In my cultural geography class, we just finished the chapter covering religion and how universalizing religions such as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism grew out of their respective hearths and spread. This reminded me of another example of globalized religion that doesn’t get as much attention but is just as interesting, if not more — Pentecostalism. I first read about Pentecostalism in Frank J. Lechner and John Boli’s “Expanding World Culture: Pentecostalism as a Global Movement” and its case is distinct in that the religion only really began in Los Angeles during the early 1900s and has grown to include congregations all over the world. In fact, the largest Pentecostal Christian church is not in the United States, but in South Korea.
Before delving deeper into the religion’s spread, I think it’d be good to have some basic background on Pentecostalism. Lechner and Boli’s article elaborates on this more, but the general gist is that Pentecostalism is a branch of Christianity that places great importance in the literal interpretation of the bible and found its origins in the Azusa Street Revival of 1906. A little over a century later, the religion is now the second largest branch of Christianity in the world, standing only behind Roman Catholicism.
Pentecostalism was able to find its niche in many countries where Christian traditions had already been implemented by past histories of colonization. Preachers used these connections to attract those who already knew of the basic messages of Jesus Christ. Unlike many of the other large religions, Pentecostalism has no dominant center and thus, each church is run independently by locals who implement their own creativity into how the religion is interpreted. While attempting to discredit local traditions of the past, various churches gave a new context to the practices, such as implementing distorted forms of Korean shamanism or Africanist rhetoric within Pentecostal services. The decentralized nature of the Pentecostal church made it more suitable to a global age where there was no central sponsorship.
Because Pentecostalism’s adaptations were so flexible, it allowed for a network to grow based more on how the different forms resembled each other than on an entirely fixed creed. The phenomenon of its speedy growth and spread over the years has led Peter Berger to include Evangelical Protestantism as one of his four faces of global culture that marks four of the largest processes of cultural globalization that exist today.
Often times, we are very skeptical when we hear about folks who are spreading the tenets of a newly-established religion, but looking at this example, who knows how or what people will be worshipping in the future?