Conference Conversion and Time

Conversion and Time in Global Pentecostalism:
a lifelong ‘live’ experience

VU University Amsterdam
11-13 June 2008
Venue: Gebouw Pinkstergemeente Amsterdam
Arent Janszoon Ernststraat 302 Amsterdam

This conference seeks to explore new directions for the study of conversion looking specifically to Pentecostalism. The need for new directions emerged out of the work of the research program Conversion Careers and Culture Politics in Global Pentecostalism at the VU University in Amsterdam . In this program all researchers studied the meaning, experience and function of conversion in various Pentecostal churches all over the world.

In this Research Program, funded by the Dutch Council for Scientific Research NWO, the VU University Amsterdam and Utrecht University, Henri Gooren studied conversion to various (Neo-)Pentecostal churches and to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Nicaragua, Ikuya Noguchi looked into the transnational and local dynamics of the South-Korean Full Gospel Tokyo Church in Japan, Linda van de Kamp studied the culture politics of Brazilian Pentecostal Churches in Mozambique especially with regard to marriage, family and personhood, the work of Miranda Klaver is on experiences of conversion in the conversion narratives of Dutch Pentecostals and Evangelicals, and Regien Smit works on migrant Pentecostal churches in the Netherlands studying a Brazilian and a Portuguese-Angolan Pentecostal church.

In this conference we seek to bring together different perspectives of local settings in the global encounter between Pentecostalisms and cultures (for example culture as modernity, culture as neo-liberalism, culture as individualism and culture as migration). In considering our specific cases, our aim is to discuss how conversion and the construction of time work together in a mutually constitutive dynamic. Thinking of recent debates on conversion as change or as continuity (Cannell 2005, Engelke 2004, Robbins 2007) we propose conversion to be a lifelong experience beyond the important notions of rupture and radical change while acknowledging them to be important elements in conversion stories and experiences. It is the continuous appeal to change and the recurrent negotiation of the present, past and future in conversion processes we want to stress in order to move away from time-restrained models. In that sense conversion is not only a lifelong but also a continuously ‘live’ experience, i.e. ‘in the here and now’. We believe that perceptions of time in Pentecostal practices are a powerful instrument in a world where people seem to be captured by culture and identity politics of flows and closures (Antze and Lambek 1996 and Meyer & Geschiere 1999). It is through conversion that converts and converters understand culture and personal lives. In all the Pentecostalisms we study, conversion and the making of time and its various temporalities are reciprocally implicated in new and powerful ways, which, we feel, demand constructive scholarly engagement.

By emphasizing the mutually constitutive relationship between conversion and time, we propose to consider the dynamic from multiple perspectives:

1) We suggest a focus on the particular ways converts experience and address time and temporalities, i.e. past, present and future in their construction of a (new) Pentecostal identity. How do they themselves shape their life trajectories? In addressing the concept of ‘live’, we focus on conversion as continuously experienced in the ‘here and now’. What does this mean for the aspect of continuity and change in processes of conversion? How are the politics of memory in the specific context of the society (post-colonial, post-war, or post-modern), of the convert’s life and of the converters connected to conversion? What is the view about one’s present and future life? Has conversion also a social agenda? If the state of conversion is continuously re-experienced, what does this mean for the signification and impact of ‘conversion’ and for its analytical strength as a concept?
2) We also want to consider the embodiment of temporalities in the process of conversion. How is the body an important medium for conversion? In which ways converts use their body to experience, to express and to internalize conversion? And what about the connection of the person’s conversion and the position in the world and the role of the body in positioning oneself? How much is the Pentecostal project related to neo-liberalism and modern consumerism also in terms of behavior of the converts? (Weber 1958, Campbell 1987)
3) We further suggest rethinking the relationship between time and space in conversion. What locations do implicate conversion experiences in the eyes of the converts? How become certain spaces of life and of society dangerous and forbidden or permissible? In what ways do Pentecostals use public space? How do converts perceive Pentecostalism as a space? Here we want to link our thoughts with the discussion on religious market. Is the concept of the religious market adequate to understand the relationships between converts and religious groups? Would the notion of a shared cultural space give us more hold of the ways converts move between various spaces? Conferences, concerts, healing rooms, prayer camps, healers, specific music and books are all part of what we could call a shared Pentecostal space. This space can be virtual as well. How do converts move in this space and how are differences addressed? What are boundaries and flows in global Pentecostalism? What do African, Asian, Latin American and European Pentecostals have in common? What are the main differences between them?

Antze, Paul and Michael Lambek
1996 Tense Past. Cultural essays in Trauma and Memory. New York/London: Routledge.
Campbell, Colin
1987 The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. Blackwell Publishers.
Cannell, Fenella
2005 The Christianity of Anthropology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(2): 335-356.
Engelke, Matthew
2004 Discontinuity and the discourse of conversion. Journal of Religion in Africa 34 (1): 82-109.
Meyer, B. & P. Geschiere
1999 Globalization and Identity. Dialectics of Flow and Closure. Oxford: Blackwell.
Robbins, Joel
2007 Continuity of Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture. Belief, Time and the Anthropology of Christianity. Current Anthropology 48 (1): 5-17.
Weber, Max
1958 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by talcott Parsons. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons


11 June
Public Event in Dutch. Communication of research findings to a large public

Thursday 12 June 2008

09.30-10.00 registration and Coffee/Tea

10.00 – 10.10 Opening by André Droogers

10.10 -12.30 Session 1: Conversion and Time
Chair: Birgit Meyer

10.10-11.10 Keynote Lecture Lewis Rambo: The Vicissitudes of Conversion:Contemporary Conversion Studies and the Emergence of a New Paradigm

11.10-11.30 Coffee/Tea

11.30-12.30 Keynote Lecture Matthew Engelke: Past Conversion

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-17.30 Session 2: Results Research Program “Conversion Careers and Culture Politics in Global Pentecostalism”
Chair: André Droogers

13.30-14.10 Henri Gooren: Conversion, ritual and time: Pentecostals and charismatic Catholics in Managua, Nicaragua
– discussant Clara Mafra
14.10-14.50 Ikuya Noguchi: Conversion in the Transnational Context: Korean Pentecostalism in Japan
- discussant Juliette Koning

14.50 -15.10 Coffee/Tea

15.10 –15.50 Linda van de Kamp: Converting the Spirit Spouse: Time and Relatedness in Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique
- discussant Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
15.50 -16.30 Miranda Klaver: Negotiating Christian tradition: Conversion and baptism in new evangelical churches in the Netherlands
- discussant Cecil M. Robeck, Jr

16.30-16.50 Coffee/Tea

16.50-17.30 Regien Smit: Pentecostal Migrants dealing with the past. A comparison between two migrant Pentecostal churches in Rotterdam
–discussant Catherine Wanner

17.30 Drinks

Friday 13 June 2008

09.30-10.00 Coffee/Tea

10.00 – 12.30 Session 3: Temporalities and Identity in Conversion Chair: Oscar Salemink

10.00-11.00 Keynote Lecture Simon Coleman: Between ‘Making’ and ‘Invoking’ History: The Everyday Ruptures of Pentecostalism

11.00-11.20 Coffee/Tea

11.20 –12.20 Keynote: Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu: ‘Your Body Is A Temple’: Conversion Narratives in African-led Eastern European Pentecostalism

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.00 Session 4: Conversion and the Body
Chair: Marjo de Theije

13.30 – 14.00 Martijn Oosterbaan: Technologies of Conversion
- discussant Clara Mafra
14.00 – 14.30 Marleen de Witte: Touched by the Spirit. Converting the body in a Ghanaian charismatic church
- discussant Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu

14.30 – 14.50 coffee and tea

14.50-15.50 Session 5: Conversion and Space
Chair: Peter Versteeg

14.50 –15.20 Juliette Koning: Backrooms, Showrooms and Webrooms: Pentecostal Space in Indonesia and Malaysia
- discussant Freek Colombijn

15.20 –15.50 Kim Knibbe: Managing multiculturalism in a Nigerian Pentecostal church in the Netherlands: How much does place matter?
- discussant Catherine Wanner

15.50-16.15 Coffee/Tea

16.15-17.15 Concluding Lecture André Droogers


List of abstracts
(in alphabetical order by author)

Between ‘Making’ and ‘Invoking’ History: The Everyday Ruptures of Pentecostalism

Simon Coleman
Sussex University

In this paper I want to bring together two strands of my work that converge on issues of Pentecostalism and time. The first relates to what I have called ‘continuous conversion,’ or the ways in which, for the believers I have studied in Sweden, becoming born again is a repeatable process just as much as it is a defined event. The second relates to my interest in charismatic historiography, or what I want to call ‘historiopraxy’ — how
believers understand and ‘perform’ the relationship between the past, present and future, not only through narrative accounts but also through movements of the body, of ritual worship, of mission. In reflecting on forms of Pentecostal conversion and historiography I draw out the parallels and tensions between ‘invoking history’ (exploring the relationship between history and mimesis, between the present and the past) and ‘making history’ (the seeming articulation of an ‘event’, an ideologically charged movement
towards the ultimate salvationist and transformative aims of the faith).

Past Conversion

Matthew Engelke
London School of Economics

The paper will take up the issue of breaking with the past, especially as it appears within Pentecostal discourse and practice (as well as in my own research on the Masowe apostolics), by juxtaposing it to other models of religious transformation within Christian history. The lecture is intended to serve as something of an exercise for locating Pentecostalism within a broader framework.

Conversion, Ritual, and Time: Pentecostals and Charismatic Catholics in Managua, Nicaragua

Henri Gooren
Oakland University Rochester

Many people who claim membership in Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Nicaragua did not experience a conversion in the strict sense of the term: a change of worldview and identity. I relate these different conversion careers of members and converts to three main factors. First, a different perspective on their past, present, and future life – as expressed in their life histories. Second, members and converts had different experiences with the symbolic time and space associated with the core rituals of each religious group: testimony and liturgy. (To my surprise, baptism and tongues seemed to be less important to most Pentecostal converts – let alone members.) Third, both members and converts differed in their perspectives of religious space (e.g., church space, conferences, meetings, public prayers, faith healings, or marches for Christ) as compared to secular society. La calle, “the street,” was the symbolic space of Satan, as distinguished from el reino: the Kingdom (of God). I present data and interview quotes from members and leaders of four different church cases in two poor neighborhoods of Managua, Nicaragua. These are the classical Pentecostal Assemblies of God, the neo-Pentecostal mega-church Hosanna, and two different groups of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Converting the Spirit Spouse: Time and Relatedness in Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique

Linda van de Kamp
Vrije Universiteit

In Mozambique, the transnational features of Pentecostalism are crucial for upward mobile women to create a new culture of relatedness. Brazilian Pentecostalism especially, offers new organizational forms of family and marriage that in general is linked to a global middle class culture and in particular to a Brazilian type of bourgeois mentality. These new social technologies are particularly relevant to women who are married with a spirit. The spirit spouse, a spirit of vengeance, is a growing concern in post-war Mozambican society. According to various women this spirit obstructs their reproductivity, because they cannot relate themselves to a man of flesh and bones. In Brazilian Pentecostal churches in Mozambique specific healing sessions are organized to exorcise the spirit. Whereas in the local context of healing the historic identity of the spirit is crucial, interestingly, in the transnational space of Pentecostalism this locality seems unimportant. The transnational space offers especially women structures to address their past and relatedness to their family in unprecedented ways and offers new practices and ideas to create relatedness, that is new organizational forms of relationships and marriage. As such conversion to Pentecostalism becomes also a cultural project in which the politics of culture directed to the past and the future are intertwined with the very intimate.

Negotiating Christian tradition: Conversion and baptism in new evangelical churches in the Netherlands

Miranda Klaver
Vrije Universiteit

In this paper I will address the issue of adult baptism as expression and reconstruction of the conversion experience in evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Since most new members of E/P churches originate from mainline protestant churches, adult baptism is often a contested issue, for the converts themselves but moreover for their families. The negotiation of different embodied rituals practices seems to stretch the limits of official religious tolerance. In discussing the different baptism rituals as forms of communicative action, I will argue that one of the appeals of an evangelical/ Pentecostal style and theology is located in the strong commitment to ritual. At the same time, the call for ritual change is a strong protest against the rationalist and marginal place of ritual within the mainline churches.

Backrooms, Showrooms and Webrooms: Pentecostal Space in Indonesia and Malaysia

Juliette Koning
Vrije Universiteit

Pentecostal-charismatic movements in Asia are among the fastest growing worldwide and in particular attract urban middle class representatives. The new converts assemble in private homes, former showrooms, restaurants, newly created ‘churches’ and cyberspace. The meetings can be designated Sunday masses, cell group sessions, youth and businessmen fellowships and/or prayer support via websites to practice the word of God, share testimonies and strengthen their faith. In various Asian countries the rapid growth of these movements is monitored with great care and concern, not only by local and national governments of countries where Christianity is a minority religion, but also by mainstream Christian denominations. The aim of this paper is to explore the meaning of Pentecostal space in the socio-religious and socio-political landscapes of two countries that have witnessed a vast Christian charismatic growth in overtly Muslim contexts: Indonesia and Malaysia.

Managing multiculturalism in a Nigerian Pentecostal church in the Netherlands: How much does place matter?

Kim Knibbe
Vrije Universiteit

This paper focuses on the activities of the Redeemed Christian Church in the Netherlands. The RCCG is a Nigerian Pentecostal church that has grown tremendously the last couple of decades. In the Netherlands, they have managed to grow from 1 parish to 19 parishes in about ten years. Their mission is strongly focused on church planting, establishing churches within 10 minutes driving distance in developed countries and 5 minutes walking distance in developing countries. In the Netherlands, the churches are mainly filled with people from an African background, most of the Dutch present are from Surinam or the Dutch Antilles. They are incorporated into the church with relatively little trouble; on the surface. However, it is clear that their loyalty to the Nigerian leadership is less strong, as well as their orientation towards Adeboye, the General Overseeer of this church. The ‘Dutch Dutch’, or white Dutch, are harder to reach and harder to keep. However, there are some, usually married to Africans, and they have very strong opinions on the ‘Africanness’ or even ‘nigerian-ness’ of the RCCG. ‘We are in the Netherlands’ they argue, and therefore we should do things the Dutch way. This paper will explore the discourses on this subject and how the leaders manage multiculturalism within the RCCG, continuing the exploration of the significance of ‘place’ to a transnational church started in previous work.

‘Your Body Is A Temple’: Conversion Narratives in African-led Eastern European Pentecostalism

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon. Accra. Ghana

Pentecostalism defines itself through four main theological themes – Jesus Christ as Savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer and as a King who will return to judge and rapture his own into eternity. Of the four theological themes, the first is the most fundamental. It is the principal axis around which the others revolve. The basic meaning of ‘Christ as Savior’ is that he is the source of Christian conversion, and following that experience, the Born Again is set on a new path of renewal that involves preserving the sanctity of the body as a ‘temple’ of the living God. This paper proposes to examine the nature of conversion based on stories, testimonies and conversations from the Church of the Blessed Kingdom of God for all Nations based in Kiev, Ukraine. With a membership of approximately twenty-five thousand adults, God Embassy is the largest African-led church in the whole of Europe. Unlike other African-led churches within the Diaspora in Europe, God Embassy’s membership is entirely Eastern European. The primary reason for joining this church, as gleaned from testimonies and conversations, is the very powerful conversion experiences that it has generated. We will examine the meaning of conversion based on such oral theological discourses and discuss the specific ways in which members use their bodies ‘to experience, express and internalize’ the process in fulfillment of personal transformation as a cardinal requirement of Pentecostal spirituality.

Conversion in the Transnational Context: Korean Pentecostalism in Japan

Ikuya Noguchi
Vrije Universiteit

My paper explores the way conversion happens in the transnational context, taking as an example Korean Pentecostalism in Japan. The Yoido Full Gospel Church, which was founded in Seoul, South Korea by the Korean Pentecostal evangelist Yonggi Cho, has had a global impact through its world mission strategy. Its largest Japan branch is the Full Gospel Tokyo Church. The FGTC is a Korean ethnic congregation that mainly consists of Korean migrants in Japan and, at the same time, actively appeals to the local Japanese. The conversion of the Japanese to Korean Pentecostalism is significant in view of the cultural/religious differences and historical tensions between the two nations. My paper focuses on the activities of the Korean converters and the Japanese converts in the FGTC and their respective experiences of time and space in shaping a Pentecostal identity.

Technologies of Conversion

Martijn Oosterbaan
University of Groningen

This paper takes up the proposal to understand conversion as a livelong and ‘live’ experience by addressing the question how evangelical technologies of the self are related to technologies of mass media. Instead of treating mass media merely as means to distribute a message (doctrine), this paper treats them as integral parts of religious experience. The question that presents itself then is how media are implicated in the self-understanding of conversion as a break between past and present? Based on fieldwork in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, this paper demonstrates that watching evangelical television or listening to evangelical radio should not be regarded in terms of effects that lead to conversion or follow conversion, but rather as means to continuously reassert an evangelical identity that is much less fixed than presumed. Part of the continuous assertion of a Pentecostal identity in the favela is the awareness of the significance and potential of specific sounds and images in relation to the self and to the ‘others’. People use radio and television quite self-reflexively to understand, feel and demonstrate what the difference is between ‘being of the world’ and ‘being in the world’ and thus also between the ‘old self’ and the ‘new-born self.’

The Vicissitudes of Conversion:
Contemporary Conversion Studies and the Emergence of a New Paradigm


Lewis R. Rambo
San Francisco Theological Seminary

The study of conversion is not only enjoying a rebirth of interest, but an astonishing transformation of meanings, methods, and paradigms. Once the province of evangelical Christians and rather specialized scholars in the psychology and sociology of religion, conversion studies now involve anthropologists, historians, theologians, religious studies researchers, and new approaches to the phenomenon within psychology and sociology. This paper will explore some of these developments and argue for an interdisciplinary approach that is inclusive of various perspectives, but also requires focus on specific domains of research and theoretical critique and refinement.

Pentecostal Migrants dealing with the past. A comparison between two migrant Pentecostal churches in Rotterdam

Regien Smit
Vrije Universiteit

Igreja Maná, a Portuguese led Pentecostal church with mainly Angolan members, has an important and daily heard adage: ‘Não olhar para atras! Sempre emfrente!’ , which means: don’t look backwards, always go forward! This adage is connected with another central idea within the church, namely ‘semear para colher’, meaning that thought, comportment and words by the believer are seeds that will create their particular harvest. In terms of dealing with the past, members are taught that all attention given to the past will bring it into being again, for the good and for the bad. Current problems are viewed as harvest of something negative in the past.
Calvary Christian Center, a Brazilian Assembleia de Deus church, which contains many Angolans as well besides Brazilian and other African and Latin American members, has a different stance towards the past. Central theme in this church is the desert as the place where suffering (i.e. problems) is meant to enforce and grow the believer. The past is not to be forgotten, but to be cleansed by actions of repent, confession and reconciliation.
In this paper I will analyze these different stances towards the past in relation with
A) The different theological connotations about salvation and victory they presume, and
B) their effect on believers’ dealing with their daily life struggles.

Touched by the Spirit. Converting the body in a Ghanaian charismatic church

Marleen de Witte
Vrije Universiteit

This paper explores the relationship between conversion and time in Pentecostalism from the perspective of the body and the senses. Taking a large charismatic-Pentecostal church in Ghana (International Central Gospel Church, ICGC) as a case study, it argues for an understanding of conversion as an ongoing bodily process that ‘tunes’ the senses to specific sensory experiences. In the ICGC, as in other charismatic churches, a tension exists between, on the one hand, an understanding and experience of conversion a total transformation caused by the supposedly spontaneous touch of the Holy Spirit and, on the other hand, the disciplinary, institutionalised formats of religious performance that not only mould people into ‘good Christians,’ but also evoke such ‘personal’ spiritual experience. Church discourse constantly reinforces and mobilises dichotomies between charisma and institution, Holy Spirit and structure, spontaneity and ritual, inner and outer person, body and spirit to shape born-again Christians. I wish to stress, however, that as much as these categories are relevant for the people concerned and appear as oppositions in their analysis, we cannot take them as analytical dichotomies, because they are part of a religious language of authentication. Religious practice collapses these dichotomies. Their poles turn out to be inseparable and shape the born-again Christian in mutual entanglement. The experience of spirit flow does not come out of the blue, but is mediated by institutions, structures and rituals. At the same time it needs to be authenticated as spontaneous and immediate. This paper examines this problem of mediation and authentication as central to the process of conversion and the constitution of charismatic-Pentecostal subjectivity

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