In 2022 he was named Outstanding Scholar in Communication Theory by the Southern States Communication Association and in 2018 was named his institution’s scholar of the year. Before entering academe, he was communications director and journal editor for several national nonprofit organizations. As an independent writer he has authored more than 2,000 magazine features and as a broadcaster his experience ranges from local radio announcer and deejay to national program syndication and voice talent.

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The book you hold in your hands (or see on your screen) has been more than 15 years in the making. The problem of divine-human communication has been on my mind through graduate study, field research, my first published work on the problem a decade ago and, since 2019, a series of discussion panels sponsored by the Religious Communication Association (RCA). This journey is detailed in my preface and introduction to this volume. Along the way, I have benefited from the diverse insights and steadfast support of numerous valued colleagues. My thanks start with Quentin Schultze who published “The ‘God-Problem’ in Communication Studies” the same year that I began graduate work. His now-classic essay prompted me to think and provided me with a framework on which to build. My passion to evoke a wider disciplinary conversation on the God Problem has been nurtured in no small way by his encouragement over the years. Likewise, my commitment has been stoked by the avid interest and engaged discussion that I have found among my RCA colleagues. Of course, my thanks go to the eight outstanding scholars whose contributions are presented here. Scholarly exchange is the basis of scholarly advance. And though I had worked out my own approaches to the God Problem, I have learned so much and gained such wonderful new insights from their work. Closer to home, this project owes much to the support of my institution, the University of Houston-Victoria, and to the fantastic community of fellow scholars among whom I am privileged to live and work. Finally, my thanks go most of all to my wife Donna. ←xiii | xiv→When we decided in midlife that our second act would be graduate school, an uncertain academic job market, and a probable relocation, she entered into the adventure with a whole heart. Her unwavering love, support, and encouragement (and somehow knowing just when I need a cup of coffee) are ultimately what have made it all possible.

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“God-talk” refers colloquially to religious-sounding speech, often spouted in religious cliches and bromides that sound holy but are empty of real meaning. Except that God-talk is full of meaning. Phrases that can be trotted out to fit any religious occasion reflect the basic assumptions and culture of a religious community. When for example evangelical Christians speak of “fellowshipping” with “believers” who are “saved,” and “witnessing” to “unbelievers” who are “unsaved,” they convey deep cultural assumptions about the nature of persons and their appropriate social relations.1

Members of religious communities speak in numerous ways, not only God-talk but also in prayers, sermons, testimonies, rituals, liturgies, hymns, chants—and in pamphlets, periodicals, books, broadcasts, and digital media. And just as scholars study communication in other contexts, so a growing number of scholars engage today in the academic study of communication in religious contexts. The importance of these studies is seen in the fact that religion is, together with the family and the state, one of the three culture-bearing institutions of human society.

But in studying religious communication, can the researcher—should the researcher—allow for the possibility that God (or gods, or the divine, the supernatural, the transcendent) does in fact talk and is a participant in this communication?

←xv | xvi→In a 2004 address to the annual meeting of the Religious Communication Association, Quentin Schultze explored “The ‘God-Problem’ in Communication Studies.” Later published in a now-classic 2005 essay, his statement of the God Problem continues to resonate. Schultze offered a simple syllogism: If God exists, and if God communicates with human beings, then human communication cannot be fully studied without accounting for divine communication.2 Yet the conundrum, as Schultze recognized, is the earthly fact that supernatural speech cannot, by definition, be directly observed in the natural world.

To the secularized academy of the West, this God Problem in communication studies may not seem like a problem at all. What cannot be empirically observed is irrelevant or, at least, is unknowable. Without empirical evidence, any speculation about divine-human communication exits the domain of social science and enters the realm of theology. To study the communicative effects of informants’ belief in divine agency is a legitimate field of research.3 But to claim a possible divine causation for those effects is out of bounds. True science, including social science, requires hypotheses that are capable of falsification. The hypothesis that God may have been the cause of a human communication effect is unfalsifiable.


XXII, 192
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
communication religion faith theism God ethnography fieldwork qualitative research method interpretive research God Talk The Problem of Divine-Human Communication Mark Ward Sr.
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XXII, 192 pp., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Mark Ward Sr. (Volume editor)

Mark Ward Sr. is Professor of Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria. He has authored or edited seven books, while his research on religious communication and media has been published in more than 40 scholarly articles and essays and received numerous awards.


Title: God Talk