West Indian Pentecostals

Living Their Faith in New York and London

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Janice A. McLean-Farrell
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , February
     272 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In West Indian Pentecostals: Living their Faith in New York and London, Janice A. McLean-Farrell takes a critical look at the process of identity construction and the practice of Christian mission among immigrants of the Anglophone Caribbean living in New York and London. More specifically, the author uses unstructured interviews and participant observation to study the ways in which Pentecostal communities help West Indian immigrants negotiate meaning from day to day (161). In this, Mclean-Farrell effectively affirms the belief, which Don Browning asserts in A Fundamental Practical Theology (Fortress 1996), that religious communities serve as both places of memory and practical reason. For McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostal communities “address many of the felt needs” of their constituents. They do so by facilitating both adaptation to the receiving country and the maintenance of significant “transnational ties” with the home country (183).

The book has five main chapters. Each succeeding chapter builds upon the previous one and increases in complexity as the text progresses. Chapter 1 identifies and engages the major contributing factors of West Indian identities. These include Spanish, British, African, Amerindian, and Christian dimensions. The chapter examines life at home in the West Indies prior to migration to Europe or North America. It weaves together historical, ethnic, and religious elements to form the contextual basis for what McLean-Farrell refers to as the metaphorical tapestry of West Indian identities.

Beginning with migration, movement across space and time characterizes the following four chapters. Chapters 2 and 3 explore not only the question of identity and the negotiations associated with this complex process but also the struggle to find space in the host country. Through critical engagement with the reality in other European contexts such as "the case of Africans in the Netherlands" (101) McLean-Farrell weaves together sound theory with powerful personal accounts to highlight the role religious communities play in the first generation's interactions with the host country.

The strengths of these chapters lie in their serious consideration of "cultural" and "historical" forces, such as the "subtle agendas" in the United States or in Britain that are intent on "keeping members of the black population at the bottom of the socioeconomic and political ladders," which inform the development of intentionally West Indian religious communities (60). McLean-Farrell offers useful insight into the experiences of the migrants as they wrestle with cultural disorientation as the harsh realities of immigrant life in New York and London displace their romantic perceptions of the host country.

Chapter 4 studies the second generation of West Indians and their constant need to re-negotiate their identities. According to McLean-Farrell, this aspect of West Indian communities is rather complex. The second generation, that is, the assimilated youth, for whom the United States or Britain is home rather than host, must now carve out identities of their own from within the at-times conflicting relationship between the religious community and the host country. This chapter demonstrates the intergenerational dimension of identity construction and the way in which religious communities function as crucibles for this complex process.

Chapter 5 examines the understanding and practice of mission among West Indian Pentecostals, particularly as they relate to the mission-oriented motif of a perceived divine “mandate to re-evangelize the North” (156). This chapter sheds light on the evolution of Pentecostalism within the West Indies. Helpfully, the chapter traces the contributions of indigenous or African-derived religions such as Myalism and Revivalism in making the West Indian soil receptive to Pentecostal spirituality.

A commitment to Pentecostal spirituality and theology makes up the ethos of the migrant West Indian religious communities discussed in this volume. Undergirding and perhaps surpassing the ethnic and cultural motifs discussed above is a striving after the kind of transformation that leads to salvation (168). This soteriological focus reflects the concerns of Pentecostal praxis generally. The focus on mission and the deployment of Christian symbols such as the "saint" motif further suggests that West Indian Pentecostals are faithful to the history of the Pentecostal movement, and in many ways represent its future.

McLean-Farrell’s consistent use of the metaphor of tapestry throughout the book reveals her strategy to move from the simple to the complex, which makes the book's difficult concepts easier to grasp. From migration to the initial steps to find space within the host country to the focus on mission, McLean-Farrell takes the reader through a challenging, engaging, and fascinating transhistorical and transnational journey along the threads of the ever-complex tapestry of identity construction and self-discovery (1) among West Indian Pentecostals. She succeeds in supporting the claim that the understanding of the interactions between immigrants and the host country should move beyond the "assimilation/ethnic binary" to include "ways in which these interactions foster transformation of the immigrant, the host society, and the home country" (13).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emmanuel Buteau recently completed a Ph.D. in Practical Theology at. St. Thomas University.

Date of Review: 
November 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Janice A. McLean-Farrell is a faculty member and coordinator of the Global New York Church Project at City Seminary of New York, USA. She is co-editor of Understanding World Christianity (2011) and Engaging the World (2014). 


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.