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Curry Kennedy

by Betsy VanNoy Sep 11, 2019
Curry Kennedy

Rock Ethics Institute Graduate Fellow

PhD Candidate, English


Curry Kennedy is a PhD candidate at Penn State’s English department, where he studies the long, fraught, and fascinating relationship between rhetoric and religion. At the heart of his work is the question of how texts, rhetorical training, ethical maturation, and religious transformation come together. In the past, these interests have led him to interact with the prayerful rhetoric of Augustine of Hippo, the prophetic rhetoric of Vibia Perpetua, the sermonic rhetoric of John Milton, and the theological stylistics of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In keeping with this trajectory, for his dissertation, he has turned his attention to the minds and movements of the English reformation.


Dissertation: “Rhetorical Education and Religious Practice in Early Modern England”

Project Description: Kennedy’s dissertation project asks how humanist educational reforms and reformation religious practices interanimated one another between the opening of John Colet’s grammar school at St. Paul’s in 1509 and the end of the English Civil War in 1660. Adopting a “cradle-to-grave” organizational scheme, he tracks how religious texts, rituals, and ideas permeated and punctuated the lifespan of early modern writers as they progressed through petty school, grammar school, university, and adult education. Each chapter focuses on a different text or species of text—catechisms, the first edition of Erasmus of Rotterdam’s De copia, John Rainolds’s Oxford lectures on rhetoric, and Puritan “arts of listening”—and reconstructs, through archival analysis, how students and auditors got bound up with these teaching technologies, so that their ability to discern what was wise and do what was good came to full bloom—or didn’t. Crucial to these texts’ ability to foster growth in their auditors were their connections to various religious rituals and practices, such as confirmation and Lord’s day liturgies, which were hotly contested in a volatile, reformational milieu. Ultimately, Kennedy shows that religion is an indispensable backdrop to the study of rhetoric in this place and period.