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Sacred and secular: Section 4 - Discursive argument: a guided exercise

Updated Tuesday, 23rd June 2015

In order to come to a well-reasoned conclusion on an issue it is necessary to consider various sides of an argument. This section will consider the steps that can be taken to complete this process. 

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How to go about arguing discursively and academically

Discursive academic analysis involves considering more than one point of view on an issue, discussing those points of view and weighing them against each other to come to a conclusion as to whether one point of view can be favoured above another. It is also about thinking critically about the issue to come up with some original insights. Even if you personally have an opinion, it is vital to consider the views of others and to take them into account.

This means researching to find different points of view and decide why you agree or disagree with them. 

Activity

This activity involves indentifying various points of view and constructing a summary and coming to your own conclusion on an issue. It assists in developing skills of discursive analysis.

You are going to learn how to deconstruct and reconstruct an argument by listening to an excerpt from the Moral Maze Radio program which you will be guided to below.

This excerpt discusses whether it is ever appropriate to require citizens to forgive the perpetrators of violent acts in order to regain peace and stability in a country. It discuss both the situation in Northern Ireland, where after many years of civil unrest and many deaths, including those of civilians, as a result of bombings, peace was finally brokered which involved amnesty being offered to certain individuals who had taken part in the violence. It also refers to the situation in South Africa where for years a system of apartheid kept blacks segregated from whites and treated them as second class citizens. In South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was set up to seek to enable both sides to move forward peacefully and rebuild South Africa.

  • Make sure you have a pen and paper to hand or a word document open on your screen handy so that you can note down the various arguments for and against the issue being discussed.
  • As you listen note down the points the speakers make. You can pause the recording to do this.
  • When you have done that write out a plan to construct a logical argument presenting arguments for and against the issue of whether or not it is right to require citizens to forgive the perpetrators of terrorist acts in order to restore peace and stability.
  • See if you can weigh those arguments and come to a conclusion as to which is the stronger argument.

Here is a table which you might like to use to help you set out the different view points on the issue:

Views on the issue of whether forgiveness should be forced on a people after civil unrest or terrorist acts in order to bring about peace

Do I agree/disagree with the view? Was the view expressed by the speaker consistent or inconsistent?

Opinion 1 – Michael Portillo: view of the speaker and reasons for their view  
Opinion 2 – Melanie Philips  
Opinion 3: Michael Taylor  
Opinion 4: Kenan Malik  
Opinion 5: (the witness) David Vance  
Which opinion was on balance strongest and why?  

My own view based on a consideration of the above was that ….

 

Here is the link to the discussion from the Moral Maze radio program. Listen to it and make notes. You can pause the recording when you need to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ktz12  : BBC Radio 4, Moral Maze, Forgiveness. Sat 14 December 2013

There is some feedback provided in the following section.

Activity feedback

Were you able to identify the different points that each speaker was making? Did you agree with some and not with others?

Here is a short summary of what each speaker thought. I have written in some ideas in the right hand column to provide examples of discursive analysis. 

Views on the issue of whether forgiveness should be forced on a people after civil unrest or terrorist acts in order to bring about peace

Do I agree/disagree with the view? Was the view expressed by the speaker consistent or inconsistent?

Opinion 1 – Michael Portillo: view of the speaker and reasons for their view

Utilitarianism is not necessarily a good argument here. Citizen’s need to be sure justice is being done – sometimes this means force needs to be used and offenders need to be punished

Opinion 2 – Melanie Philips

Yes I agree with the first part but not the second part. If forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiver they need to forgive whether or not the wrong doer has made restitution. 

Opinion 3: Michael Taylor

Yes I agree it depends on the circumstances

Opinion 4: Kenan Malik

The issue of whether the South African experience has succeeded is interesting and would merit further research

Opinion 5: (the witness) David Vance

This is difficult – should forgiveness ever trump justice?

Which opinion was on balance strongest and why?

David Vance, who spoke from personal experience, was very persuasive. He had obviously thought about and had direct experience in Northern Ireland and thought that justice was more important in order to bring about a longer term good for society. He felt that society was not best served by denying justice to its citizens for the sake of peace. He felt justice did not encompass forgiveness.

My own view based on a consideration of the above was that ….

It is difficult to require another person to forgive since forgiveness is an individual choice. Collective forgiveness in terms of the state not punishing terrorists, is something which individual citizens might find difficult to accept but might go along with without personally forgiving what has happened. It is a decision of the government on behalf of its citizens and so only indirectly is it the choice of the citizens. Unless a greater good is achieved it is difficult to find justification for imposing the requirement to forgive. The decision must be made in the context of the political situation in a country and a government would need to be certain of the ultimate good for society. It would be interesting to learn about the effects of the imposition of forgiveness in South Africa, there was evidence given in the Moral Maze program that this had not been altogether successful. Until such time great care would need to be taken if a government were to require its citizens to forgive in order to regain peace and stability.

 

Now form your own argument explaining which argument was the most convincing and why. Finally come to a conclusion indicating your own point of view.

Top tip: when you write your own opinion into a piece of academic writing you must not use “I”. So no “I think” or “I am of the opinion”. You need to write objectively. Use phrases such as “Based on the arguments explained above it could be argued that X holds the most convincing point of view because ……..” or “Based on the above arguments it can be concluded that….”.   “Whilst X’s argument is convincing because….. Y’s argument is more forceful because…..”: it is at this point that you can put in what you think by pointing out what is right or wrong with the arguments presented and which you agree and disagree with.

For some additional ideas see the excellent resources at Manchester University’s academic phrase bank: http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/being-critical

Summary

This material has explained the context in which judgments of the courts are given, provided links for resources for further research and explained how to carry out academic discursive analysis. You should now be ready to research your blog post and make the post. Remember that the focus of this research is the law and religion judgments. We very much look forward to hearing from you.

Summary of the stages in making a blog post 

  1. Identify a law and religion case you are interested in (suggestions in Appendix I, alternatively there are some databases listed in Appendix II).
  2. Find any existing reports or case summaries of that case on legal databases and if using the full judgment deconstruct it using the table provided above in section 2.
  3. Decide on the type of question you will research and carry out appropriate research using key search terms and basing your research on appropriate sources.
  4. Carry out some discursive analysis summarising the views of others and coming up with some original insight of your own.
  5. Write up a blog post (around 50 words)
  6. Post the blog on the sacred and secular blog.

Good luck with your blog entry.

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Cases to focus on

 

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