Faith, Politics, and the Parable of the Kosher Deli: Explorations of Narrative in a Congressional Hearing

  • Joshua Kraut Georgetown University
Keywords: narrative, politics, religion, conflict, healthcare, positioning


This paper takes a discourse analytic approach in exploring how a short narrative, delivered in the testimony of a panel-witness during a 2011 US congressional hearing investigating potential violations of religious liberty in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ââ¬ÅObamacareââ¬Â), shapes and reflects the larger political conflict over the legislation.à Exploring the so-called ââ¬Åparable of the kosher deliââ¬Â from a structuralist, functionalist, and post-structuralist perspective reveals several key elements of how narratives can function in such a context.à The choice of genre not only facilitates communication via a culturally familiar structure, but also positions the communicator reflexively, and in strategic fashion.à This choice also provides an efficient means for glossing over the adversaryââ¬â¢s most significant concerns: because parables are abstractions meant to reflect back on real situations, one can choose which elements to incorporate, and which to ignore about those situations in oneââ¬â¢s interpretation.

ààààààààààà Additionally, I observe how the parable is an effective means for positioning an opposing side (Davies and Harré, 1990), as the narrative takes aim at not only the government, positioned as an illegitimate disciplinarian, and an inappropriate judge, but also at advocates of the legislation generally, characterized as ââ¬Åoff-topicââ¬Â or else blind to the most important issue.à Finally, from a post-structuralist perspective, I note that the narrative, reflecting the general stance of the majority members of committee overseeing the hearing, construes the opposing side as a ââ¬Ågeneralized otherââ¬Â (Benhabib, 1992), ignoring the role of individual experience, needs, motivations, and desires in the attempt to make a case for broader exemptions to the proposed legislation.à Such a move short-circuited any possibility of ââ¬Åelaborationââ¬Â (Cobb, 2006) in which both sides might have worked toward a mutually agreeable narrative which contained both of the moral perspectives presented.àà



I would like to thank Sara Cobb as well as the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.à


Author Biography

Joshua Kraut, Georgetown University

PhD candidate
Department of Linguistics
Georgetown Universityà