Global Pentecostalism: An Inquiry into the Cultural Dimensions of Globalization

Master's Thesis, 2012

105 Pages, Grade: 5.5



1. Introduction

2. Studying Global Pentecostalism

3. Theoretical Contexts
3.1 Religion, Modernity and Secularization
3.2 Globalization
3.3 Globalization of Religion

4. Mapping Global Pentecostalism
4.1 Definitional Matters
4.2 (Re)-Constructing the Global Pentecostal Network
4.3 The Emergence and Formation of Global Pentecostalism

5. Globalization of Pentecostalism
5.1 Conversion
5.2 Pentecostal Cosmology
5.3 Global Outreach and Spread
5.4 A Short Synopsis

6. Pentecostalism and Capitalism
6.1 The Theology of Prosperity
6.2 Discussing the Pentecostal-Capitalism Nexus

7. Conclusion and Outlook

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Let me set up this thesis with a brief illustration of my first encounters with Pente- costalism: Back in 1999, while traveling around in the US I was kindly invited by a group of young and eager Bible college students to join them in their weekly church service on Sunday. They belonged to a Pentecostal inspired church called ‘The Riv- er’, situated in the Tampa Bay Area, Florida, and run by a charismatic preacher from South Africa, who liked to call himself ‘the Holy Ghost Bartender’. Curious about it, I accepted their invitation. Thus, the next Sunday, I found myself amidst a huge con- gregation — by my count there must have been around three to four thousand atten- dees — all neatly dressed up in their churchgoing outfits and ready to ‘get filled with the Holy Ghost’. What I experienced during the church service, however, was some- thing I had never seen before (at least not in Europe). As the minister wandered through the aisles, fervently trying to spread the ‘Fire of the Holy Spirit’ by touching people on their foreheads, the worshippers started to break into uncontrollable ‘holy laughter’. Some began dancing ecstatically through the aisles, shaking their bodies as if possessed. Others were jerking spasmodically on the ground, their eyes wide open, uttering strange words nobody could understand. They were, as one of the students explained to me later, ‘slain in the Spirit’, meaning that they had personally encoun- tered the Holy Spirit and thus were touched by God. To an outsider like me, the whole scene seemed rather surreal and the density of the atmosphere left me with a queasy feeling lasting several days. I would have written off this episode as a typical ‘Crazy-American-Christians’ kind of experience that one encounters in the US quite frequently, if I hadn’t had a similar experience just a few years later. This time I had the chance to visit a Pentecostal church in Soweto, South Africa. The ecstatic per- formance of the congregation during the church service reminded me strongly of the one I had witnessed in ‘The River Church’ in Tampa. Although there were minor differences in the way they conducted their church ceremony and the manners as well as the intensity of experiencing the Holy Spirit varied (for example, the people in Soweto didn’t seem to bother much about ‘holy laughter’ but stressed the impor- tance of healing through exorcism) the emphasis and centrality given to the presence of the Holy Spirit were alike. On my recent field trips to Indonesia and Singapore, I could observe similar patterns of Pentecostal worship, however, again with slightly different accentuations. I believe that these kinds of Pentecostal manifestations can be detected around the world, be it in Chinese Pentecostal congregations in Sydney, among migrant African Pentecostals in London or Philippine Charismatics in Hong Kong.

The reason for beginning this thesis with an illustration like this is neither to bore the reader with some trivial droll story of my life, nor to bring the religious practices of Pentecostals into discredit. Instead, my intention is to point out to the interesting fact that despite the different cultural contexts in which Pentecostalism could establish itself globally, the religious characteristics of Pentecostal churches and charismatic groups resemble each other in considerable ways. What makes the Pentecostal movement so unique is not so much its global expansion. Religions, such as Christianity and Islam that claim universal relevance have always been viewed as possessing globalizing tendencies. The spread of Pentecostalism is insofar outstand- ing that it has the ability to adapt itself to local conditions while maintaining and pre- serving its distinct religious features at the same time. In this sense, Pentecostalism can be considered being truly the first global religion and historically, the first and paradigmatic case of a de-centered and de-territorialized global culture (Casanova 2001: 437).

The birth and rapid global expansion of Pentecostal movements has led to widespread recognition of Pentecostalism as a major force in the Christian globaliza- tion enterprise, and a significant subset within the broader globalization movement. A main thread running through the study of global Pentecostalism, therefore, is its adaptability to the modern world system and, concomitantly its increasing visibility in the public sphere. Underlying the assertion of cultural adaptability is the assump- tion that the world’s economic, political, and other societal structures have shifted (and continue to shift), and that Pentecostalism as a religious orientation has the abil- ity to accommodate, or maybe even leverage, those shifts. This does not seem to fit into the common picture of religion as being merely a private matter. In this secular- ist reading Pentecostalism is mainly conceived as being ‘other-worldly’ with a strong emphasis on personal salvation and basically indifferent towards social, economic, environmental and political issues. Accordingly, this reductionist conception treats Pentecostalism (or religion in general) as an independent and analytically separate domain within society and equates it too readily with abstract beliefs, doctrines and practices. Yet, one can observe that Pentecostals around the world are increasingly involved in social ministry (Miller and Yamamori 2007), business networks (Koning and Dahles 2009) or even in political activities (Marshall 2009; O’Neill 2010), alto- gether helping to facilitate socio-economical and political change and transformation in global society. Rather than just responding to globalization processes Pentecostalism acts on and actively shapes the dynamics of globalization, and thus can be viewed as yet another powerful force in the ‘re-sacralization’ or ‘re-enchantment’ of the world (cf. Csordas 2011). Put differently, Pentecostalism seems to be “flexible and resilient enough to adapt to and be at home with both modernity and its elusive successor, post-modernity” (Anderson 2004: 285).

Out of these preliminary considerations emerges following interrelated complex of questions which I want to discuss in this thesis. The first question asks about the ori- gins of Pentecostalism and the historical trajectories of its emergence. How did Pen- tecostalism expand globally and what were the conditions for its development? What theoretical framework is suitable to define this fluid and reticular movement? The second question refers to the reasons for the rapid growth of Pentecostalism. Why is it, that Pentecostalism attracts so many people around the world? How can the global success story of Pentecostalism be explained? What external and internal factors ac- count for making the Pentecostal movement a ‘global winner’? Underlying these two topics is another, more fundamental question that runs like a common thread through this thesis: How does global Pentecostalism relate to processes of globalization and modernization and what forms does it take in an increasingly globalized setting? Or, more generally speaking: How, under global conditions, can new forms of religion and religiosity like that of Pentecostalism be adequately described and analyzed scientifically? In short, the central aim of this thesis is to understand Pentecostal ex- pansion within the theoretical framework of globalization and in terms of its internal religious characteristics. In my opinion, Pentecostalism can serve as a heuristic entry point to understand the complexity of cultural globalization processes more general- ly. With this end in mind and for this purpose, Pentecostalism is regarded as an ac- tive agent of globalization; as a transnational movement characterized by fluidity, innovation, and practicality within the context of an increasingly complex and plural world order, particularly in terms of the wider discourses on globalization.

Entering the academic field of discourse on religion and globalization in general and that of the interrelationship between globalization and Pentecostalism in particular, can be confusing and at times even frustrating. For one thing, there are numerous theoretical approaches that have been employed in attempting to understand Pente- costalism’s complex nature. However, none provides a wholesale account of what Pentecostalism is all about: they merely give insights into certain aspects. Moreover, the problem with these contrasting approaches is that they tend to take a static picture of a movement that has constantly been in a state of transition and metamorphosis. As Hunt (2010: 197) rightly points out “Pentecostalism appears to change its colors not only according to wider cultural transformations from modernity to postmoderni- ty but also as a result of dynamics within the movement itself.” Next, and in refer- ence to John Urry’s concept of complexity, Pentecostalism mirrors the current state of the globe as a strangely disordered, complex and non-linear world, which can be characterized by unpredictability and irreversibility (Urry 2004: 11). Urry (ibid.) argues that such global systems lack “finalized ‘equilibrium’ and ‘order’ [and there- fore,] do not exhibit and sustain unchanging structural stability.” One side effect of this increasing complexity is that ‘old’ analytical categories (such as society, culture, religion, the sacred and the secular, etc.) no longer possess the explanatory stability and force necessary for examining these “strangely ordered systems” (ibid.). Howev- er, despite this unsatisfactory condition, there seems to be no alternative than to stick to already established concepts, at least for the time being.

Given the fact that today’s social configurations are fundamentally complex, multiple, and dynamic, any theoretical approach to Pentecostalism will always re- main ephemeral and amorphous, thus only possessing the capability of generating and reproducing a ‘kaleidoscopic’ image of the religious phenomenon we label as the ‘Pentecostal movement’. This thesis therefore, does not provide any clear-cut and definitive answers to the complex nature of globalization and Pentecostalism. Rather it should be understood as an explorative approach that seeks to untangle some of the complexities that emerge when theorizing global Pentecostalism. As such I do not intend to ‘prove’ any hypothesis but attempt to critically discuss various lines of ar- guments within the discourse on the academic study of Pentecostalism and globaliza- tion.

In order to do so, this thesis is structured as follows: In the subsequent chapter I will first briefly look at the emergence of Pentecostalism as a subject of academic re- search, followed by a reflection on the process of my own field research in Southeast Asia. Chapter three contextualizes the thematic of this thesis by examining some theoretical developments on topics such as modernity, secularization, globalization and the globalization of religion. This will lay the foundation for my further analysis on the spread and impact of Pentecostalism in the contemporary global context. In chapter four I will turn to definitional issues, trying to identify Pentecostalism and addressing some problems that arise with it. Further I will discuss and trace back the global historical origins of the Pentecostal network. The succeeding chapter (chapter five) looks at some of the internal factors that constitute Pentecostalism as a globa- lized religion and the ways it relates to external processes of globalization. In chapter six I will go into a more detailed analysis of the interrelationship between Pentecos- talism and capitalism, discussing the Pentecostal prosperity gospel and some of the sociological approaches that try to account for this nexus. Finally, chapter seven pro- vides a brief summary of the main arguments of this thesis and gives an outlook on possible future research.

2. Studying Global Pentecostalism

Our preserved theories and the world fit together so snugly less because we have found out how the world is than because we have tailored each to the other ” (Hacking 1992:3)

The global expansion of Pentecostalism is one of the most striking religious pheno- mena in the contemporary world. Along with Islam, Pentecostalism seems to represent “the largest shift in the contemporary global religious economy” (D. Martin 2011: 66). Today, Pentecostal Christianity is by no means some marginal or peculiar denomination within world Christianity. It is not simply a niche product in the global religious market, but the most dynamic and fastest growing religious movement within the contemporary Christian world (Casanova 2001: 435; Anderson 2004: 1). According to Barret and Johnson, approximately a quarter of the world’s two billion Christians are believed to be Pentecostals (Barret and Johnson 2003: 24-25). Whe- reas in 1970 less than 10 percent of Christians identified with Pentecostalism, by 2025, fully one-third may be Pentecostal (ibid.). However, putting numbers on this emergent expression of Christianity is a difficult endeavor, as is the process of draw- ing a hard line between Pentecostals and other forms of Christian charismatics. For Barret and Johnson (2003), for instance, the Pentecostal movement includes all Christians who consider themselves Pentecostal Charismatic and pursue the corres- ponding religious praxis. Catholics and Protestants-not just members of organized Pentecostal churches-are therefore also included in Barrett's and Johnson’s calcula- tions. Any statistics on Pentecostalism must therefore be looked at critically, as they depend on what definition of Pentecostalism and charismatic movements one adopts. When evaluating statistics on the size of the Pentecostal movements one needs to remember the great range of churches that are grouped under this rubric (Robbins 2004: 122). According to Barret and Johnson (2003), not less than 740 recognized Pentecostal denominations can be counted as belonging to the wider Pentecostal movement. However, there is also a significant segment of the movement that is in- dependent and is not organized into denominations. Nevertheless, even conservative estimates see the Pentecostal movement as having around 250 million adherents (D. Martin 2002: 1).

Interestingly Pentecostalism’s most explosive growth has occurred in the southern hemisphere so that today around two-thirds of Pentecostal adherents live outside the West. The following summary statement by Anderson (2005a: 29) represents a brief but telling report on this phenomenon:

According to Barrett and Johnson’s statistics, there were 1,227 million Christians in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania in 2004, 62% of the world’s Christians, while those of the two northern continents (including Russia) constituted only 38%, [thus showing the] dramatic evidence of how rapidly the western share of world Christianity has decreased in the twentieth century. If present trends continue, by 2025 69% of the world’s Christians will live in the South, with only 31% in the North.

Even though we have to take these figures with a grain of salt, it is evident that there is a decrease in the western share of world Christianity. The center of gravity in the Christian world shifts inexorably southwards, to Africa, Asia and Latin America, with most of the dramatic church growth taking place in Pentecostal and indigenous and independent Pentecostal-like churches (Anderson 2005b: 151; Jenkins 2002: 2). As such, one aspect of this religious ‘resurgence’ is the disintegrating relationship between the West and Christianity. We could even state that Christianity is now re- turning to its roots by becoming a post-Western religion dominated by the peoples, cultures, and countries of the global South.

This radical southward swing of Christianity has not gone unnoticed. The Economist, for instance, published an article on the influential growth of Pentecostal mega-churches in Guatemala, going so far as to conclude that a “century after its birth Pentecostalism is redrawing the religious map of the world and undermining the notion that modernity is secular” (The Economist 2006). Similarly, the Time Maga- zine proclaims, “Christianity’s surge in Indonesia,” stating that a “religious revolu- tion is transforming Indonesia” in that there has been a “boom in Christianity,” espe- cially in its Pentecostal and evangelical guise (Beech 2010). Looking at these ten- dencies and on the basis of my own observations, especially in Southeast Asia, Casa- nova might be right in his prediction “that Pentecostalism is likely to become the predominant global form of Christianity of the 21st century” (Casanova 2001: 435).

However, the globalization of Pentecostalism in general and the observable surge of Pentecostal and charismatic forms of Christianity in the ‘Global South’ in particular, have only recently fallen below the radar of scholarly attention. Cultural anthropologists and sociologists long had the propensity to discount the importance of Christianity as an object of study, generally “denying [that] it is a meaningful sys- tem like others with its own coherence and contradictions” (Robbins 2007:6). For Robbins, however, this neglect is not merely accidental, but is actively produced “by those interested in studying religion who choose to avoid Christian societies when they pick field sites” (ibid.). Robbins, writes in this regard of an “overdetermined history of neglect” (2006: 220), suggesting that Christians are “too similar to anthro- pologists to be worthy of study and too meaningfully different to be easily made sense of by the use of standard anthropologist tools” (2003a: 192). The latter difficul- ty arises because Christianity draws on part of Western cultural traditions, which is “in critical dialogue with the modernist ideas on which anthropology is founded” (ibid.). Similarly, Fenella (2005: 340 ) argues that despite the existence of distinguished ethnographies on Christian areas, there has been a tendency to avoid or undertheorize the subject of Christianity or to assume that its meanings are ‘obvious’ because they are part of the culture from which anthropologists themselves are largely drawn.

By looking at the historical formation of anthropology and sociology as absolute ‘secular’ disciplines (at least in their self-understanding), Fenella further observes, “that the idea of Christianity as an universally and essential ascetic and other-worldly religion [has] embedded itself, unrecognized, in aspects of anthropological [and sociological] theory itself” (ibid.: 341). Thus, anthropological and sociological approaches to Christianity are often informed by a rather selective understanding of Christianity, stressing its ascetic components premised on a body-spirit dualism and seeing its importance mainly as “a harbinger of secular modernity” (ibid.). Hence, where Christianity was studied outside the ‘West’ it has usually been peripheral and viewed as an alien intrusion, undermining local cosmologies.

However that may be, the rapid and pervasive expansion of Pentecostalism and other charismatic forms of Christianity has compelled scholars to critically reconsider their neglect of one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world. Accordingly today there is an ever increasing academic interest in understanding the dynamics of global Christianity in general and the rise of Pentecostalism in particular. Pentecos- talism and its relation to globalization has been the subject of much scholarly debate recently, especially in disciplines such as sociology of religion and social anthropol- ogy of religion. Unfortunately, this has by far not affected the research agendas in the science of religion (Religionswissenschaft) departments as it should have, at least to my observation. It seems that for most science of religion scholars, the preoccupation with research topics related to Christianity is preferably left to theologians, church sociologists, or other social scientific disciplines (but see Währisch-Oblau 2009; Bergunder 2008).1 In my thesis, I therefore want to step into this gap by focusing on the different theoretical attempts made to explain the massive global expansion of Pentecostalism and its relation to broader processes of globalization.

Making up for ‘ wasted ’ time and methodological concerns After having discussed how Pentecostalism has emerged as a subject of academic research, I will now provide a short review of my own experiences ‘on the field’. For reasons of transparency, I will reflect on the actual process of how the idea to this thesis has been evolved and the sometimes unpredictable ways these ideas finally are shaped, reshaped or even dismissed. These insights will further help to understand why this thesis is not based on any empirical findings, but instead solely relies on theoretical premises.

The observable emergence of Pentecostalism as a global movement created the starting point of a small research project I intended to carry out in June/July 2011 in the city of Surabaya, Indonesia. The aim was to analyze, why and by what means Pentecostals in Surabaya engage themselves socially in their community and to what extent these social activities help to provide and promote the building of bridges and links towards wider society. Admittedly, the scope of my research interest was rather wide-ranging. As there were too many unknown factors related to the success of the project, I thought that a broad approach would make sense. Keeping my research questions open and general I intended to generate theoretical assumptions out of the research process itself, rather than to stick to a particular theory and test specific hy- pothesis constructed beforehand. However, I had to realize that this approach only makes sense, when conducting field research for a longer period of time. Doing re- search from scratch, off the beaten path and with no other reliable data available takes considerably more time than I had at disposal. Besides time constraints, I en- countered other obstacles which showed me the limits of my endeavor: First, getting access into the research field proved to be rather difficult due to my underestimation of the big size and diversity of Pentecostal churches in Surabaya. Second, although I finally had a ‘gate keeper’ to get access into one church, it was impossible to get to know any person in a responsible position as to gain insights about their theological doctrines on social ministry or the structure of their church organization. Third, the interviews I planned to conduct largely failed because of my elementary Indonesian language skills and the rudimentary command of English on behalf of my interview partners. In short, neither did the actual outcome of my small research project meet my expectations, nor was the quality of the data, I had gathered good and sufficient enough to base my master thesis on. Nevertheless, I didn’t write this experience off as a total failure. On the contrary, I think I have gained a lot of interesting insight, culturally and scientifically.

Further, and more importantly, this experience stimulated me to pose some fundamental epistemological questions about the nature of social-scientific metho- dology in general, its limits in creating meaning as well as the contestable relation- ship between theory, method and the research field. It led me to revise some of my basic assumptions about the reliability and validity of data gained from field research and to be cautious about how to apply them. As Law and Urry argue, research me- thods are performative of the social, meaning that they both produce and are consti- tuted by the social and thus “can help to bring into being what they also discover” (Law and Urry 2003: 3). Methods do not simply describe social realities and social worlds as they are, but also enact and produce the realities that they understand. As such, research methods and the data gained from them are neither self-evident nor objective representations of ‘the world’, but rather constructed models that need to be explained and interpreted (Law, Savage and Ruppert 2011). In other words, scientific methods are not innocent, but make a “system of interference and work together with science towards making particular forms real while eroding others” (Law and Urry 2003: 3). This is not the place to discuss the (political) implications of this argument. Instead, what I try to show is how seemingly self-evident ‘truths’ about social- scientific methods, ones that I encountered in seminaries and textbooks on metho- dology over and over again, loose some of their plausibility when actually doing field research. Most of the Pentecostal churches in Surabaya I visited, neither had any kind of institutionalized ‘social welfare program’, nor were social concerns a predominant part of their religious everyday-lives. This is not to say that social activ- ities, such as donating for the poor or providing basic health care services, were completely absent. However, my observation was that most of these social engage- ments were rather informal, carried out on an irregular basis and initiated privately rather than organized by the church. They were simply not a distinct feature of Pen- tecostal religiosity. So I could have stuck to my original research idea in the sense of ‘seek, and you shall find’, integrating the meager outcome of my research data into a theoretical framework and thus presenting a well-fitting, coherent picture of Pente- costals in Surabaya and their social engagement in their community. In other words, I could have constructed and described a social reality while completely ignoring oth- er, maybe more important aspects of Pentecostal societal involvements. In my opi- nion, this would not have done justice to the Pentecostal people I have met in Sura- baya. It would have felt like betraying them.

After this, at first sight, rather frustrating experience I had to rethink and re- define the thematic priority of my thesis. Looking back at the time I spent in Surabaya what struck me most was the considerably high percentage of Chinese middle- class people in the Pentecostal congregations I had visited. As some scholars have noticed, Pentecostalism has not only grown among the poor and marginalized people in the outskirts of megacities around the world, but also noticeably among the up- wardly mobile, urban, middle-class (cf. Koning & Dahles 2009; D. Martin 2011: 62- 83). The economic and cultural globalization has led to significant social restructur- ing and introduced new measures of status and value in the form of material accumu- lation and consumption. Significantly, Pentecostalism has shown remarkable ability to adapt in pace with these radical socio-economical transformations, transposing novel value systems, challenges and opportunities onto its basic cosmology of per- sonal salvation. Pentecostal salvation, as we shall see later, is very much 'this- worldly' and results in a 'new life' in both material and spiritual terms (Corten and Marshall-Fratani 2001: 7). It provides direction and a supportive arena for individu- als to advantageously reinvent their everyday lives and provides a means of effec- tively re-imaging one’s place in relation to contemporary processes of globalization (Lewison 2011). Pentecostal and charismatic movements explicitly endorse success, wealth and prosperity as expressions of both efficiency-oriented achievements and divine approval. These Pentecostal ‘prosperity teachings’ found fertile ground in various parts of the Global South, especially in nations of so-called emerging econ- omies. Many of these charismatic churches appear to give expression to a “new capi- talist culture” (Hunt 2000: 340), one, in which worldly success is interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing and thus “fits neatly with the worldview and experiences of a rising middle class in which material accumulation is highly valued” (Tong 2008: 12).

With these thoughts in my mind, I again headed down to Southeast Asia in January 2012. Only this time I didn’t intend to do any research in the sense of collecting valid data to ‘prove’ some hypothesis about the ‘elective affinity’ between Pentecostalism and economic globalization. Being deeply suspicious about the validity of social- scientific methodology (as discussed before) my aim of this short field trip was rather experimental and investigative. I wanted to experience firsthand the ‘material dimen- sion’ of (Asian) Pentecostal religiosity, its ecstatic worship styles and distinct aes- thetic forms.

All in all, I spent one week in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), one in Singapore and two weeks in Surabaya (Indonesia). In Singapore, I had the chance to meet a Pentecostal theologian with whom I had some very interesting discussions. He gave me insights into the theological doctrine of the ‘prosperity gospel’ and shared with me his thoughts on the emerging Pentecostal and charismatic movements in Singapore and their rapid spread throughout Southeast Asia. Further, I had the chance to visit two Pentecostal mega churches during their Sunday services. Both churches are located inside a huge shopping mall in the city center and are very well-frequented. In Sura- baya, I refreshed some of the ties I had established during my previous field trip. Unfortunately, other than being invited to a prayer meeting (which eventually lasted the whole night!), I wasn’t able to attend their church service because of time con- straints. However, on the advice of a friend, I was able to visit a Pentecostal church congregation inside one of the more upscale shopping malls in the city, which mainly caters to busy, middle-class Chinese Indonesians. This church conducts its service every Sunday on an hourly basis, promising its attendees “short, but full blessings” and the “instant curing of illness” (as advertized at the entrance). Gereja satu jam (one-hour church), as this church names itself serves as a good example on how Pen- tecostalism finds ways to accommodate itself to the rapid socio-economic changes and processes of social restructuring in a globalized world.

Coming back to Europe, I first had to sort things out. The longer I tried to make sense of my field trip experiences and to insert them into a broader theoretical framework, the more I felt I was losing my focus. I was more and more getting into a state of confusion. With no divine ‘signs or wonders’ in sight, I had to (again) stand back and start to reflect on the material I already had, all the literature I had read and above all become clear about what I actually wanted to say in my thesis. Eventually, I opted, to go back to where my whole ‘Pentecostalism project’ started, raising the more fundamental questions about the relationship between Pentecostalism and glo- balization as well as the reasons behind its successful global expansion. It was within this context that lay ground for my decision to choose a theoretical approach and base my thesis on extensive literature research.

3. Theoretical Contexts

In order to contextualize the thematic of this thesis, it is important to examine some theoretical developments in the social scientific study of religion (particularly in the sociology of religion and anthropology of religion) that form the foundation for understanding current debates about and analysis of the spread and impact of Pentecostalism in the contemporary global context. Theorizing contested concepts like religion, secularization and modernity and their interrelation to globalization can be an interesting, but also a very trying endeavor. As Beyer and Beaman (2007:2) state in their introduction to Religion, Globalization and Culture:

The contested meaning of globalization constitutes another aspect of its com- plexity. This takes the shape of a continuum ranging from complete denial of its existence to a tendency to frame all analytical possibilities in terms of glo- balization. This continuum and its myriad forms intersect with contested con- cepts in the social scientific study of religion, such as secularization, lived re- ligion, and deinstitutionalization, to render ‘religion and globalization’ a complex, fascinating, and sometimes frustrating field of study.

Entering the ‘minefield’ of theoretical debates always involves the danger of making oneself vulnerable to criticism. It further implies making choices about what kind of theory to take into consideration and which ones to leave out. The range of theories I will refer to is therefore inevitably selective, but not arbitrarily so. I will only deli- neate and reflect on those theoretical threads that I think are useful to my further ela- borations on Pentecostalism. As globalization theories related to religion are embed- ded in wider theories about modernity, secularization and globalization in general, I will first focus my discussion more broadly on these themes before moving on to the issue of religion and globalization.

3.1 Religion, Modernity and Secularization

“ The world today … is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever ” (Berger 1999:2).

For more than a century, the vast majority of Western social scientists have been convinced that religion was a declining historical force (cf. Hefner 2010). Deeply embedded in the historical development of sociology as an academic discipline, secularization stood out as the predominant paradigm for explaining processes of mod- ernization and the changing role of religion within modern society. Indeed, from its beginnings to present the idea of secularization lies at the very core of sociological imagination and “has been the pivotal theme in the reproduction of the identity of the sociologist of religion (at least in the West)” (Robertson 2007: 17). Secularization served as a central scientific category of interpretation to comprehend societal trans- formation processes in Europe between the late Middle Ages and the modern era. In this sense, secularization was understood as a process leading to the differentiation of society, ultimately facilitating the decline of religious influence in the public domain and the loss of its relevance to society in general (cf. Casanova 1994).

The evolutionistic idea that modern society is functional differentiated into different sub-systems (such as economy, politics and science) and therefore, engend- ers the emancipation from religious institutions and norms plays an essential role in almost all secularization theories. This process is seen as being constitutive for the development of modern societies and remains broadly undisputed in the social sciences, especially within European sociology (Casanova 2006: 9). Indeed, the idea is firmly grounded within classical sociology. According to Casanova, the theory of secularization is nothing more than a subtheory of general theories of differentiation, either of the evolutionary and universal kind proposed by Durkheim or of the more historically specific kind of Western modernization theory developed by Weber (Casanova 1994: 18).

For Émile Durkheim and Max Weber secularization was a precondition and result of modern societal differentiation processes (cf. Zachhuber 2007).2 Central to Weber’s reflections was his concept of rationality as a distinctive feature and driving force behind the cultural development of modern Western Europe. To him, the incipient rationalization process starting from the 17th century played an important part in the constitution of the modern bureaucratic state and the establishment of a capitalist economic system. With the increasing predictability and controllability of the world, modern society would lose its magic and extraordinary moments. Accordingly, in a more and more rationalized world, any consistent and comprehensive religious interpretation of meaning becomes obsolete. Weber was certainly critical about these de- velopments and thus referred to the rationalizing of modern reality as ‘disenchant- ment of the world’. Durkheim, on the other hand, ascribed the decline of religion in modern society to processes of individualization. According to Durkeim’s functional understanding of religion as an essentially collective matter, the decrease of religious practices and beliefs went hand in hand with the overall decline of solidarity within society. As a consequence, religion is no longer capable of fulfilling its integrative function for society and thus loses its relevance altogether. In one way or another, these assumptions were picked up by later social scientist generations and incorpo- rated in their theories on modernity, thus continuing to write the master narrative of secularization in which modernization was supposed to make religion secular, a functional system, or a private matter (cf. Casanova 1994: 18).

Yet, against all predictions by secularization and modernization theorists of religion’s imminent privatization and decline, the past decades have seen wealth- affirming and individual-‘empowering’ religiosities take root across the globe, rang- ing from Islamic piety movements over Buddhist reformist groups to charismatic forms of Christianity (cf. Hefner 2010). The most successful of the new religious streams have recruited a mass following by promoting a more upbeat and accommo- dating message on markets, consumerism and wealth (see Kitiarsa 2008; Hefner 2010; D. Martin 2011; Berger 2010; Turner 2010a). Some of the new movements also appear preoccupied less with otherworldly transcendence than with inner- worldly well-being (Hefner 2010). In this light, the claim that secularization is an inevitable outcome of modernization seems oversimplified. It does not account for the multifaceted and complex ways religions respond and accommodate to processes of modernization. Hefner (1998: 98) asserts in this regard that contemporary refigurations of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity remind us that, contrary to conventional secularization theories, religion in modern times has not everywhere declined as a public force, nor been domiciled within a sphere of interiority. Not a reaction against but a response to the modern world, the most successful religious refigurations thrive by drawing themselves down into mass society and away from exclusive elites, if and when the latter lose their hold on popular allegiances.

Further, the hypothesis that secularization is constitutive for the development of modern society hardly appears plausible when applied universally. There are numer- able examples showing that religions thrive despite or even because of modernization processes. It is obvious that in today’s world there exist modern societies, which are secular while at the same time deeply religious (e.g. USA). Even if we look at the so- called developing (or emerging) regions in Latin-America, Asia or Africa, we hardly can observe any continuous religious decline in spite of the fast paced ‘moderniza- tion’ processes many of these countries are currently undergoing. Within Asian cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, etc.) modernization and urbanization do not appear to contradict the presence of a high level of religious consciousness and practice. Against this background, Robertson is probably right by stating that the often post- ulated intrinsic correlation between modernization and secularization is “indeed one of the great shibboleths (at least, category errors) in the history of the social sciences” (Robertson 2007: 18).

Much of the contemporary debate on modernization and religion problematizes or even dismisses the ‘Eurocentric’ meta-narrative of secularization, “challenging longheld assumptions about the secular nature of modernization and modernity” (Hefner 1998: 85) and abandoning the idea of a unitary and universal process of modernization as a general model to which other societies eventually will converge to (cf. Casanova 2007: 332). As Vásquez (2008: 153) states in this regard:

Flying in the face of modernization and secularization theories, religion today is public, compelling, and paradoxical, equally at home in the reconstructed bodies of itinerant Latino gang members who have converted to Pentecostalism and in transnational movements such as Hindutva, which rely heavily on a planetary cyber-space to convey a ‘long-distance nationalism’.

The prominent ‘return’ and visibility of the religious on the world stage has therefore prompted scholars to critically revise classical assertions of secularization theories. Just a brief look into history shows that social scientists have always proven to be quick studies in adjusting their academic terminology to changing societal circums- tances. Accordingly, it has become popular in recent debates to speak about the “re- surgence of religion” (cf. Riesebrodt 2000), the “de-privatization of religion” (cf. Casanova 1994), or even predicting a trend towards “de-secularization” and the emergence of a “post-secular society” (cf. Berger 1999). However, it is questionable whether the ‘hunger for spirituality’, or religion in general has ever disappeared in society and if the putative ‘return of religion’ is not rather the result of its increasing medial thematization (cf. Romano 2005; Robertson 2007). Further, we can state with Olivier Roy (2010) that the emergence of religious revitalization movements as well as the observable fundamentalistic tendencies within religious conservative groups around the world do not necessarily put secularization as such into question but ra- ther can be read as a reaction to and product of the secular world itself. Finally, Bey- er (2007: 168) remarks that, [the] transformation in the understanding of the place and importance of religion in the globalized context is […] about more than just ‘resurgence’, whether in the attention of observers or in terms of an actual increase in religion. It is also, more subtly perhaps, about the forms that religion takes under contemporary global conditions [emphasis in original].

Instead of either linking modernization to processes of secularization or, conversely, taking the return of the religious for granted we should shift our attention to the dif- ferent ways religions and religious practices are engaging and reacting to modernity. There are various pathways for religions to respond to the challenges of moderniza- tion. Religious forms, regardless of size or whether occurring within existing estab- lished religions or outside of them, can be effective sites for critique, tension, coopta- tion, adaptation, and even catharsis in relation to the condition of modernity. In this regard, Hefner (1998: 98) points out that, in situations where social borders are por- ous to transcultural flows, “cultural organizations that lay claim to ultimate meanings […] face a dilemma: how to maintain a coherent world-view and steadied social en- gagement while acknowledging the pluralism of the modern world.” One response, according to Hefner (ibid.), is that religions are defining their own alternative mod- ernities on a grand scale, which happens when religions cast their own vision of the social order, the nation-state, and even beyond it. This idea is closely related to S.N. Eisenstadt’s concept of multiple modernities, where modernity is understood as an open-ended horizon in which there are spaces for multiple interpretations (cf. Eisens- tadt 2000). Eisenstadt observes the emergence of new centers of modernity all around the world in which the originally Western model of modernity is continuous- ly reinterpreted and reconstructed. The varying interpretations of modernity manifest themselves in different institutional and ideological patterns, and are carried forward

by different actors such as social or religious movements. Eisenstadt summarizes the idea of multiple modernities as follows:

The idea of multiple modernities presumes that the best way to understand the contemporary world indeed to explain the history of modernities is to see it as a story of continual constitution and reconstitution of a multiplicity of cultural programs. These ongoing reconstructions of multiple institutional and ideological patterns are carried forward by specific social actors in close con- nection with social, political, and intellectual activists, and also by social movements pursuing different programs of modernity, holding very different views on what makes societies modern (Eisenstadt 2000: 2).

In this sense, religions can be seen as yet another ‘social actor’ on the world stage, deploying alternative imaginaries of modernity that give rise to new kinds of public (religious) cultures and identity formations (cf. Appadurai 1996: 6-7). These imagi- naries of the world, “position self and others in the world conceptually, socially, and politically, mobilize people into mass movements, and determine spaces of action” (Meyer 2010: 117). Thus, they challenge the modern state and its role in articulating the imagined community of the nation (ibid.). It is at this point, where the concept of globalization comes in as a heuristic tool to further understand how these religiously informed ‘alternative imaginaries’ of the world (i.e. what it means to be modern) transgress boundaries and create what we might call ‘global imagined religious communities’.

3.2 Globalization

‘Globalization’ seems to be the neologism of the new millennium (cf. Beyer 2006) or as the Economist described it, “the most abused word of the 21st century” (Chanda 2002). Moreover, as a highly charged term both in non-academic and academic de- bate it has “acquired buzzword status, invoked in a broad range of contexts and for a large number of purposes” (Robertson and White 2003: 1; see also Beyer 2006: 18; Droogers 2001: 51). As such, it has become “one of the most employed and debated concepts” (Robertson and White: ibid.) and is used to capture everything from the rise of global financial markets to the fall of the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001.

However, the development of globalization as a theoretical construct has been rather slow and laden with difficulties (cf. Gill and Thompson 2006).

By its nature, globalization spans a multitude of academic disciplines, scientific communities and cultures, therefore allowing for a variety of viewpoints. Depending on their disciplinary background, scholars focus on the economic, social, cultural or political aspects of globalization, thus giving way to countless definitional attempts and theoretical reflections in order to understand the complex dynamics of globaliza- tion processes. In his book “Globalization: A Very Short Introduction,” Steger (2003) illustrates very well the problematic of defining globalization by referring to the ancient Buddhist parable of the blind men and their encounter with an elephant, stating that, …the ongoing academic quarrel over which dimension contains the essence of globalization represents a postmodern version of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Even those few remaining scholars who still think of globalization as a singular process clash with each other over which aspect of social life constitutes its primary domain (Steger 2003: 14).

Similar to the problematic issue of defining ‘religion’, any definition of ‘globalization’ is highly ambiguous and contested within academic discourse. Arweck (2007: 254) reminds us that “however many aspects a definition may capture, sufficient exceptions will be found to render the definition invalid or only partially applicable and thus lay such definitions open to challenge.” Accordingly, there is not a single ‘theory of globalization’ but many theoretical discourses on globalization. Robinson points to the same direction when he argues that, …there is no consensus on what has been going on in the world denoted by the term ‘globalization’; competing definitions will give us distinct interpretations of social reality. Hence the very notion of globalization is problematic given the multitude of partial divergent and often contradictory claims surrounding the concept (Robinson 2008: 126).

Not least, we have to bear in mind that the term brings with it a multitude of hidden agendas. The concept of globalization often functions as a ‘proxy’ for theoretical discourses in the social sciences (cf. Arweck 2007). As we know, scientific concepts are not thing-like entities with settled boundaries, but historical constructs with shifting contours. Knowledge claims, therefore, are not neutral but grounded in situated social and historical contexts, often in competing social interests. Considering the political implications of these claims it is clear that, at the least, globalization has become an essentially contested concept. As Arweck states, [g]lobalization theory (or globalization theories) re-casts (re-cast) ‘traditional’ theoretical approaches in social scientific research and places (place) these within a new frame—approaches such as conflict vs. function, Marxism vs. capitalism—or re-packages (post-)structuralist thought in the language of globalization. The globalization debate could thus be considered a proxy for theoretical debate in social science and in some instances it can be observed that the term ‘globalization’ is used with different ideological overtones. (Arweck 2007: 254)

Even though the academic usage of ‘globalization’ is relatively new, the historical developments to which the term refers to have been “the subject of analysis and con- troversy for a significant longer period” (Beyer 2006: 18). Similar to Arweck’s ar- gument, Beyer (2006: 19ff.) observes that ‘globalization’ is a successor term for ear- lier social-scientific concepts of modernization, thus “coining a new word for old processes” (ibid.: 18). As such, much of the literature on modernity, postmodernity and globalization can be seen as a continuation of older versions of the moderniza- tion narrative under a new rubric (cf. B. Martin 2010: 37; Robinson 2008: 139). Bey- er argues that in light of the growing fragmentation and pluralization of modernity, it is increasingly difficult to conceive modernity in the singular.3 This understanding is captured, for example, in the already mentioned concept of ‘multiple modernities’ (see Eisenstadt 2000) or the notion of ‘postmodernity’ as a historical condition that marks the reasons for the end of the conceived singularity of modernity. According to Beyer, the concept of ‘globalization’, then, serves as a new meta-narrative for ex- plaining the social dynamics of today’s (world)-society: it “suggests itself as the new singular, as the universal historical process in which we are all implicated” (Beyer 2006: 19). The idea of globalization thus “at a minimum […] indicates an awareness of this singularity” (ibid.).

Globalization as an analytical concept only started to become fashionable during the 1990s, at a time when political upheavals and economic restructuration in the former Soviet Union and China paved the way for the emergence of a truly global capitalist market system (Beyer 2006: 19; see also Osterhammel and Petersson 2007: 7; Rehbein and Schwengel 2008: 11). Deregulating and liberalizing the former state controlled economies, as well as technological innovations brought about a global consumer market and saw the emergence and further integration of a world economy (Osterhammel and Petersson 2007: 8). The observable process of the increasing in- terconnectedness between world regions and people through a globalized capitalist market system, therefore, is often seen as the driving force behind globalization processes.4 Not surprisingly ‘globalization’ is prevalently defined in economic terms, often denoting it monolithically as being synonymous with the worldwide expansion of western capitalism or as a kind of western cultural imperialism (Robertson, 2003: 15-19; Beyer 2006: 18f, 23). According to this understanding, “globalization is es- sentially a product of global capitalism extending capitalist formations invented in the West […] so that economic structures become globally interdependent” (B. Mar- tin: 2010: 37). However, merely equating globalization with the rise of the capitalist world-economy often sidelines that globalization also involves political, social, his- torical and cultural dimensions (Robertson 2003: 3). Further, it reproduces a Euro- centric perspective by locating the historical origins of globalization in the ‘West’ while ignoring, or at least sidelining, important world- historical developments and their interrelations in other parts of the world (cf. Pieterse 2006).

Dimensions and characteristics of globalization

A brief literature review on globalization theories seems to convey the impression that despite all differences, there are some common grounds within the academic discourse on globalization. There is a widely acceptance that the globalization


1 At least in the German-speaking academia this neglect might in some cases be caused by the institutionalized integration of “science of religion” departments into theological faculties.

2 The following thoughts on Durkheim and Weber are taken from Zachhuber (2007). As the works of Weber and Durkheim today belong to the widely recognized body of knowledge in social sciences, I will not cite the original sources (i.e. their English translation) in this passage.

3 The idea of modernization as a universal process can already be traced back to Marx, Comte and Spencer (Beyer 2006: 19).

4 This ‘economistic‘ perspective is especially observable in the world-systems theory of Immanuell Wallerstein, an Marx informed sociologist. For a more detailed elaboration on Wallerstein see Rehbein and Schwengel (2008: 56ff.).

Excerpt out of 105 pages


Global Pentecostalism: An Inquiry into the Cultural Dimensions of Globalization
University of Bern
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
826 KB
Globalisierung, Pfingstbewegung
Quote paper
Matthias Deininger (Author), 2012, Global Pentecostalism: An Inquiry into the Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Global Pentecostalism: An Inquiry into the Cultural Dimensions of Globalization

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free