Research Program

Problem, Goal, Questions, Hypotheses
Pentecostal expansion has been called ‘the largest global shift in the religious market place over the last 40 years’ (Martin 2002: xvii). The market concept has metaphorical value, but is sometimes explicit in Pentecostal thinking about marketing, merchandising and numbers. In the explanations proposed so far, macro-theories such as modernization and globalization theories often predominated. This led to generalizations that should not be discarded because they may have validity for what Pentecostal churches have in common. But they do not show or explain the huge variety of Pentecostalisms. This program suggests the need of a comparative localized approach of Pentecostalism?s contextualized global expansion.

We have selected significant cases in four continents. Nicaragua is chosen because of a strong Pentecostal growth, an intense competition with the Roman Catholic Church, and an interesting history of church-state relations. Mozambique shows the influence of South-South-relationships, especially through the presence of Brazilian churches; transnationalism is an essential element of the case. The Korea and Japan cases represent East-East-relations, a strong indigenous church formation, against the background of historically strained relations between peoples. The Dutch case was chosen as a Northern counterpoint, representing Pentecostalism in a secularized context.

In adopting a comparative perspective, this program combines a focus on people?s conversion careers with a study of local urban Pentecostal churches’ culture politics. ‘Culture politics’ refers to the position taken and the strategy adopted with regard to the local social and cultural environment, in case based on religious views. Conversion career is defined as the member’s passage, within his or her social and cultural context, through levels, types and phases of church participation. It is the concrete context in which the Pentecostal cultural strategy can primarily be studied.

The goal of this comparative program is to contribute to scholarly insight in the processes that are characteristic of the rapid expansion of a relatively new form of religion. Through the localized approach we wish to understand how Pentecostal expansion and a critical position towards local culture are related. The urban situation is chosen as a concentrated expression of what a culture and society represent. In opting for case-studies we want to take into account that different churches attract different categories of people for different reasons. Together the case-studies will produce a plausible and detailed insight into the local processes that accompany global Pentecostal expansion. The comparison is meant to uncover both variation and some common trends. The local level is viewed as the context in which globalization becomes visible. Globalization appears to facilitate Pentecostal expansion, not only because communication is made easier, but also because globalization may bring existential insecurity for which Pentecostals have a remedy.

For their recruitment of new members, Pentecostal churches operate and compete on a global and local religious market, often consciously using marketing techniques. Mainline Christians are an important target group. The Pentecostal supply side is marked by assertive propagation of the Pentecostal version of the Christian message that may include a critical - sometimes normative dualist - perspective on aspects of the dominant local culture, society and mainline religion, including globalizing trends. Yet not all Pentecostals have a hostile view on ‘the world’, they may also feel part of their culture and then seek its ‘redemption’ from within.

At the demand side, converts are seeking ways to meet their physical and spiritual needs or to interpret a religious experience. Especially in the urban setting, people may move from one religion to another in the process of making sense of their lives. Pentecostal culture politics may provide an answer to the converts’ needs, because it reacts to the same situation that negatively influences the potential converts. That men and women experience that situation in a different way, is one of the reasons why a gender perspective is included in our approach.

Pentecostalism, though having modern characteristics as being progress-oriented and individualistic, may be studied as a post-modern phenomenon, taking post-modern in the literal sense as coming after modernity. It may have grown because it made up for the fact that modernity did not always bring people a better way of life. To the poor of the South, modernity failed to bring wealth, to the wealthy in the North it brought individualization and de-traditionalization, for both of which the people were often not prepared and that they seek to compensate. Pentecostal churches may also be post-modern in that they use any fragment from the cultural repertoire as long as it serves the translation of their message. Pentecostal churches owe their success in part to their ability to speak an understandable idiom that often reflects existing world-views and ways of problem-solving.

Therefore, despite the emphasis that Pentecostals put on conversion as change there is continuity as well, in both the churches’ and the converts’ practice. The metaphor of being ‘born again’ may point to a rupture with the past, yet the converts cannot escape all the parameters of their former life. People believe ‘with a local accent’.

Research question:
In their operating on the religious market, what is the culture politics followed by Pentecostal churches and how is this connected with their members’ conversion careers?

1. How do local Pentecostal churches position themselves strategically in their social, cultural, political, economic and religious environment? What varieties of concrete culture politics do they defend?
2. How do new converts experience abandoning their old world-view, their transition to Pentecostal praxis, and their socialization in it?
3. In what way is a church?s culture politics connected with its recruitment methods and thereby its expansion? How are demand and supply sides of the religious market related with each other and with the cultural environment?
4. In which way are change and continuity combined in Pentecostal culture politics and in conversion careers?
5. In what way and to which extent are both conversion careers and culture politics gendered?
6. What is the relation between globalizing and localizing tendencies? How is the growth of Pentecostal churches related to modern and post-modern characteristics of their contexts?

We did not formulate hypotheses since we adopt a qualitative methodology in which hypotheses are not formulated at the outset (as in quantitative work), but only during research (Silverman 2000:78.79).

Theoretical framework

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