The attempted assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in February 2011 seemed to confirm the fears of many observers that public discourse in the United States had reached a dangerously low level of civility. The distinction between persuasion and force dates back to ancient Greek civilization, yet it remains unclear how rhetoric and communication relate to violence. During March 1-4, 2012, Texas A&M University hosted the Rhetoric and Symbolic Violence Conference, an interdisciplinary exploration of the following issues: Why do so many people find cultural representations of violence pleasurable? Do images and arguments ever cause violence directly, or is it the case, as Justice Holmes said, that “every idea is an incitement”? Are legal sanctions against incitement to racial, religious, or gender violence appropriate in a liberal democracy? Most violence in the world today is done in the name of religion; how does religion work to legitimate or eliminate violence? How did torture become acceptable in the United States after 2001? What does it mean to speak for or speak as a victim of violence? The liberal arts are founded on the notion that reading good books can make us better people, but can reading bad books make us worse people? If so, how? Is there a distinctive political rhetoric of justification of violence? Viewed from the standpoint of the rhetoric of inquiry, what are the most persuasive explanation-forms that account for violent conduct and symbolic violence? The conference featured 9 plenary session speakers, including David Zarefsky, Theresa Beiner, Joshua Gunn, Erin Rand, Dana Cloud, Mike Hogan, and Robert Ivie and 5 competitive/submitted panel sessions by junior and senior scholars.