Abstract: This article proposes a revised definition of glossolalia based on the ritual value of incomprehensible speech, which allows for an approach to meaning emergence in non-human languages and the issue of extreme linguistic alterity. The main social and acoustic features associated with glossolalia will be presented through the case study of a Christian charismatic community in Brazil (the Canção Nova), showing us how linguistic evidence supports different notions of Christian personhood and an iconic-based communication between human and divine beings.
Abstract: Glossolalia or speaking in tongues has been one of the prominent features that characterize Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. Some linguists, however, regard it phonologically illogical and semantically meaningless and thus invalid as a communicative tool. Orthodox Christianity frowns on it because of its uncouth ritual manifestations or disruptive effect on the church order. Against these perspectives, I argue that glossolalia plays a very crucial role in shaping the identity of a Pentecostal-charismatic community. “Tongue sound,” acoustically jarring to the outsider but soothing and harmonious to the believer, functions to confer on the glossolalists a particular mode of existence and consolidate them as a homogeneous group. For this argument, I draw on Lawrence E. Sullivan’s interpretation of sound in contrast to language, and on Alfred Schütz’s theory about “tuning in” and “inner time.” For illustration, I take the glossolalic manifestation of the True Jesus Church as a concrete example.
Abstract: I develop a case study of demonic glossolalia (speaking in tongues) for its cues in conveying religious commitment among a congregation of Apostolic Pentecostals. From the perspective of signaling theory, costly or hard-to-fake signals may convey psychological dispositions of members and would-be members toward an inclusive community. I utilize signaling theory in a broader systems approach to make sense of an incident of speaking in tongues that a congregation decries as demonic. To facilitate this interpretation, forms and motivations of glossolalia—the sine qua non that one has accepted Jesus as personal savior—are described and examined, including examples of calm and excited “Holy Ghost“ and “backslider“ and “mistaken demonic“ glossolalia. To an outsider, some of the differences among these signaling modes may be difficult to distinguish, but the underlying religious and family dynamics provide insights as to how church members make distinctions they attribute to the spiritual “gift of discernment.“ This approach promises to make unique contributions toward understanding the implicit folk psychologies of practices that, according to Pentecostals, mark them as “weird“ or “odd.“
Abstract: In December 2008, a team of American Pentecostals visited Fiji and conducted ‘crusades’ in a public park. In this article, I show how a sermon and altar call at one of the performances modelled for listeners a particular quality of the believer’s relation to the otherness of God, figured via linguistic otherness. The American preacher and his Fijian translator approached the event as a teaching opportunity. They explained to audience members how to pray for repentance and how to speak in tongues (glossolalia) and stated that when a person spoke in tongues, this was really the Holy Ghost ‘praying through’ a person. In glossolalia, the words are supposed to be semantically unintelligible, pointing to the otherworldly, even miraculous, fact of their utterance; but pragmatically, their utterance is supposed to manifest the Holy Ghost’s presence in the speaker, and this presence is held to be the meaning that matters.
McGraw, John (2012) “Tongues of Men and Angels: Assessing the Neural Correlates of Glossolalia.” In David Cave & Rebecca Sachs Norris, eds. Religion and the Body: Modern Science and the Construction of Religious Meaning. Leiden: Brill.
First Paragraph: “The accelerating popularity of Charismatic Christianity has brought with it a host of new sensibilities and ritual practices. Glossolalia, or ‘speaking in tongues,’ stands out among these as a particularly dramatic innovation. Typically staid churchgoers, once touched by the Holy Spirit, begin to utter strings of syllables that some claim to be the ‘language of angels.’ Recent neuroimaging studies have highlighted differences in the brains of subjects performing glossolalia in comparison to those same subjects singing a Church hymn. An investigation of the neural correlates of glossolalia highlights the importance of studying the bodily dimensions of ritual practice. But an informed analysis does not reduce social and behavioral complexities to physiological changes; rather, juxtaposing the correlates of human action from a variety of perspectives—in this case the social, the bodily, and the behavioral—suggests productive new approaches to the study of ritual. Having received the attentions of numerous scholars during the 20th and 21st centuries, glossolalia provides an excellent test case for this correlational approach to human action . . .”
Lynn, Chrisopher Dana, Jason Paris, Cheryl Anne Frye, and Lawrence Schell (2011) “Glossolalia is associated with differences in biomarkers of stress and arousal among Apostolic Pentecostals.” Religion, Brain & Behavior, pagination and volume not available [electronic prepublication release].
Abstract: The influence of glossolalia or ‘‘speaking in tongues’’ on biological stress and arousal is examined in a sample of Apostolic Pentecostals. Glossolalia is a form of dissociation considered by Pentecostals as possession by the Holy Spirit. Dissociation is a psychological term for partitioning of awareness and widely held to moderate stress, yet this has been difficult to affirm in culturally embedded situations. We sought to determine if glossolalic dissociation is associated with biomarkers of stress and arousal (salivary cortisol and alpha- amylase, respectively) on a religious service and a non-service day among 52 participants. We used mixed qualitative and quantitative methods to group participants as high- and low-glossolalists for preliminary comparisons and by status within their respective churches for regression analyses. Results indicate a significant influence of two glossolalia indicators on cortisol and alpha-amylase on both days, in addition to a statistically significant though not robust interaction effect between lifetime glossolalia experience and church status on the non-service day. Combined, these data suggest glossolalia experience is associated with increased physiological stress during worship and reduced stress and arousal beyond the worship context.
Abstract: A prominent trend of late Christianity has been a cultivation of ‘unmediated’ inspiration realised in embodied worship, notably glossolalia, ecstasy and verbal exuberance. Speaking unfathomable language and embracing spontaneous feelings, Pentecostals in Java have relied on and reworked local language ideologies by passionately employing both the babbling and yelling forms of code-switching in Indonesian, English, Hebrew and glossolalia, in an aspiration to achieve ‘true worshiper-hood’. A closer scrutiny of some elements of this embodied worship against the larger religiously heterogeneous context, furthermore, reveals the salient impacts of cross-religious relations on the process of shaping Pentecostal Christianity. This article argues that specific forms of Pentecostal worship can be better understood when situated in Muslim–Christian relations. Specifically, they speak to a thriving form of religious fetishism that is locally primed for a distinct voice out of the flourishing movements of Islamic resurgence.
Di Bella, Maria Pia “Glossolalia and Possession among Pentecostal groups of the Mezzogiorno” (translated by Olga Koepping) in Elizabeth Koepping (ed.), World Christianity, London, Routledge (Critical concepts in Religious Studies), 2011, vol. 2, pp. 307-320.
Excerpt: “This study of the emergence of the new doctrine within a rural environment started at Accadia in Apulia, a centre for Oneness Pentecostalism, and later extended to other villages where this doctrine developed . . . Moreover, a comparison has been drawn with certain Trinitarian Pentecostal groups in the neighbouring Apulian towns of Anzano and Monteleone. The introduction of Pentecostalism and its development in a rural environment clearly followed the same pattern in these different locations. Three distinct phases could be discovered in the process, each marked by resistance to rural local values . . . “