Dr. O’Keefe’s research focuses on public argument in the United States, particularly how authority and trust are negotiated by those in positions of moral leadership. She is interested in religious discourse in contemporary American political debate, especially the complex interactions between and among law, public policy, and religious communities in the United States. Other research interests include bioethics, bureaucratic language, and public health policy.
Dr. O’Keefe uses insights and methods from linguistics to demonstrate how small-scale grammatical constructions form the scaffolding for large-scale rhetorical goals, particularly as those goals revolve around public argumentation, ethics, and trust. Such methods have informed research on normative communication ethics, such as the importance of using appropriate metaphors when discussing promissory technology, such as CRISPR-Cas9.
She currently serves on the University of California Hospital Ethics Committee and is also a member of the steering committee for the statewide California End of Life Option Act Task Force which seeks to prepare and support health organizations (including non-participating ones) in the implementation of the California Physician Aid in Dying option.