Research Program

The four projects

Nicaragua (dr. Henri P.P. Gooren)

Culture Politics and Conversion Careers in the Asambleas de Dios and the Catholic Church in Managua, Nicaragua.
The growth of Protestantism in Nicaragua, from 3% of the population in 1966 to around 19% in 2000 (Johnstone & Mandryk 2001: 483), was actually a Pentecostal boom. Though the Roman Catholic Church still represents the majority of the people, its population proportion decreased remarkably from 96% in 1963 to 76% in 2000, whereas Pentecostals may go up to 50% in poor neighbourhoods of Managua (Lancaster 1988: 102). Pentecostalism, however, is highly fragmented, varying from myriad independent communities to larger denominational bodies. The biggest of these (181,000 members in 2000; Johnstone & Mandryk 2001: 483) is the Assemblies of God (Asambleas de Dios, AdD), which will be studied in-depth together with the dominant Catholic Church.
The AdD arrived in 1936 and has been the largest non-Catholic denomination in Nicaragua since the 1970s. It is one of the older and more institutionalized Pentecostal denominations. Although many Pentecostal members and churches in Nicaragua supported the Sandinistas, the Assemblies of God have a more conservative image. They have participated in CEPAD, the largest interdenominational Protestant organization, since its founding after the 1972 earthquake. Relations with the Sandinista government (1979-90) were uneasy; a few temples were briefly occupied in 1982. Some leaders of the Assemblies of God have been active in national politics, but the denomination as a whole keeps a discrete distance to national politics. In its statements on morality, it competes directly with the Catholic hierarchy.
The Roman Catholic Church featured as the official religion of Nicaragua from the time of Spanish colonial rule until the constitutional reform of 1894. It continued to support existing political regimes until the revolutionary struggles in the 1970s, which led to the Sandinista victory over Somoza in 1979. Since then there is a big rift between a progressive base sympathizing with the Sandinistas, and the conservative bishops marginalizing such sympathizers and preaching political neutrality, with the apparent support of Rome.
The tension between Catholic predominance and growing religious pluralism creates new social space (Martin 1990: 279-280) for Pentecostal churches. Hence the contested culture politics of the AdD on the religious market in Nicaragua will be juxtaposed with the position of the Catholic Church. The main issues are witchcraft and pre-Columbian religions, machismo, poverty, and post-Sandinista national politics.
Research question:
In their operating on the religious market in Nicaragua, what are the culture politics followed by the Asambleas de Dios and the Catholic Church and how are these connected with the conversion careers of their members in a poor neighborhood of Managua?
Sub-questions:
1. How do the Asambleas and the Catholic Church position themselves strategically in the general cultural environment and especially on the topics of witchcraft and pre-Columbian religion, machismo, poverty, and national politics?
2. How do new converts experience abandoning their old world-view, their transition to a Pentecostal or Catholic praxis, and their socialization in it? In what way are the churches´ culture politics connected with their recruitment methods and thereby their expansion? How are demand and supply
sides of the religious market related with each other and with the cultural environment?
3. In which way are change and continuity combined in Pentecostal culture politics and in conversion careers?
4. How is the gender situation connected with both the conversion career and culture politics in both churches?
5. What is the relation between globalizing and localizing tendencies? How is the growth of Pentecostal churches related to modern and post-modern characteristics of Nicaragua?
6. How does gender influence conversion careers and the adoption of Pentecostal or Catholic views regarding culture politics?
The project will study how the AdD and the Catholic Church in Managua position themselves in the general cultural environment and especially on the above-mentioned topics of witchcraft and pre-Columbian religion, machismo, poverty, national politics, and religious competition. To achieve this, one AdD congregation will be studied in-depth in a low-income neighborhood of Managua, the Nicaraguan capital. By way of comparison, we will also study how a particular Catholic group (a base community or a popular parish) deals with the local cultural environment and thus competes with the Assemblies of God on culture politics. The exact research location will be selected in cooperation with our local counterparts.

Mozambique (Drs. Linda van de Kamp)

Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique: exploring the transnational dimensions of Pentecostal conversion in Maputo.
In several parts of Africa Pentecostalism has become a very popular form of Christianity and has acquired an unprecedented influence on postcolonial societal formations (see Gifford 1994, 1998; Meyer 1998; Van Dijk 1997, 1998). However, the local-level implications of its relations with the postcolonial state have been little explored. While many African states have developed initiatives for the enunciation of a national cultural heritage policy—and therefore a national identity—which coincided with some of the mainline Christian churches’ quest for ‘enculturation’, the Pentecostal churches have remained rather ambivalent if not hostile towards this entire cultural project.
The present project seeks to study the ramifications of this cultural contestation for processes of conversion in the post-war situation of nation-building in Mozambique. In the aftermath of the civil war, which ended in 1992, and in the midst of a structural adjustment program, introduced a few years earlier, Pentecostalism has found a fertile ground, particularly in the larger urban centers in the country. The Pentecostal expansion gained momentum partly because the Mozambican government loosened its regulation of religious expression, allowing church movements from elsewhere to enter Mozambique and recruit more freely (Vines and Wilson 1995). Since that time, these churches have been able to recruit members without the Frelimo government interference that characterized the socialist endeavor of the 1970s and 1980s. This religious diversification also affected the existing religious communities in the country, especially the still dominant Roman Catholic Church and African traditional faith communities
In addition, the government began policies of re-emphasizing pre-socialist cultural elements. Changes occurred in the way the position of traditional healing is perceived as being part of the nation-state project, among others through the establishment of the government-supported national association of traditional healers (AMETRAMO). Pentecostal churches increasingly contest such policies, as they reject the notion of traditional healing to be the dominant form of ritual redress for situations of misfortune, ill health and poverty. Especially among women there is a shift away from reliance on traditional healers (curandeiros), as the Pentecostals provide healing for free (Pfeiffer 2002).
A third element in explaining the popular attraction and recruitment policies of Pentecostalism relates to the flows of ideas, goods and people that cross the Atlantic. Pentecostal churches and preachers of Brazilian origin have become influential, and provide Pentecostalism in Mozambique with a transnational dimension that is oriented on South-South relations (Corten & Marshall-Fratani 2001). This dimension creates a further layer in the way in which Pentecostalism produces a cultural policy that opposes the state’s emphasis on local cultural traditions. Elements of Brazilian cultural styles in music, songs, attire and symbolism are important in the appeal these churches have for the emergent middle classes in particular.
Research question:
How was Brazilian Pentecostalism introduced in Maputo, Mozambique, and in which way have these churches become part of the overall Pentecostal contestation of national cultural policies in the country?
More specifically, the project will explore the models and trajectories of conversion of individual church members, in their particular social and cultural contexts, with regard to the importance of their churches’ transnational and transcultural features.
Sub-questions are:
1. What is the relevance of the Brazilian origin and features of a particular church in the conversion histories of its members?
2. What are the implications of the Latin-America connection for the way in which these churches negotiate the nation-state policies with regard to culture and identity?
3. In what way are the churches’ culture politics connected with their recruitment methods and thereby their expansion? How do potential converts experience the church’s position?
4. To what degree is there a break with the national perspective and a transition to the transnational framework?
5. Do gender relations influence Pentecostal expansion?
The research will focus on one church, but including a comparison with an indigenous Pentecostal church.

Japan and Korea (Ikuya Noguchi MA)

The Culture Politics of Pentecostalism in East Asia: A Comparative Study of the Full Gospel Church in Korea and Japan
Non-Western Pentecostal churches need serious scholarly attention because many have become transnational movements that are having a significant global impact. In order to understand the local and global dimensions of Pentecostal Christianity in East Asia, the Korea and Japan component of this research program will focus on the culture politics and transnational impact of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC), founded by Paul Yonggi Cho in the late 1950s. This Korean Pentecostal movement has continued to expand under Cho’s charismatic leadership Some 700 pastors guide this movement through a network of geographically organized cell groups (over 20,000 such groups in Seoul), most of which are led by women.
YFGC is a Korean initiative that has effectively recruited Koreans to Christianity. A study of the culture politics of this movement will clarify how—in spite of tension with pre-Christian cultural traditions and religions—it manages to effectively relate Christianity to the Korean masses. At the same time, YFGC has a significant global dimension. It is now a transnational movement that has trained and sent out several hundred missionaries to various countries. In order to understand this global dimension of Korean Pentecostalism, this project will include a study of the expansion of the YFGC mission in Japan and consider the wider impact of Cho on the larger network of charismatic and Pentecostal churches in Japan.
One issue that needs to be examined is how the culture politics in the Korean context are transmitted and reshaped in a very different national and local context (in this case Japan). It is important to note here that the relationship between Korea and Japan is a complicated one. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945, and endured humiliating government policies and brutal treatment at the hand of the Japanese military government. In spite of this colonial past, the Korean Pentecostal movement has targeted Japan and critically engaged Japan’s colonial past, which was based on Shinto nationalism (here assessed negatively as “idolatry”).
This project will require extended field research in both Korea and Japan (6-8 months in each country), with a focus on YFGC in two urban centers, Seoul and Tokyo. An accurate understanding of this movement will require an initial study of the central institutions and culture politics of the mother church in Seoul. Interviews with key leaders will be required in order to document and understand the larger institutional context of this growing form of Pentecostalism.
It will also be necessary to engage in sustained participant observation and conduct in-depth interviews at the grassroots. The cell group has been identified as the primary vehicle for recruitment and socialization of new members. Since cell groups are organized according to geographical district, age, and gender, it will be important to combine participant observation and interviews of lay leaders and members of different cell groups in both Seoul and Tokyo.
In order to ascertain the wider impact of Cho’s movement on the charismatic movement and other Pentecostal churches in Japan, it will also be necessary to conduct interviews with leaders of various Pentecostal churches in Japan, and consider representative publications, which give considerable coverage to Cho’s mission activity.
Research question:
How has Pentecostalism been transmitted, reshaped and contextualized in Korea and Japan through the Yoido Full Gospel Church, and what are the local processes that occurred with regard to culture politics and conversion careers?
Sub-questions:
1. What is the culture politics of the YFGC and how is this related with recruitment en conversion careers?
2. How effective is the YFGC’s use of cells as a way of supervising conversion careers?
3. How does the transnational framework influence this church’s activities?
4. In what way does the history of Korean-Japanese relations influence the culture politics of the YFGC in Japan and the conversion careers of Japanese members?
5. To what degree are culture politics and conversion careers gendered?

The Netherlands (drs. Miranda Klaver)

Conversion and culture politics in two new evangelical churches in the Netherlands
This project contributes to the interdisciplinary study of Pentecostalism in Europe, which is a relatively understudied research field. We choose the Netherlands for the European case study because according to government statistics it is the most secularized (i.e. de-churched) country in the world. The contrast with Pentecostalism as a movement of desecularization and religionization is interesting. Within the context of secularization, conversion careers in a Dutch Pentecostal church can be seen as expressing a religionizing process. The majority of converts in Pentecostal churches can be identified as middle class and fairly educated. Most converts have at one stage in their lives been participating in one of the mainline churches, preponderantly Protestant, and have experienced a crisis in their belief.
This research is a comparison of two new Dutch churches in the Amsterdam region, one Pentecostal, the other not. They can be classified as ‘new evangelical churches’ (cf. Hocken 1991; Miller 1997). New evangelical churches are characterized by a contemporary style of organization, ministry and worship, and by explicit reflection on the surrounding culture. They have an independent and congregational nature but cooperate within international networks of likeminded churches and ministries. Some are Pentecostal; others make a selective use of Pentecostal repertoires. One of the two new evangelical churches adopted the ‘seeker-sensitive’ church model from the Willow Creek church. The other church is characterized by lively church services and openness to new currents within Pentecostalism. Interestingly, through the years, some people moved from one church to the other and vice versa.
Both churches have integrated aspects from corporate business in their approach to church organization, such as mission statements and efficiency and growth objectives. Church ministry is task-oriented and team-based, with leaders in the role of coaching managers. Modern media models, such as talk shows, are used for communication. Members join one of the many weekly meeting small groups. Extensive children’s and youth programs are employed. Both churches give priority to reaching non-believers.
There are also some interesting differences. In one church the services tend to be emotional and often ecstatic. The other church has an accessible and low-key church style, which in the first place is meant to make people feel at home. While the musical repertoire is roughly similar, the first church emphasizes singing as entertainment and togetherness, whereas the other stresses singing as an intense moment of spiritual encounter.
Both churches operate in the same secularized context, are both ‘successful’ in attracting people, have the same ‘orthodox’ evangelical theology regarding the need for conversion, but differ in the understanding and role of the Holy Spirit in the church and the life of believers as connected with beliefs, practices and culture politics. This justifies their comparison.
This leads to the central research question:
What are the motivations for Dutch religious seekers to join new evangelical churches, and how are these motivations met by these local church’s culture politics and missionary strategies?
Sub-questions:
1) What is the significance of a secularized context for Pentecostal culture politics, recruitment and conversion careers?
2) What are the motivations of people to join one of these two churches?
3) What is the role of religious experience and performative repertoires in conversion processes? How do Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals differ in their religious experiences and what does this for their identity as believers?
4) How do these churches compete with each other and how does competition affect the conversion careers of believers? What role does disaffiliation play?

Cultural, Societal and Technical Relevance

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