Coming Soon, May 2024, Just Words: Lessons of Ancient Education, Classical Rhetoric, and Pagan Religion for a Post-Christian World

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Just Words: Lessons of Ancient Education, Classical Rhetoric, and Pagan Religion for a Post-Christian World

Available May 2024

Author: Mark A. E. Williams

Foreword: J. Matthew Melton

ISBN paperback: 978-1-959685-11-1

ISBN ebook: 978-1-959685-12-8


Total Pages: 330

Price: $30.00

[Return to Integratio Press]


What do we expect from our words? And what if those very expectations were not just wrong, but dangerous, and dangerous precisely because they kept us from moving toward justice? In a provocative and sustained argument, Professor Williams forwards the claim that our present ideas of language are a closed loop that inevitably spirals toward violence. By turning to views that were common in the ages before the modern world, but now lost, he suggests not a new but an old perspective on logos, one that seems to provide a foundation for responding to the troubles and limitations of our own time. This book teaches about the past while inspiring the present to reach beyond itself.


“Mark A. E. Williams may have found rhetoric’s Ariadne’s thread in his Just Words. This thread, Professor Williams maintains, does not glorify rhetoric as the definitive answer to the questions we face and it resists, rightly, the ‘present family of theories hovering around the humanities’ that are linked ‘to the unchallengeable certainties of subjective experience.’ Rhetoric’s Ariadne’s thread, Professor Williams observes, honors and critiques the theories set forth in the classical tradition, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and in the modern period. What sets Just Words apart from other struggles to understand rhetoric is its emphasis on the divine. Rhetoric’s Ariadne’s thread is marked by, in Professor Williams words, ‘the pursuit of the actual divine—while admitting that we will never fully comprehend it.’ This pursuit, one that threads between and among absolutes, ‘is the true rhetoric.’ Just Words is a provocative and insightful journey taking the “scenic route” through the rhetorical tradition.

David A. Frank, PhD, Professor of Rhetoric and Political Communication, Clark Honors College, University of Oregon; University of Oxford Consortium for Human Rights

“With erudition, panache, and subtle wit, Mark Williams revives a neglected tradition of classical rhetorical texts, such as Plato’s Phaedrus, and subverts subjective approaches to education, restoring both religion and rhetoric as foundational building blocks. Echoing C. S. Lewis’s profound unraveling of modern pedagogy in The Abolition of Man, Williams critiques current power-based ideologies and celebrates the relevance of the past with his remarkable insights and wit in one of the most lucid, accessible, and stimulating books on religious communication in the last decade.”
Terry Lindvall, PhD, C. S. Lewis Chair of Communication and Christian Thought, Virginia Wesleyan University

“In the tradition of C. S. Lewis, Professor Williams invites us to look at and along the intersections of ancient education, classical rhetoric, and the core tenants of religion to offer a fresh look at our present age. This book helps us connect the dots between words, meaning, and a better understanding of the challenges we face if we do not heed the lessons of the past.  An important and thought-provoking book.”

Steven A. Beebe, Ph.D, Regents’ and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Texas State University; Past President, National Communication Association

“Mark Williams’s fine book asks all of the right questions for a rhetorical time such as this. It is a bold, intellectually energizing exploration of both how we got to our current communicative mess and how we might move forward with honest, hospitable discourse. I recommend Just Words for its wit and wisdom amidst our contemporary period of cheapening rhetoric on all fronts.”

Quentin J. Schultze, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Calvin University, Department of Communication

“The subjective use of words to further one’s own ends is not new. In this careful argument laced with fresh examples and asides, Professor Williams traces the relationship between rhetorical power and religious motivations in three Greek rhetoricians. Their understandings of the purpose of education and its relationship to the broader community vary, and that variation helps break up any monovocal stereotype of “the Classical world.” But even more, these differing trajectories illuminate our own contemporary conflicts. Williams argues persuasively, but he doesn’t leave us with mere abstractions. He leads us with hope toward the power of anchoring words to the divine in order to arrive at just words.”

Annalee R. Ward, Ph.D., Director, Wendt Character Initiative, University of Dubuque

“If it is true that Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then we have become an academic and social culture so lost in footnotes that we have forgotten that there is a main text. Mark Williams’ Just Words aims to remedy this by reminding us not just about the main text but also what is so vibrant, necessary, and basically undefeated about the arguments on truth, method, and meaning. Many treasures await careful readers of this book. Hardly a nostalgic call for a return to Platonism, Just Words nevertheless manages to highlight the degree to which a future society that aims for substantive practices of truth, justice, love, and meaning must largely rely on Plato’s essential insights and arguments. Namely: that without a transcendent referent and conceptualization, we are stuck with the brutalities and whims of power and domination. Just Words is a must read for everyone who cares about the myriad problems facing the world today.
Ryan Gillespie, Center for the Study of Religion, UCLA

“In contemporary academic culture, particularly in the fields of rhetoric and education, characterizing someone’s ideas as “Platonic” is usually seen as an insult or even as a casus belli. Not so with Mark Williams. Proceeding from the assumption that Plato didn’t get as much wrong as is fashionable to think these days—and that he actually got more things right than we give him credit for—Williams makes a provocative case for reconsidering the connections among language, reality, and truth; and for reconsidering the consequences of fashionably subjectivist views of language and rhetoric in education and in public and political life. His argument is definitely countercultural. It will surely be difficult for many to accept. But we would do well to listen, and listen carefully.”
Mark Allan Steiner, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Christopher Newport University

“Mark Williams invites his reader on a conversational journey alongside the rhetoricians of the Ancient Greek world in pursuit of the pedagogy of the actual divine. Passionate, personal, and reformist, this book defines the calling of the educator in transcendent terms and stands with Plato that true rhetoric directs our vision toward the heavens.”

Nathan Crick, PhD, Texas A & M, Author of Rhetoric and Power: The Drama of Classical Greece

“Because our world is littered with injustices like human trafficking, the Trail of Tears, the deaths of civilians in wartime, or ecological racism, Mark William’s analysis makes clear that neither the Modernist nor the Postmodernist—anymore than the Conservative or the Liberal—have achieved the justice or better world that they promised. He rightfully argues, with insight, wit, and lucidity, that if we want justice, we will have to communicate and listen to each other in ways that our rhetorical, political, and educational systems have not prepared us for. We need meaningful alternatives, and Just Words lays out a compelling place to begin to imagine those alternatives.”

Naaman Wood, Ph.D., co-editor of Humility and Hospitality: Changing the Christian Conversation on Civility


Mark A. E. Williams (PhD, Louisiana State University) is a past president of the Religious Communication Association and a professor of rhetoric in the Communication Studies Department of California State University, Sacramento, where he teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in communication and religion, rhetorical criticism, and the history of rhetoric with an emphasis on the premodern era. He received a research fellowship at Oxford University and the École Biblique et Archéologique de Jérusalem. Left to his own devices, he will indulge his Tolkien addiction, bind books by hand, write just for fun, and think about things. He is married to a scientist who keeps him grounded. They have two adult children.

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