Tuesday, October 4, 2016

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Oneness Pentecostal Growth & Development - Part 3

In his weighty and persuasive examination of the dynamics of Pentecostal origins and growth, Anderson at times equivocates between religious and social factors, but always returns to his emphasis on deprivation and dislocation theories wed to Samarin's notion of glossolalia as regressive speech. In this, he is plagued by a reductionism common to functionalist sociological studies: the assumption that the function of a religious belief or practice is sufficient to explain the phenomenon and adequately assess its meaning. Arthur Paris, in his study of black Pentecostalism, shows that an error of circular reasoning often hides beneath such functionalist interpretations: the sociologist posits a set of needs in the adherents of a position and then defines the religious group as that which fulfills these posited needs. The intellectual component of religion is, therefore, largely ignored and the possibility of substantive religious experience is ultimately categorized as illusory rather than real.16 Only in his concessions to religious factors, specifically the unique "religious orientation" and history of the early Pentecostals and the biblical foundation of their ecstatic millenarianism, does Anderson approach a fully-orbed presentation of Pentecostal origins and take seriously the theoretical framework or worldview within which the early Pentecostals perceived and acted.

But even in these concessions, Anderson's argument appears weak. When positing that a "religious orientation" toward an emotional "religion of the Spirit" distinguished the early Pentecostals from the mass of the working poor, Anderson seems to avoid the obvious probability that all in this marginal conglomerate of dispossessed white farmers, blacks, and eastern European immigrants shared this same "religious orientation." This distinction stands unsubstantiated and possibly unwarranted. A similar breakdown occurs in Anderson's second concession: those experiencing some traumatic personal crisis were the most susceptible for Pentecostal recruitment. It is difficult to believe that "personal crisis" did not extend to all the disinherited rather than just the group converting to Pentecostalism. Anderson also ignores the studies of Virginia Hine which show that less than twenty percent of Pentecostal converts she examined experienced any personal crisis leading to their conversions.17

 Beyond this failure to explain the uniqueness of the Pentecostal converts among the marginal working class, Anderson's social analysis falters at several other points. His evaluation of the Gilded and Progressive eras of American history seems to rest almost entirely on Richard Hoftstader's notion of the "psychic crisis of the 1890's" and influential books, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. This reliance is especially clear in his examination of evangelical Christianity's "revolt against modernity." A notable lack of later and differing scholarship in Anderson's notes and bibliography undermines the quality of this work. Anderson also consistently links the history of Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism. He sees Pentecostalism as merely an emotional extreme within the larger Fundamentalist context. Thus, the Pentecostal rejection of the status quo is identified with the Fundamentalist rejection of the accommodation of the church to modern culture, especially biblical criticism, Darwinism, and the Social Gospel. He makes this identification in spite of repeated Fundamentalist repudiation of Pentecostalism and his own admission of the differing class constituencies of the movements.18 Neither does he distinguish revivalist evangelicalism from doctrinaire Fundamentalism. Although as conservative Christians, classical Pentecostals certainly affirm the "Fundamentals," their evangelical emphasis on "crisis experience" conversion—in the case of some Pentecostals as many as three "crisis experiences" in the normal Christian life—overrides any assertion of propositional doctrine as the central Christian reality.

Furthermore, Anderson's categorical leap from economic to "respect and prestige" deprivation in explaining neo-Pentecostal ecstasy leaves his scientific methodology lost somewhere in the shuffle. If anything, the inarticulate "emptiness" experienced by classical and neo-Pentecostals alike demonstrates that the spiritual crisis of modernity knows no class barriers. Moreover, the studies of Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine have shown that the Pentecostal movement—at least in its present appeal— does not attract only certain socio-economic groups, but rather draws from all ages, all educational backgrounds, all income brackets, and all occupational groups.19 Such observations signal the need to move beyond deprivation and dislocation theories of Pentecostal origins, with their implicit evaluations of maladjustment, to a broader, more complex assessment of the attraction of Pentecostalism which can explain both the appeal to the working poor of classical Pentecostalism and the appeal to the middle and upper class Protestants and Catholics of neo-Pentecostalism. Also, Anderson's use of Troeltsch's "church/sect" model, while adequately explaining the institutionalization and middle class growth of Pentecostalism, is somewhat weakened by the explosion of American religious pluralism in the 1960's. This plethora of diversity wipes away the clear distinction between church and sect.

Despite these weaknesses, Anderson's work remains the springboard for future studies of Pentecostal origins and developments. His work shows that Pentecostalism arose as a mass social movement and as such should be studied with the best sociological technique. Anderson forever links the successes and pitfalls of early Pentecostalism with other contemporary poor people's movements. Beyond this, the recounting of the story of classical Pentecostalism's move from disinherited poverty in industrializing America through the depression years and into middle class respectability following World War II places this often ignored "fringe" group squarely in the middle of the not-so-unique experience of American class development. Anderson's strengths, and failures, demonstrate the need for a cautious blending of detailed sociological analysis and serious consideration of religious ideology and experience. Most significantly, Vision of the Disinherited frees scholars to focus on the uniqueness of Pentecostalism without ever losing footing in the greater American social experience.

While no social phenomenon is self-explanatory, explanations for the growth and survival of a social movement must be sought in the structure and dynamics of the movement itself as well as in external conditions leading to the movement's existence. Although such factors as deprivation, disorganization, and even psychological maladjustment may have "facilitated" or "enabled" the emergence of Pentecostalism, these factors are inadequate analytical tools if used without reference to the internal structure and processes of the movement.20
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18Anderson, Vision, p. 230.

19Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indiana polis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), pp. 2-3.

20Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, "Five Factors Crucial to the Growth and Spread of a Modern Religious Movement," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 7 (1968): 38.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I think your critique of Anderson's sociological theory for Pentecostal origins is spot on. While you properly acknowledge some of his ground-breaking work, an acknowledgement that must be freely admitted, your assertion that psychology, sociology and economics alone are insufficient to fully explain the rise of Pentecostalism is an important corrective. Also, perhaps there is some difference to be seen in the attractiveness of Pentecostalism to Blacks as opposed to Whites. Even at the sociological level, the experience of Blacks, coming out of American slavery, Reconstructionism and the eventual Jim Crow laws may have been significantly different than the experience of dispossessed Whites. Be that as it may, I think you are correct that the religious component was at least as important, if not more important, than the various sociological, psychological and economic factors that surrounded the early Pentecostal movement. I shall look forward to revisiting your dissertation as you unfold it once again in subsequent posts.

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