Basic structure of the corpus
The structure of the corpus rests on a stratified account of the discourse world of Christian religion, with three spheres. Each sphere is defined by a distinctive communicative constellation involving God and/or members of the Christian community, as seen in the discourse world of Christian religion:
- God's word directed to the Christian community as represented in the Bible
- Christian believers addressing God in prayers
- communication forms between Christians: religious instruction and theological discussion
This account is stratified because the different spheres of religious communication reveal the categorical differences between their respective genres (for example, between liturgical prayer on the one hand, and the genres of religious instruction and theological discussion on the other). The texts of the Bible and prayers have a different status from sermons, treatises and catechisms, for example, because they involve a transcendental authority as addressor or as addressee.
The different communicative settings of the spheres of religious discourse, that is, the differing constellations of addressor and addressee, provide typically different functional profiles for their respective genres. For example, the major text functions of the genres of religious instruction are different from those found in private prayer. The genres of religious instruction typically comprise at least five text functions, which in turn may result in differing subsections in one text, exhortation, exposition, exegesis, narration and argumentation. The typical text functions associated with prayer genres, on the other hand, are invocation, petition, thanksgiving, confession/profession and adoration. These can also be assigned to separate text sections. In its present form, the Corpus of English Religious Prose is focussed on (private) prayer and the genres associated with religious instruction.
The coverage of genres in the corpus is flexible in order to do justice to their respective history. However, period divisions are handled rather strictly to give the corpus a firm backbone against which the development of individual genres can be portrayed. Periods cover 50-year time spans throughout the corpus with one exception. Due to the scarcity of extant texts and the problems of delimitation of the dates of composition and manuscript, respectively, the Early Middle English period is treated as one large block of 150 years, from 1150 to 1300.
Sociolinguistic coverage includes a variety of factors, which are, however, for the most part confined to particular genres. At the present stage, we include age groups (only for catechisms) and gender (for catechisms and monastic rules). In the case of sermons, we distinguish cycle and single sermons: cycle sermons were compiled to be re-used on a yearly basis for various and indeterminate audiences. Single sermons, in contrast, are marked for the preacher who delivered them or for the occasion on which they were delivered (or both). We assume that these circumstances may trigger socio-stylistic variation in the texts. Different denominations, finally, are covered as far as it is possible in the individual genres.