Robert Howard

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture



6040 Vilas Hall

Professor Robert Howard

Office Hours:

  • By appointment


Expertise and Activities

I am Director of Digital Studies and Professor of Communication, Religious Studies, and Folklore in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I am also editor of the journal Western Folklore. Most broadly, my research seeks to uncover the possibilities and limits of empowerment through everyday expression on the Internet by focusing on the intersection of individual human agency and participatory performance. I engage rhetorical theory, critical cultural theories, as well as theories of performance and performativity to explore the ways that everyday people combine their cultural and technological resources to perform their unique identities in relation to larger groups. New communication technologies are increasing the opportunities for individuals to both perform and be observed. In these public and semi-public moments of interaction, the possibilities for transformation through discourse are extended. Using ethnographic fieldwork methods, I engage online expression in order to better understand its potential–and, when necessary, consider its pitfalls. Most recently, I am exploring how the increasing reliance on “vernacular webs” of online communication are beginning to trump the authority of more traditional information sources such as mass media. I am particularly interested in how both institutional and traditional sources for health information are giving way to the aggregated voice of thousands of everyday users exchanging their own ideas through web-based forums. In this increasing phenomenon, the power of the “the folk” is being expanded by new media technologies.


  • Ph.D. University of Oregon, 2001
  • M.A. University of California, Los Angeles, 1996
  • B.A. University of California, Berkeley, 1993


  • Networks and Network Analysis for the Humanities: Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities and UCLA Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, National Endowment for the Humanities/IPAM, 2010
  • Digital Studies Initiative, Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, 2010
  • Faculty Development Grant, University of Wisconsin, 2008
  • InTime Multimedia Research Grant, University of Wisconsin, 2001
  • Don Yoder Prize for the Best Article in Folk Belief and Religious Folklife, American Folklore Society, 1998


  • 2012. “‘The Homo Depot’ and Other Works: Toward a Critique of Vernacular Video.” Cinema Journal, 51: 191-197.
  • 2010. “Enacting a Virtual ‘Ekklesia:’ Online Christian Fundamentalism as Vernacular Religion.” New Media and Society, 12 (5): 729-744,
  • 2008. “The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25 (December): 490-512,
  • 2008. “Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web.” Journal of American Folklore, 121 (Spring): 192-218,
  • 2008. “Vernacular Media, Vernacular Belief: Locating Christian Fundamentalism in the Vernacular Web.” Western Folklore, 69: 409-429.
  • 2006. “Sustainability and Narrative Plasticity in Online Apocalyptic Discourse after September 11, 2001.” Journal of Media and Religion, 5 (1): 25-47,
  • 2005. “A Theory of Vernacular Rhetoric: The Case of the Sinners Prayer Online.” Folklore, 116 (2): 72-188,
  • 2005. “Toward a Theory of the Worldwide Web Vernacular: The Case for Pet Cloning.” Journal of Folklore Research, 42: 323-360.
  • 2005. “Who Posts DeCSS and Why?: A Content Analysis of Web Sites Posting DVD Circumvention Software (with Kristin R. Eschenfelder and Anuj C. Desai).” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Tech, 56: 1405-1418.
  • 2005. “The Double Bind of the Protestant Reformation: The Birth of Fundamentalism and the Necessity of Pluralism.” Journal of Church and State, 47: 91-108,
  • 2005. “Sustainability and Radical Rhetorical Closure: The Case of the 1996 ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Newsgroup Campaign.” Journal of Communication and Religion, 2005,
  • 1997. “Apocalypse in your In-Box: End-Times Communication on the Internet.” Western Folklore, 56: 295-315,


  • 2013. Tradition in the 21st Century: Locating the Role of the Past in the Present (with Trevor Blank). Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press.
  • 2011. Network Apocalypse: Visions of the End in an Age of Internet Media. London: Sheffield University Press.
  • 2011. Digital Jesus: The Making of New Christian Fundamentalist Community on the Internet. New York: NYU Press.


  • 2013. “Vernacular Authority: Critically Engaging ‘Tradition’.” Tradition in the 21st Century: Locating the Role of the Past in the Present, Robert Glenn Howard and Trevor Blank Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, forthcoming.
  • 2012. “How Counter-Culture Helped Put the ‘Vernacular’ in Vernacular Webs.” Folk Culture in a Digital Age, Trevor Blank Logan, Utah: Utah State Univeristy Press, 30-55.
  • 2010. “The Vernacular Mode: Locating the Non-Institutional in the Practice of Citizenship.” Public Modalities, Daniel C. Brouwer and Robert Asen Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 240-261.
  • 2009. “An End Times Virtual ‘Ekklesia’: Ritual Deliberation in Participatory Media.” The End All Around Us: Apocalyptic Texts and Popular Culture, John Walliss London: Equinox Press, 198-218.
  • 2009. “The Vernacular Ideology of Christian Fundamentalism on the World Wide Web.” Fundamentalisms and the Media, Stewart M. Hoover and Nadia Kaneva London: Continuum Publishing, 126-141.
  • 2009. “Crusading on the Vernacular Web: The Folk Beliefs and Practices of Online Spiritual Warfare.” Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World, Trevor J. Blank Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 159-171.
  • 2006. “Rhetoric of the Rejected Body at ‘Heaven’s Gate.” Gender and Apocalyptic Desire, Lee Quinby and Brenda Brasher London: Equinox Press, 145-164.
  • 2000. “On-Line Ethnography of Dispensationalist Discourse: Revealed versus Negotiated Truth.” Religion on the Internet, Jeffery K. Hadden and Douglas Cowan New York: Elsevier Press, 225-246.


  • Editor, 2009. 2013. Western Folklore.


  • CA 969 – Vernacular Discourse
  • CA 969 – Seminar in the Rhetorical Theory of Kenneth Burke
  • CA 976 – Ethnographic Methods for Rhetorical Analysis
  • CA 478 – Rhetorical Analysis for Internet Discourse
  • FLR 560 – Folklore in a Digital Age
  • CA 610 / FLR 530 – Ethnography and Internet Communities
  • CA 570 – Classical Rhetorical Theory
  • CA 472 – Rhetoric and Technology
  • CA 347 / RS 347 – Rhetoric of Religion
  • CA 522 / FLR 522 – Digitally Documenting Everyday Discourse
  • CA 200 – Introduction to Digital Communication