Pentecostalism and Politics. Global and European Perspectives

By Vlas, Natalia; Sav, Simona | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Pentecostalism and Politics. Global and European Perspectives


Vlas, Natalia, Sav, Simona, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Abstract: The present article aims to explore the complex relation between global and European Pentecostalism and politics. The self-evident scarcity of studies on this particular topic, despite the global prominence and the dynamic growth of Pentecostalism, and the tendency to collapse strikingly opposing tendencies under a generic terminology call for a serious examination of the approaches Pentecostalism adopts in relation to political involvement. Throughout the three main sections of this paper, political, historical, cultural and theological concepts will be employed in order to: firstly, provide a qualitative and quantitative overview of global Pentecostalism; secondly, explore worldwide different political preferences of Pentecostal churches and denominations that range from apolitism, to full-fledged political involvement, or to the preference for an alternative polis; thirdly, to analyse European Pentecostalism and the particularities of its relation with politics.

Key Words: Pentecostalism, Politics, Neo-Pentecostalism, Charismatics, Third Wave Pentecostals, post-denominational independent charismatic groups

Introduction

Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity1, a branch of Protestantism that emphasizes personal experience with God and places varying importance on the manifestation of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, including glossolalia,2 faith-healing,3 dream-visions, prophesying4 and/or miracles, is a dynamic religious movement that is quickly expanding worldwide, being considered the fastest growing sector of Christianity and "the predominant global form of Christianity of the 21st century."5 Since the beginning of the 20th century,6 Pentecostalism and later on the Charismatic movement spread not only on the North American continent, but also in Europe, Australia/Oceania, Latin America, Africa and Asia, and attracted a large number of adherents - around half a billion believers.7 Unsurprisingly, it has been successively described in terms of a "global culture"8, a "religion made to travel"9, or as a religion whose parish is the world.10 By employing methods of interdisciplinary research, at the intersection of history, politology and theology, our aim in this paper is to assess the political impact of this extremely prolific movement both in geographical areas where it is numerically well represented (such as Africa and Latin America, or the United States), and in areas that were less touched by the successive Pentecostal waves, such as Europe. With this purpose in mind, we have structured the present article into three main sections. The first part, an overview of Global Pentecostalism, aims at rendering the reader familiar with the major distinctions that operate within Pentecostalism, with its historical developments and with its basic tenets. The second part constitutes an analysis of the main positions and perspectives that global Pentecostalism embodies with respect to politics and political involvement, by highlighting the historical, cultural, contextual and theological elements that might explain the different approaches. The third section explores the relation between Pentecostalism and Politics in the European context and attempts to identify the main political trajectories taken by Pentecostals on the Old Continent. The final part of the article is dedicated to the conclusions, and it proposes a number of predictions concerning the evolution of the relation between Pentecostalism and politics both worldwide and in Europe.

Overview of Global Pentecostalism

When it comes to establishing the number of Pentecostal/Charismatic believers worldwide, most scholars invoke the difficulties incumbent. Though the term "growth" constitutes an unchallenged consensus between researchers, it also functions as the lowest common denominator in the on-going disagreement concerning the factual figures and the actual rate of growth. In 2002, David Barrett suggested that there were over 500 million Pentecostal believers,11 whereas more conservative scholars, such as David Martin, proposed a number below 300 million. …

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