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Evangelical and Charismatic Transformations: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Evangelical Christianity

Panel Chair: Martin Radermacher | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m.

Considering revivalism, processes of institutionalization of churches and revitalization of traditions, Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity have been the prototype of both innovation and tradition from the start. This apparent paradox and interdependency will be at the center of this panel: How is it possible for movements and communities to flesh out an identity, encourage innovative methods, and still feel ingrained in religious tradition? What normative role do texts and readaptations of texts play? How does the body become a means of religious innovation and regulation? Evangelicals navigate between engagement and distancing – what Lynne Gerber (2012) calls (following Smith) the “evangelical dance of engagement and distinction”. This condition fosters cultural adaptations that include, e.g., media and new technologies which transform what they transport (Birgit Meyer 2010) and thus entail innovation. The panel presents papers on evangelical and charismatic practices and discourses from different regions in the world in contemporary perspective addressing these questions.

Justin Michael Doran

American Pentecostals: Charismatic Innovations from Canada to Brazil

This paper follows a network of Pentecostal preachers and church planters from Toronto, to Rio de Janeiro, to Houston, Texas. Since the 1950s, these closely networked evangelists produced and disseminated one of the fastest growing segments of global evangelicalism and are significantly responsible for the transformation of Latin American Christianity. The paper begins with the arrival of Canadian missionary Robert McAlister to Rio de Janeiro and his adaptation of Canadian Pentecostalism to Brazil. It then follows McAlister’s conversion of Edir Macedo, who has become Brazil’s wealthiest and most influential pastor. It concludes with the arrival of Macedo’s son-in-law, Renato Cardoso, at a church in Houston – down the road from Lakewood Church, the United States’ largest congregation. Alternatively referred to as neo-Pentecostal, neo-Charismatic, or the “prosperity gospel,” this paper argues that these movements are better understood as local, institutional adaptations of an affective religious experience that is shared across global evangelicalism.

Martin Radermacher

Transformation of/through the Body: The Case of Devotional Fitness

When in the 1950s and 60s evangelicals began to develop and distribute biblically based fitness and diet plans, they promoted an innovative re-adaption of biblical texts, nonetheless reassuring their followers that what they did was deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In constant negotiation with wider societal trends of body perfection and ‘healthism,’ these programs turned out to be among the most successful versions of evangelical life, luring believers and non-believers with the promise of good health, beauty, and – last but not least – eternal salvation. The paper addresses devotional fitness as a field of religious innovation and carves out mechanisms of transformation under the conditions of biblicism and traditionalism.

Felix Chimera Nyika

From Revival to Denominations: The Emergence and Development of Malawian Neocharismatic Churches

African Neocharismatic Churches represent a vibrant and rapidly growing expression of contextualized Christianity that has forever altered the religious landscape on the continent. As a relatively new phenomenon, many researchers and policy-makers seek to understand this new phenomenon and its implications on African societies as well as globally. This paper aims at fostering a historical understanding of African Neocharismatic churches by exploring the development of the Malawian variety from their roots in the 1970/80s Blantyre Born-Again Revival to their present status noting the various phases of their growth from the interdenominational, fellowship, ministry, church, apostolic network, to denomination phases. This will also be illustrated by the players and pivotal events that marked each phase in the Malawian case.

Elisabeth Mareels

Videira, a ‘New’ Way of Being a Cell Church in Brazil

In the Pentecostal field, it is generally assumed that South-Korean pastor Paul Yonggi Cho is the father of cell churches. This form of organizing church life – all church members must be part of a small group (cell) which meets once a week at home – aims to enhance church growth and to cope with the anonymity of megachurches. It is considered as a sign of the second coming of Christ, which gives it a specific place in Christian historiography. Nowadays, thousands of Pentecostal (and other Christian) churches all over the world adopted this model. In Brazil, the cell church model entered in the 90s, mainly from Colombia and the USA, creating a lot of criticism. Videira, founded in 1999 in Goiânia (Goiás), started from scratch “reinventing” the cell church, which links a historical conscience and Millenarianism to social control and recognition, and distancing itself from other models by a “visible discretion”.

Minna Opas

Turning One’s Back and Turning Back: Negotiations of Belonging among Indigenous Amazonian Evangelicals

For the Indigenous Amazonian Yine people, to be a Christian is by no means a static state of being. The Yine may simultaneously claim to be both Catholic and Evangelical and deny one of these denominations as false. They may participate in the weekly Evangelical meetings for months, only to suddenly stop practicing the religion, and then pick it up as quickly as they first dropped it. This paper examines the processes of belonging and being Christian among the Peruvian Yine people: how do they sustain several contradictory Christian affiliations at the same time, and what are the factors causing them to move back and forth in regard to their religion/faith? With the help of the notion of the ‘inconstancy of the Indian soul’ (Viveiros de Castro 2011) and the scholarship on the politics of belonging (e.g. Yuval-Davis 2012), the paper will focus in particular to the questions of intentionality and socio-technological change in Yine practice of Christianity.


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Thematic Outline

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