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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Jon F. Schamber

First Committee Member

Kenneth Day

Second Committee Member

Qingwen Dong


This study examines the ancient Indian religious work, the Bhagavad Gita. This work of Hindu religious thought describes a mythic dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, in which the issue of Arjuna's fighting against his family is discussed. Topics ranging from caste-bound duty to the metaphysical structure of reality are covered in this relatively short text. Whereas previous inquiries have focused solely on the philosophical doctrine of this work, this investigation examines the use and form of narrative elements within this dialogue to determine how they contribute to its potential effectiveness and message construction. Previous research has indicated that story telling is an integral format for the transmittal of Indian transcendent knowledge. Using the critical theory of narrative as expounded in the modern rhetorical tradition, this narrative is examined in regard to its internal structure and the meanings it invites the audience to extract. After situating this study in the stream of modern scholarship, a detailed explication of the narrative method of rhetorical criticism is offered, along with its subsequent application to the artifact in question. Various research questions are discussed in light of this application, with results being analyzed. Through narrative, this religious work is found to construct issues of "self," "others," "duty," and "reality" in interesting and unique ways. This study advances an understanding of multivalent narratives, such as the Bhagavad Gita, that use ambiguity in the text to open the audience to possibilities not experienced under their value system. This inquiry observes four main elements that must be present in order for a text to inspire possible value system change and novelty in audience members: these texts must contain differing value structures and hierarchies, they must not immediately or conclusively resolve the tensions between these value structures, the value structures implied in the text can admit to differing actions in relation to audience perception, and the various value structures within the narrative must not be so determinant that they cannot be reconciled. Through these means, narratives such as the Bhagavad Gita can expose temporally and spatially distant audiences to novel value hierarchies.



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