[In the next several posts, I will share a chapter from my dissertation, The People of the Name: Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Florida State University, 1985). Each subsequent post will offer a lengthy exposition of the “deprivation theory” of Pentecostal origins found in Robert Mapes Anderson’s influential work The Vision of the Disinherited and a much shorter look at William Samarin’s analysis of glossolalia as “regressive speech” which is related to such a deprivation theory. My work offers a meaningful critique of this deprivation theory drawn from the studies of Gerlach and Hine, but does not offer any meaningful alternative.
This analysis is very dated, but is still useful in light of the continued influence of deprivation theories. Further research is needed in this area – especially providing positive alternatives to the deprivation theory of classical Pentecostal origins.]
Oneness Growth and Development
Multitudes of investigators—both sociological and psychological—have sought to uncover the social roots of Pentecostalism and the reasons for its phenomenal growth and development. Sociologists theorize that Pentecostalism spreads where there is mass social disorganization and dislocation among socially and economically deprived groups. Psychologists debate whether the Pentecostal experience replicates a psychological state of schizophrenia or hysteria, results from an enhanced state of suggestibility and a predisposition to hypnosis, or merely demonstrates regressive speech patterns and learned behavior. Only in Robert Mapes Anderson's excellent Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism, have these theories been incorporated in a social history of the movement's origin and advance.1 This work surveys the genesis of the Pentecostal movement against the background of the crises of the 1890's and early twentieth-century social change. Any adequate study of Pentecostal growth and development—including that of Oneness Pentecostalism—must address Anderson's conclusions before offering any new theories and interpretations.
Anderson perceives a convergence of social and religious undercurrents in the 1890's which produced a fertile setting for the Pentecostal revivals. Various dispossessed populations—rural, racial, and immigrant—bewildered by the forces of change and complexity in the burgeoning industrial world rejected those trends and their own insecurities by identifying with mass movements of protest. Many of these alienated people were drawn to the emotionalism and millenarian teachings of the Holiness churches. Despairing of present realities, these believers retreated into a "vision" of the imminent return of Christ. Rather than purely escapist and world-denying, these religious communities came to anticipate a worldwide revival preceding this climactic event. The Pentecostal phenomenon—the imparting of the Holy Spirit baptism evidenced by enthusiastic worship and charismatic gifts— became recognized as the divine token of this revival. The Los Angeles area, inhabited by an uprooted population struggling to adapt to new circumstances in the nation's fastest growing city, was particularly susceptible to this revival. Following reports of similar revivals meetings in Wales and the startling headlines of the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, the Pentecostal preaching of William Seymour exploded into a religious awakening of national and international proportions.
Anderson correctly recognized Pentecostalism as "one small part of a widespread, long-term protest against the whole thrust of modern urban-industrial capitalistic society," a part of "a many-sided reaction against modernity."2 This, and other voices of protest, rose amidst the social dislocation of the American masses caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization. Revolutions in technology and the means of production facilitated the appearance of large-scale, impersonal industries and created an employment vacuum into which rural workers were drawn to the cities. This shift caused a crisis of material sustenance, but also a spiritual crisis of modernity—alienation and despair, manifest in both intellectual malaise and the rise of mass movements of dissent. Economic factors divided the voices of protest: the skilled working classes formed labor unions which in turn helped these workers to adjust to industrial life, while the unskilled and semi-skilled classes, barred from labor organizations by their racial and ethnic status as well as lack of skill, were pushed to more extreme, even exotic forms of protest—among these, the religious rejection of modernity and the withdrawal from political and economic spheres found in the Adventist, Fundamentalist, and Holiness groups.3
More specifically, Anderson shows that Pentecostalism arose among poorer classes—black, immigrant, and dispossessed white—during the shift from the competitive, entrepreneurial phase of American capitalism to its more monopolistic, bureaucratic phase from 1890 to 1925. The "psychic crisis of the 1890's," precipitated by the economic depression of 1893-96, increased labor-capital conflicts and launched unprecedented farmer militancy. It also created a crisis of religious faith with mainline bodies embracing modernity in the form of biblical criticism, evolutionary science, and social activism and with sectarian bodies emerging to loudly protest this move.4
In contrast to the more "realistic" reform movements of Populism and Progressivism (both ill-defined and elusive terms in this presentation), Anderson sees the Holiness and Pentecostal movements as wholly religious and reactionary, out of step with any secular solution. Not surprisingly, Pentecostalism flourished in times of great economic trauma: following the "panic" of 1907,5 during the recession of 1913-14, and during the economic dislocation following World War II. These economic crises accentuated the emergence of a stable pool of working poor, the sporadically or seldom employed urban and rural proletariat of industrial capitalism which form the lowest base of the nation's work force and a free-floating labor reserve. This group resulted from the influx of rural Americans— black and white—and eastern and southern European immigrants into urban industrial centers. Although these groups came from divergent ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, all shared two characteristics: the experience of culture shock, both spiritual and material, arising from their transplantation from rural to urban-industrial settings and their almost irreversible social marginality. These working poor were barely educated, held a limited command of the English language, and had only minimal access to social institutions and technology. Unlike skilled labor, these marginal workers received little real aid from the progressive reforms of the period.
Unable to ameliorate their marginal conditions, these working poor, according to Anderson, responded to their situations by anti-social, unrealistic, and escapist means. These efforts served a dual function by protesting their impoverished, alienated social position and temporarily easing its painful effects. Anderson places the otherworldly religion of some of these marginal workers, expressed in the escapism of millenarianism and ecstasy, as the functional equivalent of crime, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, prostitution, and sexual promiscuity of the larger whole.
Anderson argues that the Pentecostal response to the malaise of urban-industrialization and the growing secularity of the churches mixed millenarianism and ecstatic worship in an "almost wholly otherworldly, symbolic and psychotherapeutic" solution. Against the reality of the worker's world in the 1890's, Pentecostals, along with Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the emerging Keswick movement, asserted the imminent destruction of the present world and the creation of a new utopian world of social reversals. This "oblique expression of social protest" answered the psychological needs of those whose worlds were indeed collapsing and worthy of destruction. Only the ecstatic emphasis set Pentecostalism apart from these other religious responses.6 While Anderson admits that ecstasy has been a prominent part of all American revivalism and is potential in every evangelical group emphasizing a "crisis experience" of salvation, he nevertheless explains the full-flowering of ecstasy in the Pentecostal revival in terms of the socio- economic deprivation of its adherents.
The poorer, more dislocated and despised, the more marginal and highly mobile such people are in the social order, the more extreme will be their ecstatic response. For early Pentecostals, ecstasy acted as an agency for adjustment for the marginal, uncontrollable social deprivation. Unable to find adjustment through reason or action, Pentecostals fell back upon the inner world of desire and imagination.7
In the disassociated state of the baptism of the Spirit, the Pentecostals "symbolically expressed their disorganized, chaotic social circumstances and were thus better able to accommodate to them."8
1Robert M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
2Ibid., p. 223.
3Ibid., p. 224.
4Ibid., p. 225. In his conclusions, Anderson links the "come-outism" of the Holiness and Dispensationalist movements with the economic crises of the 1890's even though he had already demonstrated that this process was well under way during the 1870's and 1880's. Only the final physical separation of these believers occurred in the 1890's.
5Here Anderson mishandles the Azusa information to prove his thesis. The Azusa revival peaked in late 1906 and early 1907 and faded (as a national phenomenon) shortly thereafter. The fading of this revival, rather than its inception, coincided with the actions of the New York banks in the 1907 "panic." Obviously, Anderson's economic thesis clouds rather than clarifies at this point.
6Anderson, Vision, p. 230. Anderson argues that ecstasy waned in the Holiness movement at this time. But apparently, Holiness ecstasy subsided in response to, rather than prior to, Pentecostal extremes. Note especially the case of the Christian and Missionary Alliance as portrayed in John Thomas Nichol's, The Pentecostals (Plain field, N. J.: Logos Books, 1966), p. 38-9.
7Ibid., p. 231.