Academic Programs 

How We Speak Here: Preaching in Particular Places (AM-605)
January Interession and Winter/Spring 2007

Christian preaching is but one example of the widespread religious practice of “strong public utterance.” How such utterance is able to connect with the communities in which it occurs is a complex and underrated challenge. It calls especially for understanding the cultural frames and theological language of a setting, both within and beyond a religious group. This course will be an appreciative inquiry into the ways different theological and religious traditions treat “strong public utterance” and address the contextual challenge. Students will explore how such perspectives can be used to strengthen speaking in their own particular places.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
D.Min Schedule -- Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on January 30, February 27, March 20, April 17 and May 8

James Nieman
Professor of Practical Theology

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9516


Course Syllabus


a. To examine the turn in recent homiletical literature toward a concern for the listener and the context, including the history relevant to that turn;
b. To explore several available models for how the contextual dimension of preaching can be understood, ranging from the micro to macro level;
c. To engage these models by practicing their underlying methods in the students’ own settings, noting the significant insights they produce; and
d. To attempt using these insights in relation to the students’ own preaching, seeing how they might inform and improve our proclamation.


The course alternates between five class sessions (see “Schedule”) and the intervening periods for individual exploration by students in their own settings. The class sessions rely on group discussions, instructor presentations, and practical exercises to introduce new tools and deepen the insights emerging through previous sessions. The intervening periods rely on assigned readings, fieldwork assignments, and written work to extend the class topics and prepare for ensuing sessions. A final paper provides an occasion to integrate work from the entire semester and show improvements upon earlier assignments that were recommended by the instructor and students.


D.Min. students are graded using the high pass (HP), pass (P), low pass (LP), or fail (F) system, while M.A. students are graded using the A, B, C, or F system, with “+” and “–” markings allowed. For purposes of this course, these grades mean:

HP or A Exceptional in several or most ways; such work completes all tasks, is creative and even original in content, and displays mastery of expression.
P or B Adequate in all basic ways; parts of the task are slighted, the content has minor weakness, and expression is competent yet not compelling.
LP or C Inadequate in some ways; does not address significant tasks, shows weak or erroneous content, and expression sometimes obstructs understanding.


All reading is to be completed in advance of the class session for which it is assigned.

30 January — 9:00am to 4:00pm
Topic: Turning toward context
Writing: Student statements
Activity: Listening practice

27 February — 9:00am to 4:00pm
Topic: Listeners where they live
Reading: McClure and others, Listening to Listeners
Writing: Sermon analysis
Activity: Interviewing practice

20 March — 9:00am to 4:00pm
Topic: Local cultural claims
Reading: Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art
Writing: Congregation analysis
Activity: Preaching in class

17 April — 9:00am to 4:00pm
Topic: Larger cultural frames
Reading: Nieman and Rogers, Preaching to Every Pew
Writing: Cultural analysis
Activity: Preaching in class

8 May — 9:00am to 4:00pm
Topic: Sunday and everyday
Reading: Schmitmeyer, Preacher in a Hard Hat
Writing: Community analysis
Activity: Preaching in class

Required reading

Four required texts will be the basis for classroom discussion as well as class exercises during the semester.

-John S. McClure and others, Listening to Listeners: Homiletical Case Studies (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004). ISBN 0827205007
-James R. Nieman and Thomas G. Rogers, Preaching to Every Pew: Cross-Cultural Strategies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). ISBN 0800632435
-James M. Schmitmeyer, Preacher in a Hard Hat: A Guide to Preacher for Pastors and Everyone Else (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006). ISBN 0827229852
-Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997). ISBN 0800627733

In addition, four other books are recommended for those who wish to pursue particular topics in greater depth.

- Kim L. Beckmann, Prepare a Road! Preaching Vocation, Community Voice, Marketplace Vision (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2002). ISBN 1561012068
-Joseph R. Jeter, Jr., and Ronald J. Allen, One Gospel, Many Ears: Preaching for Different Listeners in the Congregation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2002). ISBN 0827227167
-Mary Alice Mulligan and Ronald J. Allen, Make the Word Come Alive: Lessons from Laity (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2005). ISBN 0827205031
-Stanley P. Saunders and Charles L. Campbell, The Word on the Street: Performing the Scriptures in the Urban Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). ISBN 080284393

Class participation 20% of grade

Attendance at and active participation in every class session is expected of all students. Exceptions are only allowed if advance permission has been granted by the instructor, and only for unavoidable absences. In all cases, failure to be in attendance at more than one class session automatically precludes successful completion of the course. The participation portion of the grade includes class leadership roles assigned by the instructor.

Course assignments 40% of grade

Completion of all three evaluated writing assignments (the congregation, cultural, and community analyses) is essential to advance the learning in this course, and must reflect the assignment guidelines distributed at the end of the previous class session. Each student will preach once during the course in a manner appropriate to her/his tradition, reflecting the topical concern that focuses the class session during which the preaching occurs.

Final paper 40% of grade

The final paper integrates the central methods, insights, and readings from the semester. An important criterion is that this paper brings together an accurate contextual analysis of the student’s own setting with a sermon that engages this, including a reflective critique. Details for the final paper, including focus and format, will be provided at the 17 April class session. Final papers must be submitted to the instructor by 12 June 2007.

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500