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"My Faith in the Constitution Is Whole"

Barbara Jordan and the Politics of Scripture

How Barbara Jordan used sacred and secular scriptures in her social activism

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is well-known as an interpreter and defender of the Constitution, particularly through her landmark speech during Richard Nixon's 1974 impeachment hearings. However, before she developed faith in the Constitution, Jordan had faith in Christianity. In "My Faith in the Constitution is Whole": Barbara Jordan and the Politics of Scripture, Robin L. Owens shows how Jordan turned her religious faith and her faith in the Constitution into a powerful civil religious expression of her social activism.

Owens begins by examining the lives and work of the nineteenth-century Black female orator-activists Maria W. Stewart and Anna Julia Cooper. Stewart and Cooper fought for emancipation and women's rights by "scripturalizing," or using religious scriptures to engage in political debate. Owens then demonstrates how Jordan built upon this tradition by treating the Constitution as an American "scripture" to advocate for racial justice and gender equality. Case studies of key speeches throughout Jordan's career show how she quoted the Constitution and other founding documents as sacred texts, used them as sociolinguistic resources, and employed a discursive rhetorical strategy of indirection known as "signifying on scriptures."

Jordan's particular use of the Constitution — deeply connected with her background and religious, racial, and gender identity — represents the agency and power reflected in her speeches. Jordan's strategies also illustrate a broader phenomenon of scripturalization outside of institutional religion and its rhetorical and interpretive possibilities.

About the Author

Robin L. Owens is an associate professor of religious studies at Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles. Her research interests focus on intersections between religion and culture, specifically the role and function of religion in identity formation and power negotiation.

Reviews

"Owens's research, scholarship, and investigation of this topic is both intriguing and outstanding!" — Shawnee M. Daniels-Sykes, associate professor, Mount Mary University
Georgetown University Press
Race, Religion and Politics

9781647122720 : my-faith-in-the-constitution-is-whole-owens
Hardback
194 Pages
$149.95 USD
9781647122737 : my-faith-in-the-constitution-is-whole-owens
Paperback / softback
194 Pages
$49.95 USD
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194 Pages
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