Religion without the institution?

In full expansion, Penteticism is a paradoxical religious movement: the ecclesial institution denies itself as such, to leave room for the individual alone in his relationship with God, which allows the dominated to recover a form of social legitimacy.

Pentecostalism is a religious movement born from evangelical Protestantism. It is based on a literal reading of the Bible. Believers from this movement are distinguished in particular by their distrust of ecclesial institutions, preferring the valorization of the personal experience of faith. They particularly emphasize the importance of alarm clock Or baptism by the Holy Spiritmanifesting through speaking in tongues or glossolalia.

Faced with the abundance of work in human and social sciences on Penteticism around the world, Yannick Fer's book offers a useful contribution. Resulting from his authorization to direct research, the sociologist's work synthesizes twenty years of work on the subject. It is therefore a time when the sociology of religions is of greater interest to new generations of students, offering an overall vision capable of capturing the characteristics of a polymorphous current, based on around a hundred research studies, the main ones of which are carried out in the United States, in America Latin and in the Pacific, as well as on his own works. We regret, however, that he barely mentioned the work on the Pentecostal presence in Muslim lands, which nevertheless illustrates the vitality of this movement.

From the introduction, the author explains that his approach consists of analyzing the religious fact using the tools of general sociology, refusing the opinion according to which there exists a irreducible specificity of the religious phenomenon (p. 7). It effectively recalls that the sciences of religion, which began to emerge at the end of the XIXe century have experienced an unfinished process of deconfessionalization. For this reason, he insists on the importance for the sociologist to build his own tools, as well as the need for the researcher to analyze his place in the academic field, which with its own challenges, also plays a role in his positioning.

The author has chosen to organize his book in the form of thematic sections. A choice which makes it possible to define the main characteristics of the movement, without limiting oneself to a too strict definition, which in any case struggles to describe a protean current. For this reason, he chooses a historical approach, defining as Pentecostal all the religious currents which arise from the origins of this movement.

Back to the origins

William J. Seymour

Yannick Fer begins by returning to the origins of this movement. A certain number of false ideas have in fact ended up creeping into sociological literature, insisting on its revolutionary character or its roots in black culture. For the author, these are chimeras which collide a more rigorous examination of the sociohistorical circumstances (of its genesis) (p. 19).

These confusions undoubtedly result from the diffusion of a fantasy vision of Pentecostalism inherited from Pentecostal studies. According to these authors, the black-American pastor William Joseph Seymour was the origin of the movement, with the opening of one of the first Pentecostal churches in 1906, Los Angeles, characterized by the temporary cohabitation of black, white, or Hispanic believers, which made it a symbol of a movement transcending racial distinctions.

Charles Fox Parham

Yannick Fer, however, offers a more detailed analysis of the different actors behind this movement. He notably recalls the role played by Charles Fox Parham, a supporter of segregation, who founded his own minister of evangelization traveling, and who notably trained William Joseph Seymour.

He also mentions the place of women in this history, who are likely to obtain social recognition proportional to the religious position granted to them. This is the case of the believer Agnes Ozman, who was the first to manifest the signs of speak in tongues this demonstration which gave this movement its name. Which leads one to conclude that the religious dynamics of alarm clock can therefore lead to grant () legitimacy specifically spiritual actors otherwise subject to racial or sexual domination (p.32).

Agnes Ozman

Returning to the adequate definition of the Pentecostal movement, he recalls that specialists in Protestantism have long struggled with its characterization. A difficulty which undoubtedly has two elements.

On the one hand, the movement has evolved since the beginning of XXe century and the rise of charismatic Pentecostal currents from the 1960s, characterized by a valorization of individual autonomy and a diversification of forms of experimentation the action of the Holy Spiritmodes of operation that favor network dynamics more than church or denominational logics (p. 51). On the other hand, Penteticism has integrated certain religious traditions of the societies to which it has attached itself, which leads certain authors, such as Jean-Pierre Bastian, to consider that Penteticism is indeed Christianity, but that it is not linked to Protestantism.

Yannick Fer, for his part, believes that denominational efforts are necessary in the social sciences. But he reminds us that we cannot reify general categories of analysis (penteticism, charismaticism, Protestantism, etc.) in the form of essences or closed spaces (p. 49).

Institution and conversion

Yannick Fer then recalls the role of the institution in conversion. Paradoxically, we are witnessing an institution that denies itself as such, to reify the role of the individual alone in his relationship with God. This belief, even if it is a religious fiction, is nonetheless useful for believers. It makes it possible to make this new birth, which goes hand in hand with biographical invention, allowing him to acquire new dispositions. Furthermore, the embedded belief in this intimate relationship with the divine allows, at least theoretically, the individual to break away from old bonds of sociability. The Pentecostal institution is therefore the place of new, specifically religious sociabilities allowing the reconfiguration of individual dispositions.

The author then focuses on the emotional, bodily and cultural dimension of Pentecostalism. For Yannick Fer, the expression of emotional religiosities (p. 97) has too often been seen in the world of research as a form of going backwards, from an evolutionary perspective. On the contrary, referring to the work of Cas Wouters, he believes that we are rather witnessing the emergence of a third nature: after a first historical phase authorizing the free expression of emotions and a second phase imposing their strict control, we would witness in the course of the XXe century a new phase characterized by the expression of control of emotions.

In this sense, he does not consider the preponderant place of emotions as the sign of a return to a primitive state of forms of religiosity, but considers them to be religiously necessary (p. 100) by strengthening the believer in his adherence to Christian dogma. So, if the speak in tongues is perceived by Christians as pure communication with the divine freed from the imperfections of language; for the author, it is above all a socially learned emotion which is expressed in the form of a desired and controlled statement. Belief is therefore the prerequisite which allows the believer to authorize certain emotions, which will nevertheless be subject to the control of the religious community. In the same way, the body is a privileged vector of adherence to Pentecostal dogma, since there is nothing like the personal experience of healing to support the existence of a God capable of acting directly on believers.

This freer expression of affects and this incorporation of elements from local cultures is also made possible by an evolution of missionary doctrine, via its charismatic current, which now focuses on evangelizing cultures rather than isolated individuals. According to the rhetoric of evangelical missionaries, there are ancient proofs of the Christian presence among the unreached peoples (p. 143) that it would be necessary to bring it up to date. It also authorizes the reinterpretation of endogenous cultural elements and their attachment to Pentecostal dogma (as with the incorporation of dance among Hawaiian Pentecostals). The dynamic of spiritual combat also leads to the strengthening of the link between a people and its territory, which passes through a symbolic narrative in which a confrontation takes place between territories acquired by the Christian community and others which should be evangelized.

Religion and politics

Finally, Yannick Fer returns to the link between Penteticism and politics. Indeed, by emphasizing the importance of the individual commitment of the believer, we could believe that it was an apolitical religious movement, or even that it was a factor of depoliticization. However, this is to forget two essential elements according to the author, who reminds us that the intimate is also political. In reality, the political scope of Penteticism is in itself indefinite: a conservative movement, it tightens around the religious community against the outside world. However, in certain contexts, Pentecostal actors are also likely to seize belief to make it a political subject.

It is true that one could assume that the political scope of Penteticism is limited by observing that in fact, it is often confined to a moralizing and spiritual discourse, mixing esotericism and bitterness regarding moral decline and the loss of authority in a society in the process of dechristianization. . In the same way, if the current of spiritual combat carries a theocratic project, at first glance it does not seem to propose concrete means to bring this project to fruition.

However, the political scope of the movement is sometimes more considerable. And with their network dynamics, Pentecostals are also likely to seize public space in order to impose their lobbying. This is encouraged by the delegation by the state, in many parts of the world, of social action to associative or religious organizations. The media also play a major role in the dissemination of the Pentecostal Christian vision.

In conclusion, Yannick Fer's book manages to give us an overview of the vast Pentecostal field. The choice of thematic axes is successful and allows us to answer the various starting questions of the work. However, we regret an overly theoretical approach, which probably makes the work less accessible to novices (knowing, moreover, the complex genealogy of the current).

Generally speaking, the work also sheds light on the religious reconfigurations taking place at the global level. Indeed, if the Pentecostal movement is expanding, it is probably because of its adaptation to the phenomenon of globalization. It in fact draws its strength from a double movement, on the one hand accompanying individuals in a process of individuation, while on the other hand, this involves the strengthening of ecclesial authority, which takes precedence over other forms of institutional authority.