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Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century

Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century

by Robert W. Hefner

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This state-of-the-field overview of Pentecostalism around the world focuses on cultural developments among second- and third-generation adherents in regions with large Pentecostal communities, considering the impact of these developments on political participation, citizenship, gender relations, and economic morality. Leading scholars from anthropology, sociology,


This state-of-the-field overview of Pentecostalism around the world focuses on cultural developments among second- and third-generation adherents in regions with large Pentecostal communities, considering the impact of these developments on political participation, citizenship, gender relations, and economic morality. Leading scholars from anthropology, sociology, religious studies, and history present useful introductions to global issues and country-specific studies drawn from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the former USSR.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Brusco

"A valuable addition to the growing scholarship on Pentecostalism... [with] fresh ethnographic data on Pentecostalism in various settings" —Elizabeth Brusco, Pacific Lutheran University

Anthropology Review Database

"Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century is a valuable addition to the literature on a topic that was neglected by anthropologists for too long... it takes the pulse of an important field of research and begins to direct our gaze toward the futures of Pentecostalisms and to whatever new religious developments may come." —Anthropology Review Database

From the Publisher
"This edited volume offers the reader excellent coverage on a range of issues about the social, cultural, and political aspects of Pentecostalism. With contributions from sociologists, anthropologists, and religion scholars, the editor has brought together some of the top experts in the field with cases from most regions of the world including Brazil, Zimbabwe, China, Russia, Ukraine, India, and the Philippines." —Religious Studies Review

"Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century is a valuable addition to the literature on a topic that was neglected by anthropologists for too long... it takes the pulse of an important field of research and begins to direct our gaze toward the futures of Pentecostalisms and to whatever new religious developments may come." —Anthropology Review Database

"A valuable addition to the growing scholarship on Pentecostalism... [with] fresh ethnographic data on Pentecostalism in various settings" —Elizabeth Brusco, Pacific Lutheran University

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Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century

By Robert W. Hefner

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01094-0


Pentecostalism: An Alternative Form of Modernity and Modernization?


The religious origins of Pentecostalism lie in different strains of Christianity, but especially in the Methodist Holiness tradition. Likewise the social and geographical origins of Pentecostalism lie in locations as far apart as India and Wales, even though Pentecostals attach special importance to the explosion of fervor among a global concourse of people led by a black preacher in Los Angeles in 1906. After this paradigmatic event, white and black traditions of revival fused in a potent amalgam capable of crossing any number of cultural species barriers. A global starburst of missionary activity followed, often traveling along tracks pioneered by missionaries in the Holiness and Evangelical traditions.

Pentecostals take their cue from the New Testament and retrieve those aspects of the pristine gospel they believe to be lost in a mainstream rationalized Christianity, above all the gifts of Pentecost. Pentecostals recreate the New Testament, especially Luke–Acts, and their account of their origins echoes the time in Jerusalem when the disciples "received the Holy Ghost" during the post-Resurrection period of Pentecost. In Acts chapter 2 we are told that people were present from all over the Roman Empire and all heard the message "as it were in their own tongue." Missionaries spread out all round the Roman world, often following tracks laid down by Jewish proselytes. There is a parallel between global mobility in the late twentieth century, as that accelerated from the 1960s on, and the expanding network of communications in the Roman Empire. The empire was knit together by road, sea, and Greek and Latin, and the contemporary global reality is knit together by air travel, television, and the Internet, as well as English, Spanish, and other metropolitan languages.

We have in the early years, then, a fusion of white and black revivalist traditions, modern communications, and a metalanguage symbolically crossing ethnic and cultural barriers. Pentecostalism celebrates the gifts promised to everyone "baptized in the Spirit": tongues, healing, exorcism, and prophecy. Spiritual and physical healing are crucial to the witness of Pentecostals, especially where secular provision is scanty. Women exercise the gift of prophecy, while men more often exercise the gifts of preaching and exposition.

Pentecostalism is a narrative and oral faith, preached in homely language with homely examples by homely people to homely people. Believers exercise their gifts by immediate experience on the job, not lengthy instruction in theological colleges, though further training may be offered by biblical institutes. The message is urgent because expecting the end-time can stimulate remarkable bursts of energy in the meantime. Conversion represents an emotional upheaval whereby people discover new energies and fresh agency to overcome whatever may befall, confident that they are in the hands of providence. They are empowered through faith to do "all things."

Pentecostal teaching exhorts worshippers to a better life in this world in every sense of what the Victorians called betterment. They believe in self-help, and their religion is one of self-control and self-fashioning in everyday life fueled by self-expression in worship, Bible reading, and constant prayer. They want to be victors, not victims, and they change their circumstances rather than expecting others to right their wrongs for them. They know how to organize and they offer believers roles with opportunities to learn skills of leadership and organization. Perhaps the church helps its members acquire useful crafts like house-building or gives them scope to improve their musical gifts through playing an instrument or conducting a choir. The Victorian ideal of improvement complements self-help and betterment.

Betterment and prosperity here and now have deep roots in the Old Testament, whereas the powers of the Spirit revive the promises of the New. Pentecostals are most successful where the local gods are associated with the everyday goods of this life and Pentecostals promote a good God, the moral good, and the goods. Martin Lindhardt describes them as seeking to moralize money rather than view it as a donation of Fortune. Classical Pentecostals in the Holiness tradition are more alert to the dangers of possessions, whereas Neo-Pentecostals are more conscious of the constrictions of poverty and the benefits of consumerism. Neo-Pentecostals question whether anyone wants to be poor. The Pentecostal ethos is shown by texts that speak of "the day of small things," or propose advancement "not by might or power but by my Spirit," or warn believers not to "put money in a bag full of holes," or claim the righteous shall not "want for bread."

Pentecostal worship is participatory, with much body movement, free use of space, and rhythmic singing, so a service may last several hours at any time and often seems like a rock concert. Pentecostals have revived spontaneity in liturgy, though that requires greater control by pastors than fixed liturgies. The same style has been adopted by Catholic charismatics, for example in the Philippines, where the mass movement known as El Shaddai mobilizes populist religious sentiment (see Katherine Wiegele's chapter in this volume). Participation and spontaneity are associated with charismatic authority rather than with a priesthood mediating the divine through settled rituals. Moreover, the power of the divine sensed in major Pentecostal and charismatic events creates a sense of collective presence among participants.

The Development of a Transnational Voluntary Association

Pentecostalism spearheads the modern efflorescence of the transnational voluntary group, depending on protective borders around the believers rather than on territorial borders. It often lacks a sense of locality and place, and lies at the other end of the spectrum from territorial churches conferring membership by ethnic birthright. Voluntarism distinguishes Pentecostalism from the historic world faiths, all of which have major territorial emplacements. However, transnational voluntarism does not prevent Pentecostalism from sometimes appealing to ethnic minorities or bidding for political influence and local power.

Inevitably the historical roots of Pentecostalism lie within territorial churches. They reach back to Germany, where devotional and Pietist groups with missionary aspirations proliferated within Lutheranism, for example in Halle and Hernnhut, and more immediately to England, where groups influenced by German developments emerged within the Church of England. In England these devotional cells, preaching the need for an experience of conversion, broke away into voluntary groups to form a large voluntary sector. Meanwhile in North America various migrant groups, many of them closely linked to the voluntary sector and to revivalism in the British Isles, constituted the dominant form of religion. They created the first pluralistic society and the seedbed within which white and black revivalism might fuse in Pentecostalism.

Fusion and fission go together, and Pentecostalism has constantly broken up into groups started by rival religious entrepreneurs and adjusting to varied clienteles. As often happens with religious enthusiasm, men and women, white and black, may be fused together in the initial period of effervescence by a common purpose. Momentarily they enjoy a unity across barriers of gender and race. But as with previous movements, Methodism included, these barriers return as time goes on. Some churches, like the Four Square Gospel Church founded by Aimee MacPherson, accept female pastors, while others stress male headship although women play major roles in leadership. Some churches are racially mixed and others not.

The missionary drive of Pentecostalism paralleled the missionary drive within the mainstream churches, notably the expectations voiced at the Edinburgh Missionary conference of 1910. Pentecostalism is the populist alternative to the mainstream churches, and is more aligned to inspirited religiosity in the majority world. It plans to "preach the gospel to every creature" and fulfill the "Great Commission" at the conclusion of Matthew's Gospel. Pentecostalism is the successor, as well as a rival, to Methodism, a mainstream church that used to play the social role now played by Pentecostalism. As Methodism was to the Church of England, so the Holiness branch of Methodism was to the more staid forms of Methodism, and so Pentecostalism was to the Holiness movement. Moreover, what Élie Halévy argued about the role of Methodism in preventing a French-style revolution in England can also be argued about Pentecostalism in the two-thirds world. As Methodism mobilized subordinate groups and gave voice to their aspirations, especially in singing, so today Pentecostalism mobilizes newly emerging groups around the globe, giving voice to their hopes, especially in ecstatic utterance. Pentecostalism emulates and competes with groups, for example in Africa, that have already partly achieved those hopes and aspirations. It is the noisy ecstasy of the poor who are not so poor they cannot hope to be better off.

Wanting to Matter, to Be Mobile and Educated

Aspiring groups that eventually find a voice, or an ecstatic tongue, seek recognition; and they begin by asserting they are recognized by a God who overlooks the contemptuous hierarchies of men. As large assemblies of hitherto unnoticed and excluded people look around them, and as politicians learn their language to seek their support, the once-excluded realize they quite literally count for something. They cite inflated statistics of their success, congratulating themselves on the disciplines and experiences of responsibility that have assisted their social mobility thus far.

In time, the experience of social mobility may motivate some members to identify once more with a mainstream church, just as some Methodists have once more identified with the Anglican Church. In some places, for example in parts of Latin America, there is a complete alternative hierarchy of denominations, and religious mobility through this hierarchy mirrors social mobility. People may begin in a highly ascetic and humble group and graduate to a group with a more relaxed atmosphere, and one serving the social constituency to which they aspire rather than the one to which they currently belong. Members of groups that have already achieved success seek an atmosphere that speaks to their moral problems and existential anxieties. In Latin America, charismatic Anglicans or Baptists "in renewal" may meet their concerns more directly than the Catholic Church.

Alternatively members of one generation may pass through the Pentecostal experience and achieve what they aspire to, only to find the Pentecostal environment too restrictive or culturally too limited and slip into a merely nominal Christianity. Some may leave the Assemblies of God and join a businessmen's fellowship or a house church. For others the Pentecostal experience is just a phase in the life-cycle, though one that probably leaves its mark before they depart. Plausible estimates suggest that roughly half of Pentecostal converts fall away, and male adolescents are particularly at risk, suborned by the adolescent life-style and football, sex, and alcohol at the weekend. All this makes it very difficult to identify the impact on social mobility of Pentecostal personal and familial discipline. Obviously, if you give up alcohol, tobacco, and philandering, replace the street with the domestic table, and rope yourselves together with others of like mind, your life chances are likely to improve. Mobility probably occurs over generations, but there are no longitudinal studies to document this.

The complexity of any estimate of what Pentecostalism contributes to social mobility becomes clear once you take into account people who are already mobile and who find the Pentecostal or charismatic ethos an attractive reinforcement of the discipline that has helped them advance hitherto. There are various patterns here. One or two Pentecostal churches, like the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria, seek out members of the elite. The RCCG offers a particularly exuberant example of the church as an international business corporation, and it appeals to people at ease in that environment. Some entrepreneurs in the Chinese diaspora of Southeast Asia gravitate to a charismatic church partly on account of elective affinity but also because such a church offers a haven for an ethnic minority under pressure.

Given the variety of Pentecostal manifestations and the overlap with other forms of charismatic and Evangelical Christianity, particularly higher up the social scale, the attitudes of Pentecostals to education and their experience of it are difficult to summarize. Initially the main imperative for converts is enhanced survival within the secure boundaries of the church, dramatized by the all-embracing promise of transformation and shared metanoia. Survival is reinforced not only by mutual assistance but by the everyday skills converts can pick up in speaking, reading, and organizing. Pentecostals are also interested in those forms of education that lift you above the precarious zone of immediate needs: technical skills, and media, management, and business savvy. Humanistic education and the arts of self-cultivation, or theology embedded in the humanities, have no practical application and may involve disciplines that corrode faith, commitment, and confidence in the Bible. For example, some social science disciplines are imbued with postcolonial theories and ideas of indigenous cultural authenticity that may even induce contempt for the Pentecostal culture that initially put such disciplines within reach. Perhaps mathematics and music are relatively safe. A church that sings and plays instruments will induct you into musical skills that can eventually reach a genuinely serious level.

The education of the pastorate is based on apprenticeship and biblical institutes, and though it puts you somewhat above the people you serve, it does not equip you by way of a long formation with discourses alien to your origins. It remains, and needs to remain, demotic. Megachurches such as one finds in Nigeria and Brazil are likely to provide their own educational facilities, from Sunday schools to institutions imparting useful knowledge and even "universities." Over time educated Pentecostals emerge who believe their faith involves social outreach. Of course, other churches seek to appropriate the appeal of Pentecostalism. Mainstream churches, like the Catholic Church in Brazil, the Anglican Church in West Africa, and the Coptic and Lutheran Churches in East Africa, seek to preempt the unique selling points of Pentecostalism or pick up a charismatic atmosphere by contagion, recognizing its appeal to their membership.

Deregulated Religious Markets

Pentecostalism is a natural denizen of deregulated religious markets; its expansion benefits from, and reinforces, whatever pressure may already exist for deregulation. Thus it arose "naturally" in the unregulated religious market of the United States but exported the pluralistic and competitive model to a Latin America where the Catholic monopoly subsumed all kinds of inspirited religious activity. Spirit cults hitherto active within a Catholic ambience acquired a more autonomous religious profile at the same time as Pentecostalism provided the most dramatic instance of autonomy. Initially there was tension all round, from Catholics, historic Protestants, cultural nationalists, and spirit cultists alike, but Pentecostals very quickly assimilated "inspirited" aspects of local culture and became part of a variegated scene in spite of the sharp edge they presented to "the world."

The large-scale expansion of Pentecostalism to Africa from the 1970s on was easier, partly because Pentecostals had made a modest entry into the semi-Christianized and pluralist religious economy of sub-Saharan Africa much earlier in the century. Initially Catholic countries in Francophone and Portuguese-speaking Africa were more resistant than Protestant ones, but eventually their religious markets also opened up to competition and Pentecostalism thrived on the new opportunities.


Excerpted from Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century by Robert W. Hefner. Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author

Robert W. Hefner is Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University and author or editor of 17 books on religion and politics, including Shari’a Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World (IUP, 2011) and Muslims and Modernity: Society and Culture since 1800.

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