Alt Title

Rhetoric of John Alexander Dowie and the Christian Catholic Church

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Self, Lois S.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Communication


Dowie; John Alexander; 1847-1907--Oratory; Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion; Rhetoric--Religious aspects


This thesis is a work of rhetorical history that examines the role of John Alexander Dowie as the General Overseer of the Christian Catholic Church, a religious social movement prominent in the late 1800s and early 1900s, based in Zion, Illinois. The case study focused on the importance of several key pieces of rhetoric from the movement. Dowie's strong belief in the concept of faith healing and his construction of a purely Christian city in the early 1900s were unique factors of his leadership. Analyzed as a social movement as described in communication literature, the rhetorical life cycle of the Christian Catholic Church was examined through the symbolic impact of several key events in Dowie's lifetime. Initially, Dowie had to make serious efforts to advance his ideas into the public sphere. Dowie's rise to power began at the World's Fair of 1893 in Chicago where he practiced faith healing and eventually purchased land north of Chicago and established Zion City. A catalytic event in the movement's rhetorical history resulted when tragedy struck Dowie's daughter, Esther, who was burned in an accidental fire. Violating the church's beliefs in faith healing, a medical doctor was called to treat Esther, who nonetheless died. This catalytic event caused a leadership crisis in which Dowie had to justify himself against perceived hypocrisy before doubtful members of the establishment. Dowie was unable to do so and, as his health and credibility dwindled, he was deposed as the General Overseer of the Christian Catholic Church in the midst of several scandalous rumors. He authored a statement of self-defense, a close analysis of which proves that some charges against him were accurate. Dowie's successor, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, continued as General Overseer into the movement's maintenance phase and was followed by a long line of General Overseers with varying leadership styles. The church remains today, but Zion residents are no longer under its rule. This case study has demonstrated the interplay of rhetorical events, movement stages, and leadership tactics in order to promote a better understanding of this movement and others that are similar in nature.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [140]-145)


145 pages




Northern Illinois University

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