In Commemoration: Walter Ong and the State of Theology

By Soukup, Paul A. | Theological Studies, December 2012 | Go to article overview

In Commemoration: Walter Ong and the State of Theology


Soukup, Paul A., Theological Studies


THE YEAR 2012 MARKS THE CENTENARY of the birth of Walter J. Ong, S.J., a long-time professor of literature at Saint Louis University, and a scholar whose wide-ranging studies and essays have profoundly influenced contemporary intellectual life. In a writing career that spanned over 50 years, he published relatively few works on theology--and these more along the lines of devotional or analytic essays on American Catholicism--but his body of work carries huge implications for theology as it moves into the future.

Born in Kansas City, Ong graduated from Rockhurst College with a degree in classics, worked for a year, and then entered the Society of Jesus. During philosophy studies at Saint Louis University, he also completed a MA in English, with a thesis examining the sprung rhythm in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. His thesis director, a young Marshall McLuhan, introduced him to the New Criticism, to the history and role of the trivium in medieval education (the topic of the dissertation that McLuhan worked on during those years), and to "Perry Miller's work on Ramism in The New England Mind: The 17th Century." (1) After ordination, Ong went to Harvard for advanced studies in English with Miller. (2)

"INFORMATION HANDLING"

During his own dissertation research on Ramus, Ong came to several key insights that he developed over the course of his career. First, in examining how Ramus redefined rhetoric, Ong noticed changes in what today we would call "information handling." (3) Ramus began his educational reform shortly after printed books flooded European universities and booksellers. Adjusting classical rhetoric's ways for finding arguments, retrieving information, storing ideas, and presenting those ideas, Ramus proposed simplified systems based on printed visual diagrams. In other words, Ramus began to see that printed books gave us the technology to store information independently of the age-old systems of oral recall or handwritten manuscripts; and he put this technology to work. Here, Ong noticed how the methods of information handling changed more broadly along with their means of expression--the media used by orators, scribes, scholars, and students. Moreover, he concluded that methods of information handling changed more in the manner of evolution--gradually, incrementally. What Ramus proposed made sense only in the light of a centuries-long rebalancing of rhetoric and grammar that emerged with manuscript culture. (4)

Second, drawing on his theological and biblical studies as well as his philosophy studies, Ong noticed a difference (highlighted in his dissertation) between the Hebrew and the Greek understandings of knowledge, a difference he at first attributed to aural or visual mindsets. (5) For Ong, this insight complemented and illustrated his first insight. The communication patterns changed what Ong came to term "psychodynamics" or noetic patterns. How people (and cultures) communicate and store knowledge changes how people (and cultures) think. Each culture develops a kind of bias for a particular type of knowledge. Greek and Latin culture privileged visual patterns--even in their oral discourses and rhetoric, a bias Ong traces into contemporary Western culture in an essay fittingly titled "I See What You Say: Sense Analogues for Intellect." (6)

Third, Ong followed these insights through 17th- and 18th-century literature, noting evidence of patterns of expression and thinking in the written texts, which he termed "oral residues." In effect, these patterns marked epistemological approaches that resulted from the educational preparation of generations of teachers and students who followed a classical rhetorical training, one designed for oral expression, but one more and more directed to creating written works. From these perspectives he adopted a kind of developmental view of human expression that moved in phases from oral expression, to writing, to what Ong termed "secondary orality" (the oral expression that depends on writing, in the form of scripts performed by actors, for example), to electronic expression. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

In Commemoration: Walter Ong and the State of Theology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.