Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion

Volume 8, Pentecostalism and the Body

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Michael Wilkinson, Peter Althouse
  • Boston, MA: 
    , January
     350 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The stated purpose of the important series in which this volume takes its place “is to investigate the role of religion in the contemporary world,” by way of “an interdisciplinary and comparative approach at an international level, to describe and interpret the complexity of religious phenomena within different geopolitical situations, highlighting similarities and discontinuities.” Now in its eighth year, each iteration of the Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion focuses on a distinct theme and brings together geographically and methodologically diverse scholars to pursue this overarching aim. The present volume, which explores the somatic dimensions of Pentecostalism, does so quite impressively. With Pentecostalism being one of the fastest growing forms of religion in the world today, and with the ascendant interest in the human body in the anthropology and sociology of religion (especially the former) over the last several decades, the theme and scholarship on offer here are most timely and welcome. The series is edited by Enzo Pace, Luigi Berzano, and Guiseppe Giordan, with the support of an erudite editorial board, and they have done very well to have secured the able services of Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse to edit this, the 2017 volume of the series.

A sociologist and a theologian respectively, Wilkinson and Althouse are distinguished scholars who are well known for their work on Pentecostalism. They have previously coauthored a wonderful book entitled Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and the Charismatic Renewal (Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), which is a model and rather unique fusion—especially given the faith-phobia traceable across the history of the sociology of religion—of sociology and theology. In that study, Wilkinson and Althouse analyzed congregational offshoots of the watershed Pentecostal movement known as the “Toronto Blessing,” an effervescent mid-1990s revival that made its epicenter, the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church, internationally famous for claims of miracles, thereby transforming the sanctuary into Toronto’s leading tourist destination. Wilkinson extends that research in chapter 1 of the present volume, which is an “ethno-sociology” of spinoff churches in the Pacific Northwest.

Following the editors’ helpful introduction and Wilkson’s leadoff chapter are fifteen additional original contributions, divided into three discreet parts: “Ritual, Emotion, and Experience”; “Globalization, Migration, and Meaning”; and “Gender, Race, and Class.” Part 1 includes Wilkinson’s chapter, obviously, along with Althouse’s theoretical and ethnographic exploration of emotion and ritual at a large Pentecostal ministry in Jacksonville; Candy Gunther Brown’s fascinating analysis of Pentecostal negotiations and interpretations of yoga (my favorite piece in the volume); Travis Warren Cooper’s brilliantly conceived ethnography of Pentecostal congregations in Indiana and Missouri; Wolfgang Vondey’s treatment of “the materiality of Pentecostal theology”; and Steven Hunt’s summary tracing of the body in various Pentecostal histories and forms. Part 2 opens with Devaka Premawardhana’s comparative analysis of Pentecostalism in two sites of “the Black Atlantic,” namely Brazil and Mozambique, and is followed by Rafael Cazarin’s comparative analysis of Central African immigrant Pentecostal churches in Bilboa and Johannesburg; Joseph Bosco Bangara’s study of African Pentecostals in Brussels; and a discussion of the relationship between globalization and embodiment in Yoruba Pentecostalism in Nigeria, by Ayokunle Olumuyiwa Omobowale and Olufikayo Kunle Oyelade. The final section, part 3, is comprised of six chapters: Mark Jennings’s engaging study of LGBTQ Pentecostals (and ex-Pentecostals) in Australia; Jessica Moberg’s exploration of the sexual attitudes and identities of Pentecostals in Stockholm; Raluca Bianca Roman’s outstanding essay on Roma Pentecostals in Finland; Soraya Barreto’s study of masculinity in one of Brazil’s largest Pentecostal churches; an ethnographic study of Pentecostal women in Zimbabwe, by Sandra Bhatasara, Rumbidzai Shamuyedova, Naume Zorodzai Choguya, and Manase Kudzai Chiweshe; and Erica M. Ramirez’s Bourdieusian analysis of Pentecostal glossolalia.

Given Pentecostalism’s impressive spread across islands, nations, and continents, it would be impossible in a single volume to provide any semblance of comprehensive global coverage, although the offerings on display here are quite geographically and culturally diverse, as the above list of chapters reflects. Still, one might regret the volume’s general neglect of Asia, especially India and South Korea, which are home to several of the largest Pentecostal churches in the world, after all. The real elephant absent from the room, however, is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which is not the focus of a single chapter in this volume and only mentioned superficially in a few places. This is quite unfortunate and can be considered a squandered opportunity to make a greater impact with this volume. Consider, for example, that in the world’s largest Catholic country, Brazil, half of all Catholics are Pentecostal, while elsewhere the Renewal has transformed, and in some cases is actually saving, the Roman Catholic Church.

In similar vein, it is somewhat puzzling that the Catholic context of the important work of Thomas Csordas doesn’t seem to raise any question among the contributors to this volume as to its wholesale applicability to Protestant contexts. Csordas developed his important theories on faith healing and embodiment while writing about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and no single theorist has more of an influence on this volume than Csordas, who is cited in ten of its seventeen essays (Pierre Bourdieu comes in second place in this regard, being cited in five). Csordas is an anthropologist rather than a sociologist, but then again, much of this volume reads more like anthropology than sociology. There are no statistical or quantitative analyses in the volume, for example, while the predominant theoretical approaches in the sociology of religion over the last fifty years—rational choice theory and secularization theory—are barely noted. Nor is there any substantive engagement of such towering figures in the sociology of religion as Marx or Durkheim (there is a bit of Weber, though), or of more recently influential figures like Robert Bellah, Steve Bruce, Grace Davie, Danièle Hervieu-Léger, Rodney Stark, R. Stephen Warner, or Robert Wuthnow. Perhaps this means that things are changing and/or that the methodological boundaries in the social scientific study of religion are dissolving; the latter of these possibilities, at any rate, might well be a good thing.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Terry Rey is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Temple University.

Date of Review: 
January 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael Wilkinson is professor of sociology and director of the religion in Canada Institute at Trinity Western University. He is the author or editor of seven books including most recently Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Renewal (2014) and A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada (2015).

Peter Althouse is professor of religion at Southeastern University. He is Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Pentecostalism, Co-Editor of Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and author or editor of five books, including Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Renewal (2014).


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