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Apologia vs. Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 6, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Recently, a number of scholars have shifted the study of apologia away from image restoration theories in favor of an apology process that leads toward reconciliation. In doing so, they distinguish between apologies that focus on the needs of the victims and apologiae that focus on the face-saving desire of the rhetor. A critical element in this view of apologetic rhetoric is the belief that the ultimate goal of the exchange is forgiveness and restoration of social harmony (Tavuchis, 1991). This idea is in stark contrast to the image repair position that views apologies as “a rhetoric of failure” in terms of their ability to repair social relationships (Hearit, 2006, p. 17).

This distinction has prompted some scholars to argue for sub-genres of apologia that make room for the reconciliatory goal of apologies. For example, Joy Koesten and Robert Rowland (2004) argued that the rhetoric of atonement should be considered a subgenre of apologia—one that seeks “both forgiveness for a sinful act and restoration of the relationship once the sin has been expiated” (p. 69). Lisa Storm Villadsen (2008) agreed that there is a need for a sub-genre such as rhetoric of atonement; however, she preferred the name official apology because it was a more religiously neutral, inclusive term. Jason Edwards (2005) identified what he called community-focused apologia, which begins the healing process between communities. Finally, although Trudy Govier and Wilhelm Verwoerd (2002) did not mention apologia specifically, they did divide apologies into three forms: a defense, an excuse or account, and a moral apology, which contains an admission of wrongdoing without a justification or excuse (p. 67).

Other scholars have called for an even stronger separation of apology and apologia. For example, John B. Hatch (2003) argued that apologies should not be viewed through the cynical, self-interested lens of apologiae at all. Instead, it should be viewed in relation to forgiveness and reparations as “constituents of reconciliation” (Hatch, 2006b, p. 264). Nick Smith (2008) offered an even more extreme distinction—drawing a line between the ethically ideal categorical apology and the purely instrumental apology (which defines in a way that connotes apologia).

Despite the differences discussed above between apologia and apology, I have argued that future studies can benefit from using an umbrella term that allows for connections to be made and for researchers to influence and shape the work of each other, regardless of which specific term they prefer to analyze. Specifically, I suggested the use of terms such as apologetic rhetoric or apologetic exchanges when the use of a specific term (such as apologia) might inaccurately define the perspective or multiple perspectives under discussion (Towner, 2009). In addition, I argued that rather than referring to Koesten and Rowland’s (2004) rhetoric of atonement, Edwards’s (2005) community-focused apologia, or Burkholder’s (1990) symbolic martyrdom as sub-genres of apologia, we might more accurately label them as sub-genres of apologetic rhetoric or apologetic discourse.

[NOTE: For more information on the specific sources and scholars discussed above, please view the Apologetic Rhetoric Sources page.]

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