Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Committee Chair/Advisor

Cynthia Haynes

Committee Member

Oriana Aragón

Committee Member

Sarah Arroyo

Committee Member

Erin Ash


This dissertation examines rhetorical conditions and internet-mediated communication strategies that open and close dialogue between individuals with diverse and conflicting worldviews. The author illustrates this tension through sacred-secular interactions in college composition classrooms and online environments, positing that navigating conflict between these discourses—namely those espoused by religiously committed students and public university instructors—often requires stepping outside of adversarial communication frameworks. This project makes a case for models of civic engagement that use more deliberative rhetorical approaches prioritizing empathy over defensiveness and understanding before persuasion. To develop these non-adversarial communication approaches for the composition classroom, the author looks to participatory media for insights and studies the negotiation strategies of Christian and atheist YouTube users who leverage the affordances of the video medium, internet logics, and invitational rhetorical strategies to engage ideological differences in their respective online communities. Through mixed methods research involving in-depth interviews with five YouTube vloggers, netnographic study of over 3,000 videos, and statistical analysis of 76,000+ user comments, Coding Christianity finds that perspective-taking in conflict-ridden environments can happen between netizens when content creators opt out of “flame wars” and, instead, explicitly model critical openness and charitable listening to perceived “others.” The author ultimately suggests that sacred-secular tension in both academic and digital environments be used, not diffused, to negotiate conflicting values and engage in rigorous, civil dialogues.



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