This paper tests a proto-model of historical religious polemic discourse through a case study of a 1690s dispute between the schismatic former Quaker George Keith and Thomas Ellwood, a prominent Quaker representing the Quaker movement in England at that time. Thomas Gloning, Gerd Fritz, and others, suggest certain rhetorical strategies underlie functional and evaluative argumentation language typically employed. Findings contrast discourse elements common to the Keithian texts that do match some traditional characteristics, despite a superficial impression indicating otherwise, but show too where the model fails. An additional approach, not part of the traditional model, touches on linguistic politeness theory.
This empirical case study provides a new approach to the understanding of discursively constructed Quaker identity in the seventeenth century, from the point of view of those opposed to the dissenting Christian movement. This article asks how others may have viewed adherents to the Quaker communities in England. The findings illustrate a range of negative and denigrating discourses that go beyond abstract religious controversy to sow manufactured fear of the Quaker community. Overt and covert linguistic mechanisms used by anti-Quaker writers reveal expressions of emerging moral panic underlying unsubstantiated accusations attacking the minority Quaker community.