Rhetoric, perhaps the original liberal art, is the study of public discourse in all its varieties. Whether approached as “the study of misunderstanding and its remedies,” “the art of speaking well,” “the art of speaking and listening,” or the “faculty of discovering, in any given case, the available means of persuasion,” rhetoric is an area of study that helps students prepare for a life of meaning and purpose, an active engagement of the rights and responsibilities of civic leaders. As James Boyd White put it, “As the object of art is beauty and of philosophy truth, the object of rhetoric is justice – the constitution of a social world.”

In the Rhetoric program students learn to research, compose, and critique public discourse and to do so from a wide variety of theoretical perspectives and preceptual traditions. Students take courses in public speaking, argumentation and debate, ancient and modern rhetoric, the history of oratory and public discourse, women’s voices, protest, and the rights and responsibilities of speakers. Accordingly, the study of rhetoric is excellent preparation not only for civic life but also for vocational callings in law, teaching, ministry, activism, advocacy, conflict resolution, diplomacy, and politics, as well as careers in communication, commerce, and the arts.

Rhetoric is the only program at Sewanee: The University of the South that awards Book Prizes to the outstanding student in each class. A list of past winners is available here. Students also often win regional and national awards for their scholarship, including top-scholar awards at the Theodore Clevenger Undergraduate Honors Conference, and have also published their work in prestigious national and international journals. A suggestive list can be found here. Finally, the Rhetoric Program co-sponsors, with the Center for Speaking & Listening, the annual Sewanee Public Speaking Festival. Award winners can be found here.

Offices of the Rhetoric faculty are located on the first and second floors of Gailor Hall. Faculty can also often be found in the Center for Speaking & Listening in the duPont Library. 

The Rhetoric Program
735 University Ave.
Sewanee, TN 37383-1000 

Program Coordinator
Professor Sean Patrick O’Rourke
Office Location: Gailor 122
Phone: (931) 598-1252
Email: sporourk@sewanee.edu