Teaching a Catholic Philosophy of Interpersonal Communication: The Case for "Soul Friendship"

By Roberts, Kathleen Glenister | Catholic Education, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Teaching a Catholic Philosophy of Interpersonal Communication: The Case for "Soul Friendship"


Roberts, Kathleen Glenister, Catholic Education


Courses in interpersonal communication are common in American colleges and universities. Typically taught at the introductory undergraduate level, in its most basic form interpersonal communication seeks to assist students in developing communication skills for managing one-on-one relationships. For Catholic colleges and universities where communication departments exist, there may be cause for greater purpose in interpersonal communication. The missions of Catholic institutions uniformly suggest that their faculty and students focus their attention on the dignity of the human person and on issues of social justice. These missions suggest too that a course like interpersonal communication ought to strive for more than "skill-building." Interpersonal communication, like all courses related to the humanities in some way, benefits at a Catholic institution from philosophical foundations.

The suggestions that there are philosophical foundations to interpersonal communication, and that Catholic institutions of higher education might be the most imperative places for these philosophies to emerge, begins with the assumption that interpersonal communication is not just a course topic but also a field of scholarly inquiry. Interpersonal communication is a field within the larger discipline of communication. Although communication's origins can be traced to the study of rhetoric and oratory, interpersonal communication is something quite different: Interpersonal communication emerged as a formal area of study for communication scholars in the 1960s as a result of several social and intellectual streams converging and bringing focus to the individual person. The communication forms analyzed are informal, dyadic interactions--not formal oratory.

Since its beginnings 50 years or so ago, most scholarship in interpersonal communication has been quantitative (Knapp, Daly, Albada, & Miller, 2002), accompanied by philosophical approaches from the tradition of dialogue (Arnett, 1981; Ayres, 1984). These latter approaches are experiencing a resurgence of scholarly interest (e.g., Anderson, Baxter, & Cissna, 2003), although the study of friendship within interpersonal communication has not been deeply impacted. This essay is the beginning of a conversation between interpersonal communication and philosophies of social justice and friendship.

Since the topic of social justice has been solidly incorporated into communication research over the last 15 years or so at least, and has been a tradition in Catholic thought for nearly two millennia, the social justice approach in this paper is not totally new. However, those two streams of thought--the ancient one of Christian social justice and the much newer one of communication research--have not yet converged, and that convergence is precisely what this paper sets out to do. Taking the concepts of social justice research in communication that have been previously published, I consider the areas of debate for social justice in communication and grapple with the ways in which interpersonal communication education in Catholic colleges and universities might help to reconcile power inequalities in communication through a focus on social justice in interpersonal interactions.

This essay is above all interested in the ways in which specific approaches to love, embodied within interpersonal relationships, can ensure justice not just between individual persons in discrete interactions, but also how those approaches have implications for larger societal issues that pertain to justice and Catholic higher education. In order to provide depth of inquiry in this essay, a single area of interpersonal communication will be examined--friendship. This choice in itself speaks to issues of power in interpersonal communication, since friendship is often underanalyzed but plays a vital part in other human relationships and contexts such as family, romantic love (Eros), and the workplace. …

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Teaching a Catholic Philosophy of Interpersonal Communication: The Case for "Soul Friendship"
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