Category Archives: Publications

Age of the Spirit? How charismatic Christianity became ‘mainstream’

John Maiden

Some months ago, Max Lucado, one of a handful of Christian leaders who since the death of Billy Graham might possibly be said to fall into an ‘America’s pastor’ category, and who has sold well north of 100 million products, revealed that he spoke in tongues in his devotional life. What was perhaps most striking about the news was the absence of any substantial backlash. There was almost a collective shrug of the shoulders, as evangelicals seemed to say, ‘And what?’. The lack of criticism is one indicator of a remarkable shift of charismatic practice, from the periphery of non-Pentecostal Christianity to the mainstream.

My new book, Age of the Spirit: Charismatic Renewal, the Anglo-World and Global Christianity, 1945-1980 (Oxford University Press) shows that in the 1960s, in English-speaking contexts such as the United States, the situation was very different. It was only six decades since the wider evangelical holiness movement had been riven by the ‘tongues’ controversy, and pentecostals had soon after begun to form their own denominations. In the early 1960s, in Southern California, Morton Kelsey an Episcopalian, described charismatic prayer groups – ecumenical grassroots gatherings where Christians sought to experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – as having ‘some of the characteristics of a secret society’ such was the threat of ‘ridicule or censure’. In New Zealand, the historian Peter Lineham described anti-charismatic behaviour in the Brethren churches as comparable to that of McCarthyite anti-communism. In my research, I have often read of, or spoken to people, who were ‘put out’ of their local congregations because they had been ‘baptised in the Spirit’, spoken in tongues, or practiced some other charismatic gift.

How things have changed. Within Anglicanism, there is a charismatic Archbishop of Canterbury. Holy Trinity Brompton, a west London charismatic flagship congregation and birthplace of the Alpha evangelistic course, has become a driving force of Christian witness. As Andrew Atherstone’s (2022) recent research has detailed, Alpha has been packaged as a global brand. Charismatic worship, and ministries such as Hillsong, Bethel and Passion, has dominated the Christian music industry, and songs are frequently to be heard in non-charismatic churches. There is a growing academic literature on independent congregations (including many mega-churches) and phenomena such as the ‘new paradigm churches’, the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’, and ‘Independent Network Christianity’. And we are not only talking about charismatics as part of the evangelical mainstream. The Roman Catholic Church, which in the mid-1970s became perhaps the first mainline denomination to take engagement with charismatics seriously, has increasingly sought to integrate them into its larger life.

Age of the Spirit follows the movement of charismatic practices and experiences from the periphery to the mainstream. It shows, furthermore, how Anglo-world charismatic networks, and an imaginary of ‘charismatic renewal’ or a ‘New Pentecost’, were situated in, and increasingly connected with, a wider global context, through transnational flows of media, people and money,

For a religious studies scholar, a particular aspect of interest may be the tangled genealogies which produced charismatic renewal. The book discusses the influence, for example, of early century healing movements; not only sacramental and thaumaturgical, but as Pam Klassen’s (2011) work has also shown, metaphysical or experimental approaches to healing, for example in the New Thought tradition. Charismatic renewal often emerged from a seedbed of ‘seekership’, the kind which Steve Sutcliffe (2002) has identified as a context for the development of the New Age movement. For charismatics, authenticity was to be found in ‘going back to the beginning’ – a rediscovery of the power of the Holy Spirit in a nuclear age, and of the supernatural world of New Testament Christianity as everyday experience.

As the book claims, if you want to understand global Christianity, you need to engage with charismatics. I hope this research will go some way towards helping others to do so.

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Religion in Fortress Europe in a Time of Polarized Politics

By Chris Cotter

A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to receive my complimentary copies of Religion in Fortress Europe: Perspectives on Belief, Citizenship, and Identity in a Time of Polarized Politics (Bloomsbury, 2023).

The idea for the book was conceived in late 2019 with my co-editor Morteza Hashemi when we were both coming to the end of Leverhulme Early Career Fellowships at the University of Edinburgh. Despite the Covid-19 lockdowns getting understandably in the way of our May 2020 in-person workshop, we valiantly pivoted online and persevered through the project, completing our introductory chapter around the outbreak of the current conflict in Ukraine. In a nutshell, we wanted to assemble a collection of scholars to look at the entanglement of religion in contemporary, often quite heated, debates around borders, migration, multiculturalism, and national identity in contemporary (post-Brexit) Europe. Little did we know how much would happen between final submission and publication, with a new First Minister of Scotland (Humza Yousaf, a Scot of Pakistani descent, who identifies as Muslim), a new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Rishi Sunak, an Englishman of Punjabi descent, who identifies as Hindu), and intense debates surrounding UK Government policy towards stopping small boats crossing the English Channel. These are only a few UK-related events from recent months which speak to the timeliness of this volume, which I’ll introduce more now.

As editors, working on our own projects involving marginalized communities in regions on the edges of the UK, itself on the edges of Europe in many ways, we realised that there has been a systematic blindness to the everyday experiences of various religious communities across the continent. Perhaps this is due to a continued influence of the secularization thesis on much of Western scholarship (at least, outside of critical religious studies)? As a corrective, we have assembled a volume consisting of chapters on the attitudes, experiences, challenges, hopes, fears, contributions, and encounters of religion-related groups across Europe, and the official policies that impact upon their lives.

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New Publication | Brill Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion

Lecturer in Religious Studies, David G. Robertson, is one of the editors of the just-published Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion, along with Asbjørn Dyrendal (NTNU, Norway) and Egil Asprem (Stockholm University).

Conspiracy theories are a ubiquitous feature of our times. The Handbook of Conspiracy Theories and Contemporary Religion is the first reference work to offer a comprehensive, transnational overview of this phenomenon along with in-depth discussions of how conspiracy theories relate to religion(s). Bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines, from psychology and philosophy to political science and the history of religions, the book sets the standard for the interdisciplinary study of religion and conspiracy theories.

As well as David’s contributions, the book also includes a chapter co-written by Lecturer Suzanne Newcombe, entitled “Trust Me, You Can’t Trust Them”: Stigmatised Knowledge in Cults and Conspiracies.” Other chapters include methodological overviews from sociology, psychology and philosophy; regional case studies on Sri Lanka, Albania, Greece, Japan and elsewhere; thematic chapters on popular music, Esotericism, Church of the SubGenius, neo-Nazism, the Internet; and more.

John Maiden in the Journal of American Studies

Just published is a special issue of Journal of American Studies on US evangelicalism and globalization – with article by our own John Maiden, entitled Renewing the Body of Christ: Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA) USA and Transnational Charismatic Anglicanism, 1978–1998.

Check it out here. Abstract follows:

Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA) was formed in the late 1970s as an international organization for the cultivation of charismatic renewal amongst leaderships within the global Anglican Communion. This article explores the ethos and activities of its American national body. It argues that its short term, cross-cultural missions increasingly displayed mutuality and long-term partnership rather than one-directional American influence, and thus reflected a developing shift in the understanding and practice of global mission in the late twentieth century. The organiztion shaped awareness of the global Church amongst some US Episcopalians and constructed an influential transnational network within charismatic Anglicanism. Furthermore, SOMA’s network was one context for the emergence of global North–South conservative solidarity in the politics of the Anglican Communion.