This article investigates the construction and transmission of charisma through online channels and its role in the formation of religious identities. Mindful of Max Weber’s observation that charisma inhabits the relationship between a leader and his/her followers, I argue for a critical reappraisal of the theoretical model in the light of the ubiquity in the twenty-first century of new, virtual forms of social encounter. I focus my analysis on the Christian creationist movement in the United States and particularly on an influential leader called Ken Ham. Using digital ethnographic methods, I show how Ham constructs charisma online and how a virtual community forms itself around his charismatic claims. I illustrate how this virtual community intersects with offline worlds and suggest that the theme park attractions that Ham’s organisation runs (Creation Museum, Ark Encounter) are imbued with deflected charisma by virtue of their association with his online avatar.
Abstract: In 1905, Weber contended that uncertainty about their eternal fate forced Protestants to find secular signs of their destiny in their vocations, their frugality and in their ability to work hard and accumulate capital. More than a century later, the ‘Protestant ethic’ has changed irrevocably. Today, the phenomenal rise of Pentecostal–Charismatic Churches has largely displaced the doctrine of predestination and firmly entrenched the prosperity gospel at the very heart of popular Protestantism. In many African PCCs, the pursuit of ‘blessings’ now trumps older concerns over secular vocations and hard work. Indeed, in churches such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), Christians are urged to demand ‘miracle jobs’ from God and to reject humble vocations and small salaries, regardless of their qualifications, skills or experience. Based on long-term fieldwork with members of the UCKG in South Africa, this paper examines the work of luck (good and bad) in the lives of ordinary believers, how this new ‘work’ attempts to regulate the flow of money and how it participates in older notions of prosperity, fate and good fortune.
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Publisher’s Description: Enchanted Calvinism’s central proposition is that Ghanaian Presbyterian communities, both past and present, have become significantly more enchanted–that is, more attuned to spiritual explanations of and remedies for suffering–as they have become more integrated into capitalist modes of production. The author draws on a specific Weberian concept of religious enchantment to frame the discussion of spiritual affliction and spiritual healing within the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, particularly under the conditions of labor migration: first, in the early twentieth century during the cocoa boom in Ghana and second, at the turn of the twenty-first century in the context of the healthcare migration from Ghana to North America. Relying on extensive archival research, oral historical interviews, and participant-observation group interviews conducted in North America, Europe, and West Africa, the study provides evidence that the more these Ghanaian Calvinists became dependent on capitalist modes of production, the more enchanted their lives, and, subsequently, their church became, although in different ways within these two migrations. One striking pattern that has emerged among Ghanaian Presbyterian labor migrants in North America, for example, is a radical shift in gendered healing practices, where women have become prominent healers, while a significant number of men have become spirit-possessed.
Abstract: The author takes a historical and ethnographic approach to the rise of Korean Protestantism and its relationship to Korean modernization and capitalist development. He argues that while theories of Asian capitalism have looked at the ways a Confucian work ethic has helped the development of Asian capitalist economies, this perspective ignores the overarching concern with regional identity. This approach has also tended to ignore the diversity of religious landscapes in East Asia. The author argues that the phenomenal rise of Protestantism in South Korea has to be located within the context of processes of modernization. Exploring ethnographically the nature of Korean Protestantism reveals a theological doctrine of Puritanism, which shares ‘elective affinities’ with the capitalist ethic. Adopting a Weberian approach the author undertakes a detailed analysis of the sermons and ritual life of one Korean church in Seoul and relates this to larger historical and economic processes in South Korea.
Comaroff, Jean & John Comaroff (2012) “Neo-Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism: Perspectives from the Social Sciences” in Elias Kifon Bongmba, ed, The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to African Religions. Wiley & Sons, Malden MA, Pp. 62-78.
Excerpt: “Prolegomenon: Herewithin three glimpses into the new religious world order. The First is from Post-apartheid South Africa. The New Life Church is to be found in Malifkeng, in the North West Province. Founded just before the fall of apartheid, it typifies as brand of upbeat, technically-hyped Pentecostalism that is aspiring to fill the moral void left by a withering of revolutionary ideals and civic norms in the postcolony. While New Life is the creation of a talented pair of pastors, a husband and wife who had reshaped it independently of denominational oversight, their community belongs to the International Federation of Christian Churches; this is a global network of congregations, all of which combine a lively charismatic realism with a frank morality, the latter embodied in a subject not embarrassed by this-worldly desire. . . “