Transcending Media Framing of Candidate Religiosity: The Religio-Rhetorical Discourse of John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama


  • Scott Anderson Arkansas State
  • Jonathan Smith University of Memphis



This essay explores the ways in which presidential candidates respond when the news media frame their religious beliefs as subversive to American democratic values. Using John F. Kennedy’s “Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association” and Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech as case studies for analysis, we argue that Kennedy and Obama employed what Kenneth Burke referred to as familial and dialectical substance to overcome their respective controversies. While Kennedy reaffirmed his national allegiance by associating religious freedom with American values, Obama created dialectical tension to frame the controversy surrounding his candidacy from an alternative perspective, which simultaneously provided Americans an opportunity to interrogate the importance of religious pluralism. Kennedy and Obama’s speeches provide a valuable framework for examining the rhetorical strategies that presidential candidates may use to transcend the “religious issue.”


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