Lindhardt, “Pentecostalism and the Encounter with Traditional Religion”

Lindhardt, Martin.  2017.  Pentecostalism and the Encounter with Traditional Religion in Tanzania: Combat, Congruence and Confusion.  PentecoStudies 16(1): 35-58.

Abstract: This research article explores how expressions of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity in Tanzania have taken shape through a complex entanglement with African traditional religion and traditional healing. On the one hand, Tanzanian Pentecostals/Charismatics conceive of figures associated with the world of tradition (witches, traditional healers, different kinds of spirits) as the main adversaries in the spiritual warfare they understand themselves to be engaged in. At the same time I show how many of the beliefs that we might lump under the category of “tradition” constitute something of a common cultural ground that cuts across ethnic and religious divides. While Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity does in some ways represent a particular religious culture, I argue that we are also well served by considering Pentecostals/Charismatics as participants in a common and highly vibrant religious/spiritual/medical field where different kinds of interchanges, overlaps and mutual inspirations occur. For instance, I show how a concern with healing inspires multifaceted practices of positioning as Pentecostals/Charismatics both demonize traditional healers, and simultaneously take pains to highlight similarities between the power of God and the powers of traditional healing. Finally, I argue that processes of adaptation and the highlighting of similarities also imply a risk of confusion, as it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish the power of God from the powers of healers and witchcraft.

Lindhardt, “New ways of being Pentecostal in Latin America”

Lindhardt, Martin. ed. 2016. New ways of being Pentecostal in Latin America. Lanham: Lexington. 

Publisher’s Description: The explosive growth of Pentecostalism has radically transformed Latin America’s religious landscape within the last half century or so. In a region where Catholicism reigned hegemonic for centuries, the expansion of Pentecostalism has now resulted in a situation of religious pluralism and competition, bearing much more resemblance to the United States than to the Iberian motherlands. Furthermore, the fierce competition from Pentecostal churches has inspired significant renewals of Latin American Catholicism, most notably the growth of a Catholic Charismatic movement. However, another and more recent source of religious pluralism and diversity in Latin America is an increasing pluralization and diversification of Pentecostalism itself and of the ways in which individual Pentecostals exercise their faith. By carefully exploring this diversification, the book at hand breaks new ground in the literature on Latin American Christianity. Particular attention is focused on new ways of being Pentecostal and on the consequences of recent transformations of Christianity for individuals, faith communities and societies.

More specifically, the chapters of the book look into certain transformations of Pentecostalism such as: theological renewals and new kinds of religious competition between Pentecostal churches; a growing political and civic engagement of Pentecostals; an observed de-institutionalization of Pentecostal religious life and the negotiation individual Pentecostal identities, composed of multiple intra- and extra-ecclesial points of identification; and the emergence of new generations of Pentecostals (children of Pentecostal parents), many of whom have higher levels of education and higher incomes than the previous generations within their churches. In addition, Catholic responses to Pentecostal competition are also addressed in several chapters of the book.

Blessed – A History of the American Prosperity Gospel: Book Review

Bowler, Kate.  2013.  Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

By: Martin Lindhardt (University of Southern Denmark)

Kate Bowler’s book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel is an important and highly readable contribution to our understanding of the history and significance of the so-called prosperity gospel, a Christian message of physical, financial and spiritual mastery that has become an increasingly dominating force within North American popular religion. The prosperity gospel has been successfully exported across the world, especially to the global south. It seems safe to say that this version of Christianity, which not only emphasizes the material blessings to which true believers are supposedly entitled, but also the duty to pay tithes and make donations, is as controversial as it is popular, with many (mainline theologian and other) observers wondering why people buy into it and expressing criticism of the excesses of prosperity pastors who have become media celebrities. Bowler’s agenda is not to provide any kind of theological or biblical evaluation of prosperity teaching and its main proponents, but the question of why it appeals to a large number of ordinary North Americans  (17 percent of all American Christians openly identify with the movement, she informs us at one point) is a central one in her study. The argument, which she carefully develops throughout the book, is that the Prosperity Gospel, as exotic and un-familiar as it may seem at first glance, is in fact intimately entangled with different aspects of North American popular culture such as optimism, individualism, consumer culture and a firm belief in the transformative power of one’s personal will. The prosperity gospel, in other words, is presented by Bowler as a quintessentially American movement. At the end of the book, we do get brief nods to the Prosperity Gospel’s global expansion and different local appropriations, but Bowler’s main project is to unravel the history of the movement as it has unfolded in the US.

The prosperity movement as we know it took shape in the last half of the twentieth century, but Bowler provides a much longer history and traces its origin back to the late nineteenth century and the interweaving of three important streams: Pentecostalism with its emphasis on divine healing, an offshoot of Christian Science called New Thought, and finally a widespread popular belief in individualism and upward mobility. What New Thought added to this cocktail was an understanding of the power of mind to actually shape material reality. In the early history of the prosperity movement, the Holiness Pastor E.W. Kenyon was a particularly important figure in combining existing religious and cultural streams into an instrumental vision of faith as an activator of world transforming spiritual forces. In Kenyon´s vision it was in particular the spoken word such as positive confessions and prayers, sometimes framed more as demands than as petitions, that served as the template for activating spiritual power.

The development and growth of the Prosperity movement were further triggered by post Second World War healing revivals and, a decade later, by a charismatic revival that brought Pentecostal themes into mainstream churches. In this period, the theology of mind power and the electrified view of faith went from being minor to major themes. At the same time a number of preachers began to enlarge their vision of the miraculous results that faith and Christian speech could be expected to achieve. Key figures in popularizing the word of faith theology beyond denominational boundaries (in part through television ministries) included Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, William Branham Kenneth Copeland, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

The prosperity movement of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by what Bowler calls “hard prosperity” preaching and teaching, which made financial miracles an everyday prospect and involved straightforward assertions of hard causality between acts of faith such as tithing and prayers and blessings. Bowler describes how formulas for receiving financial blessings from God grew increasingly specific, with some believers whispering their desires as they placed their envelope with tithes in the offering and others scribbling confessions on dollar bills. However, by the 1990s, a softer version of the prosperity message had become increasingly dominant.  The “soft prosperity” message has a more therapeutic touch with prominent preachers such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer offering tools in the form of relationship guides and focusing on emotional healing, self-esteem as well as fitness and weight loss.  This gradual transformation enabled the prosperity message to broaden its appeal and establish more points of contact and overlap with popular secular culture. Bowler provides interesting examples of such overlap as she explores how America´s diet and fitness culture captured the religious imagination of Christians who evaluated obesity on spiritual terms and started to look to the fitness of their own bodies as evidence of faith and spiritual progress. She further notes how the language of deliverance from demonic forces commonly held responsible for physical conditions was supplemented by nutritional and fitness advice.

All in all, Bowler’s book offers a comprehensive and very helpful exploration of the prosperity movement and the way it has shaped the religious imagination of many North Americans. Bowler’s project is mainly a historical one, but an ethnographic analysis based on her own field work in North American prosperity oriented ministries adds significant nuances to the study. In particular, ethnography enables Bowler to shed some light on how ordinary lay members interpret their experiences and life situations within a prosperity framework and, interestingly, how they sometimes question church authorities and come up with interpretations, for instance of illness and the absence of healing, that are contrary to official church teachings.  The prosperity movement, in other words, is portrayed it its empirical complexity.  As such the book is valuable reading for scholars and students with an interest in the Prosperity Movement, in Pentecostalism/charismatic Christianity in general, and in the history of Christianity and popular culture in North America.

Lindhardt, “Mediating Money”

Lindhardt, Martin. 2015. “Mediating Money: Materiality and Spiritual Warfare in Tanzanian Charismatic Christianity.” In The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism. Simon Coleman and Rosalind I.J. Hackett, eds. 147-160. New York: NYU Press.

Lindhardt, “Men of God”

Lindhardt, Martin.  2015. Men of God: Neo-Pentecostalism and masculinities in urban Tanzania.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Based on research in Tanzania, this article explores how masculine born-again Christian identities are constructed and enacted in a field of tension between Pentecostal/charismatic norms for masculine behaviour and popular cultural expectations of male honour and status. The author sheds light on the gendered aspects of conversion and highlights why becoming a born-again Christian often represents a different kind of challenge and a more radical change of lifestyle in the case of men. At the same time, the author argues that a thorough understanding of the ways in which born-again men negotiate identities and position themselves in the social world they live in requires that we move beyond the narrow focus on the oppositional aspects of born-again masculinities that characterises much of the literature on Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity and gender. Focusing particular attention on the recent neo-Pentecostal turn in Tanzania (and Africa), the article demonstrates how this kind of Christianity allows for transformations in private while at the same time providing room for the enactment of powerful masculine identities in public.

Lindhardt, “Pentecostalism and politics in neoliberal Chile”

Lindhardt, Martin. 2012. Pentecostalism and politics in neoliberal Chile. Ibero Americana (Stockholm) 42(1-2): 59-84. 

Abstract: This article explores historical and contemporary relationships between Pentecostalism and politics in Chile. The first part of the article provides an historical account of the growth and consolidation of Pentecostal religion within changing political environments and sheds light on Pentecostal stances to and involvements with the political sphere. In particular, it focuses on how a culture of political disenchantment has emerged in post- dictatorial neo-liberal Chile, creating a symbolic void that can be filled by religious movements. The second part of the article discusses possible affinities between Pentecostalism as a religious culture and democratic principles and values. It argues that although Pentecostalism may contain certain democratic qualities, there is also a striking compatibility between, on the one hand, Pentecostal theistic understandings of politics and social change, and, on the other, a neo-liberal social order, where political apathy is widespread and where a privatised rather than a communal and associative sense of progress predominates

Lindhardt, “‘We, the Youth, Need to Be Effusive’”

Lindhardt, Martin.  2012.  ‘We, the Youth, Need to Be Effusive’: Pentecostal Youth Culture in Contemporary Chile.  Bulletin of Latin American Research 31(4): 485-498.

Abstract: This paper explores the recasting of Pentecostalism as a youth religion in contemporary Chile. I focus in particular on how young native Pentecostals, whose life experiences and social status differ from those of ex-Catholic converts, address the dilemma of being exposed to the religious culture of their parents, and their congregation, and to the secular youth culture beyond the religious community. I argue that, although faced with many challenges, young Pentecostals are able to define vital roles and positions for themselves within their church and in wider society, as they engage in a creative bricolage, embracing certain aspects of globalised youth ideologies as fundamental features of their Pentecostal self-identities.

Lindhardt, “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft”

Lindhardt, Martin (2012) “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft.” Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue canadienne des e ́tudes africaines 46(2): 215–232 

Abstract: Many Tanzanians share a basic understanding of the occult as a moving force in the visible world. But at the same time, notions of the occult are characterised by indeterminacies in meaning, thereby allowing for multiple interpretations of particular events. This article explores various readings of two particular incidents that both occurred within a suburb of the city of Iringa in South-central Tanzania. First a Lutheran pastor started suffering from a paralyzed shoulder and a few weeks later an old woman was found lying naked outside of his home in the middle of the night. While both incidents were widely ascribed to witchcraft the article shows how particular interpretations were embedded in and reflective of a dense social climate, characterised by different kinds of tension, inequalities, suspicions of corruption and by religious and medical pluralism and competition. The article argues that the very opaqueness and uncertainty of witchcraft knowledge enabled a variety of actors with different stakes to make claims to truth, spiritual status and moral identity.

Lindhardt (ed.), “Practicing the Faith”

Lindhardt, Martin (ed.) 2011. Practicing the Faith: The Ritual Life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

Publisher’s Description: Over the past decades, Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity has arguably become the fastest growing religious movement in the world. Distinguishing features of this variant of Christianity include formal ritual activities as well as informal, experiential, and ecstatic forms of worship. This book examines Pentecostal-charismatic ritual practice in different parts of the world, highlighting, among other things, the crucial role of ritual in creating religious communities and identities.

Contributors: Martin Lindhardt, Joel Robbins, Jacqueline Ryle, Kelly Chong, Thomas J. Csordas, Martyn Percy, Paul Gifford, Simon Coleman, Jon Bialecki, Gretchen Pfeil, David Smilde