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Charismatic Economies: Pentecostalism, Economic

Restructuring, and Social Reproduction

Isabelle V. Barker
Bryn Mawr College
Abstract Pentecostalism is one of the worlds fastest growing religions, expanding most
quickly in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia. To make sense of this
expansion in so many developing regions, I suggest that Pentecostalism fosters norms and
behaviors that harmonize with neoliberal economic restructuring. I frame this theoretically
with Polanyis notion of double movement. In our current era of weakened state
governance vis-a`-vis neoliberal trade and scal policy, non-state sites of reaction have
emerged. Pentecostalismis one such site, and, in contrast with Polanyis example, I suggest
that Pentecostalism has embedded the self-regulated aspects of neoliberal capitalism. I make
this argument by using the feminist political economy theorization of social reproduction
to interpret a number of empirical studies of Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism addresses
dilemmas of social reproduction engendered by neoliberalism, and so may be said to embed
this form of economic organization in human social life in a way that reinforces neoliberal
The Pentecostals do not have a social policy, they are social policy.
If we apply Karl Polanyis mid twentieth-century critique of the self-regulated
market to contemporary conditions of neoliberal globalization, it would seem that
the economic form that has been in ascendance for some decades now is fated
to produce its own undoing. In his classic text, The Great Transformation, Polanyi
asserted that the self-regulated market design of the late nineteenth-century
global economy spurred a host of countermovements that resulted in various
government interventions, including the New Deal in the United States, the
embryonic forms of European welfare states, and the centralizing planning of
fascist Italy and Germany.
Though varied in design and in ideology, these
interventions embeddedmarkets withingovernment regulations andso effectively
put an end to liberal fantasies of markets propelled by their internal logic.
Jeffrey Gros, Confessing the Apostolic Faith from the Perspective of the Pentecostal
Churches, Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 9:1 (1987), p. 12.
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001 [1944]). For
excellent sets of essays on Polanyis contributions to contemporary social science
scholarship, see Politics & Society 31:2 (June 2003) and Kenneth McRobbie and Kari Polanyi-
Levitt, Karl Polanyi in Vienna (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1999).
John Gerard Ruggie, International Regimes, Transactions and Change: Embedded
Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order, International Organization 36:2 (1982),
pp. 379415.
New Political Science,
Volume 29, Number 4, December 2007
ISSN 0739-3148 print/ISSN 1469-9931 on-line/07/040407-21 q2007 Caucus for a New Political Science
DOI: 10.1080/07393140701688305
made this argument based on the claim that the laissez-faire organization of
economic activities so thoroughly disrupted and threatened human social life that
it inevitably set off social and political reactions in the interest of self-protection.
For Polanyi, then, liberal economics was unsustainable in practice. Intriguingly,
contemporary forms of countermovement in the context of the weakened national
state of our era may be proving that Polanyis forecast of liberal economics does
not apply. While I am sympathetic to Polanyis critique of liberal capitalism, his
claims regarding its fate seem to no longer hold.
In many ways, there are striking parallels between the era Polanyi wrote of
and our own. If we consider examples that vary from neo-fascism, religious
fundamentalism, global feminism, and the World Social Forum, it does appear
that our era is marked by a range of social and political countermovements
responding to the ascendance of neoliberalism alongside the expansion of
deregulated global markets. Froma progressive point of view, these contemporary
countermovements may be catalogued as ranging from foreboding reactionary
phenomena to hopeful instances of resistance. However, while these examples
seem to echo the dynamic of countermovement of an earlier era and the political
range of ideologies that that era entailed, none offers a model of state governance
capable of re-embedding economic activities through government regulation.
In other words, while the current neoliberal organization of economic activities
spurs countermovement, these movements do not necessarily spell the end of the
neoliberal market as we have come to know itin part because there is no viable
mechanism of governance to impose regulative policies that would check laissez-
faire. In fact, in an era of destabilized national governance, in some instances
countermovements may even have the effect of strengthening neoliberal
capitalism. Rather than embodying a self-protective reaction against and/or
resistance to the self-regulated market, some forms of reaction have the effect of
embedding neoliberalism, particularly in the absence of viable state governance.
Pentecostalism provides an intriguing illustration of just this dynamic.
As one of the fastest growing religions in the world today, Pentecostalism
fosters norms and behaviors that harmonize well with the demands of neoliberal
economies. This is especially apparent in developing economies, where recent
decades of economic restructuring have been marked by processes that include
the decentralization of governance vis-a`-vis social policy, the reorganization of
work, increasing personal and national nancial instability, urbanization, and
labor migration. Drawing together a variety of empirical studies and
interpretations, I will suggest that Pentecostalism provides individuals with
non-state resources to adapt to each of these processes. Based on this
interpretation, it should come as no surprise that a form of Protestant theology
and charismatic worship that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century
in the United States has a century later hundreds of millions of adherents
worldwide, growing the most rapidly across sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, the
Philippines, South Korea, and Latin America.
From a secular progressive
perspective, the symbiotic role that Pentecostalism has in relation to neoliberal
capitalism may well be troubling. There appears to be little potential in
Allan Anderson, Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2004), p. 281; see also Paul Freston, Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa, and Latin
America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
408 Isabelle V. Barker
Pentecostalism for fostering liberal democratic politics, in part due to its status
as a civil society religious movement and therefore not subject to the public
scrutiny and democratic interventions of state institutions. But this said, it
behooves us to consider why it is that Pentecostalism appears to be so compelling
to so many people in this era of neoliberal economic organization.
In this article, I suggest that Pentecostalism has the capacity to embed
neoliberal economic activities by integrating these activities into society. As such,
it exists in a harmonizing, even symbiotic, relation to neoliberal capitalism.
Pentecostalism provides adherents tools to respond to the vagaries of the
neoliberal organization of the economy in a way that is supportive of this
organization and in a way that does not result in the kind of government
intervention that Polanyi observed in the rst half of the twentieth century.
In developing countries, Pentecostal churches have come to function as non-state
sites addressing social needs that have gone unmet by the state due to a
combination of factors. Moreover, the individualist theology, charismatic
practices, and the new kinds of community fostered by Pentecostal worship
reinforce shifting modes of production and globalizing markets, purveying values
that support the informalization of the labor market, increased labor migration,
and the rapid transformation of local communities. This interpretation of
Pentecostalism runs counter to Polanyis insistence that the self-regulated market
was purely asocial in form and in practice and could never be harmonized with
social life.
Pentecostalism as a transnational phenomenon may be unique to an
era dened by the neo-medieval reorganization of sovereignty and unraveling
of state sovereignty.
In this era, Pentecostalism seems to provide religious,
material, and cultural resources that, to quote Polanyi, induc[e] the individual to
comply with rules of behavior which, eventually, ensur[e] his functioning in
the economic systemonly this time, the economic system is one organized
around the self-regulated market that Polanyi implied was destined to forever
be at odds with human social life.
In the discussion that follows, I will briey sketch the contours of neoliberal
globalization by exploring the effects of economic restructuring on the
organization of production and on governance and social policy. In order to
tease out the effects of neoliberal globalization on social life, I will draw on the
feminist analytical concept of social reproduction. While this represents
somewhat of a departure from Polanyis conceptualization of the social, feminist
work on social reproduction offers a more thoroughgoing denition and is more
sensitive to the role of gender in social provisioning and socialization. In laying
For a similarly structured argument regarding the symbiotic dynamics of neoliberalism,
see Wendy Brown, American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservativism, and De-
Democratization, Political Theory 34:6 (2006), pp. 690714.
Though inuenced by Polanyi, several contemporary scholars have parted with this
interpretation, suggesting instead that liberal capitalism can be embedded in social
relations. See, for example, Mark Granovetter, Economic Action and Social Structure: The
Problem of Embeddedness, American Journal of Sociology 91:3 (1985), pp. 481510, and
more recently, and more implicitly, V. Spike Peterson, A Critical Rewriting of Global Political
Economy (New York: Routledge, 2003).
David Held, Democracy and the Global Order (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
Polanyi, op. cit., p. 57.
Charismatic Economies 409
out what he means by the social, Polanyi adopts a backward-looking historical-
anthropological approach that idealizes the pre-liberal capitalist organization of
the economy.
The feminist perspective of social reproduction has a far more
contemporary viewpoint regarding socialization in market societies, one that is
useful for analysis of todays socio-economic dynamics.
Having claried my analytical approach to exploring neoliberal globalizations
effects on social life, I will provide an overview of the history, theology, and
worship practices of Pentecostalism. Examples culled from empirical scholarship
regarding Pentecostalism in a variety of national settings illustrate my larger
argument regarding symbiotic linkages between Pentecostalism and neoliberal-
ism in developing states. The concept of social reproduction is particularly useful
for illuminating these linkages in that it captures multiple social processes affected
by economic restructuring: the reproduction of the species; the creation of a labor
force suitable for the demands of the day; and the foundation-building of social
identity and community. Pentecostalism provides cultural, material, and of course
theological resources for meeting needs at each of these levels, andso it may be said
to be responsive to the crisis of social reproduction engendered by neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism, Economic Restructuring, and Social Reproduction
Neoliberal economic restructuring refers at once to the nature of economic policy-
making as well as to the organization of production and the ways in which domestic
economies have increasingly integrated into the global economy. Though the
entrenchment of neoliberalism varies in each national context and so has uneven
effects, there exist patterns common to many developing economies, whether lowor
middle-income. These include, rst, the openingof domestic market andproduction
activities to global transactions, foreign direct investment, and loan packages
designed by international nancial institutions; second, the restructuring of work
with a contraction of public sector jobs and a shift toward jobs in export-oriented
production, along with an expansion of the informal sector of micro-enterprise;
and, nally, changes in governance, with an emphasis on strengthening civil and
political rights along with constitutional laws to secure and clarify political and
property rights, and a decentralized approach to the administration of social policy.
The aim of the free market reforms underway in so many national contexts
is economic growth, but advancing this goal has profound consequences on
social and political life that are best illuminated through the concept of social
reproduction. While initially adopted by feminist economists to identify the
valueand the necessityof gendered work taking place outside of market
relations, the concept of social reproduction has taken on new currency in the
context of neoliberal restructuring.
This broader structural application of the
In contrast with Marx and Engels for whom pre-capitalist societies suffered from the
idiocy of rural life (The Communist Manifesto), Polanyi seems at times nostalgic for the past.
For Polanyi, pre-capitalist economic activities were successfully embedded in cultures and
mores that enabled the social sustenance of a communitys members. This more positive
appraisal is due largely to Polanyis historical anthropological perspective.
See, for example, how Peterson, op. cit., p. 91, spins a critical feminist interpretation of
social reproduction out of Polanyis work.
Isabella Bakker, Social Reproduction and the Constitution of a Gendered Political
Economy, New Political Economy 12:4 (December 2007).
410 Isabelle V. Barker
concept of social reproduction links activities taking place locally and in the
home with forms of social policy addressing education, health care, and social
safety net provisions. Social reproduction further reects the mechanisms
establishing moral and political norms of a community. Expanding on the work of
feminist economists, I dene social reproduction as reecting three levels. First,
social reproduction reects the literal reproduction of the species and the
physical and emotional care that that entails over the course of a human life.
Second, social reproduction includes the reproduction of labor power through
meeting basic subsistence needs as well as providing education and training.
Finally, social reproduction refers to the sustenance of social community more
This conceptualization of social reproduction serves to illuminate
the parallels and linkages of the effects of economic restructuring on social life at
each of these levels.
The decentralization of the provision of public social services represents
neoliberal restructurings most direct impact on social reproduction, and thus is
one site of dislocation engendered by economic restructuring. Following
decolonization, developing states approached the provision of social services in
a variety of ways. For example, in Latin American countries, social rights were
facilitated by way of clientelism, or the development of a class of state workers
employed by state-owned enterprises, with the gradual extension of social rights
beyond this class.
In an era of neoliberal globalization and, in many cases,
subject to structural adjustment policies, states have reorganized the adminis-
tration of social provisioning to increasingly roll back their spending on social
policies. This has led to a reorganization of governance vis-a`-vis social policy,
such that, as Bryan Roberts has noted of the Latin American context, social
provision is increasingly undertaken by a decentralized managerial state that
outsources these activities to civil society institutions.
This in turn has led to a
reprivatization of social reproduction whereby private sector actors are enlisted
to administer the distribution of social goods.
This site of privatization is highly
uneven in its effects, as it shifts the burdens of social reproduction onto
individuals and civil society institutions in ways that vary according to class
position, geographic location, race, ethnicity, and, of course, gender.
But neoliberal restructuring also indirectly sets off a host of other social
dislocations. Changes in the organization of production are the result of
technological innovations in information and communication coinciding with
neoliberal economic restructuring. This combination has replaced the protec-
tionist policies of import substitution industrialization that previously dominated
the political economy of so many developing states. Developing states have since
experienced some combination of a rapid growth in industrialization for export,
an expansion of large commercial interests in agriculture, and a rapid increase in
informal sector jobs in services. These shifts in the organization of production
Isabella Bakker and Stephen Gill (eds), Power, Production and Social Reproduction
(New York: Palgrave, 2003), pp. 4, 32.
Bryan Roberts, Citizenship, Rights, and Social Policy, in Charles Wood and Bryan
Roberts (eds), Rethinking Development in Latin America (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania
State University Press, 2001), pp. 142143.
Ibid., 147; see also Bila Sorj, Childcare as Public Policy in Brazil, in Mary Daly (ed.),
Care Work (Geneva: International Labor Ofce, 2001), pp. 120, 123.
Bakker and Gill, op. cit., pp. 3236. See also Sorj, op. cit.
Charismatic Economies 411
have sparked deep transformations in the socio-economic landscape. Low-skilled
manufacturing jobs have increasingly been lled by women, destabilizing
traditional gendered divisions of labor in many communities. Meanwhile,
decreasing production for the domestic market has resulted in waves of rural-to-
urban and, in turn, international migration. The expansion of service-based
activities has paralleled a growth of the informal sector, with an expansion of jobs
in small-scale enterprises and in self-employment including professional service
providers, street vendors, and domestic workers.
What all these jobs have in
common is minimal state regulation and increased vulnerability to bankruptcy,
chronic poverty, or both.
These developments in production have taken place against the backdrop of
ever-increasing debt burdens on the part of developing states, leading to economic
recessions and economic volatility. Another aspect of neoliberal restructuring
that has social impacts is the alarming number of nancial crises that have
occurred in the wake of economic reform. The increasing regularity of nancial
crises reects what Brigitte Young describes as a pervasive instability of the
global nancial system.
Each instance of nancial turbulence in turn entails
profound social dislocation. Thus these regular nancial crises, the monetary
policies devaluing currencies, the rapid cycle of expansion and contraction of
particular labor sectors, and the splintering of social policy provision, have all
resulted in increased job insecurity, poverty, labor migration, and pressures on
individuals to develop increasingly independent survival strategies for
themselves and their dependents.
The dislocations set in motion by neoliberal restructuring have not gone
without reaction. Indeed, social and political reaction to economic dislocation and
volatility is virtually inevitablea point Polanyi made over half a century ago.
In his trenchant analysis of the effects of the global economy at the turn of the
nineteenth-century, Polanyiironically in the context of this articlecastigated
advocates of the self-regulated market for their evangelical fervor.
was particularly scathing in his criticism of liberal economists for their insistence
that economic policy be administered as if the market were not a social institution
with impacts on social life. In disembedding the market from society and
disregarding social impacts, liberal economic policy-makers set in motion forces
of dislocationleading to the double movement of societys quest for self-
protection from the volatility of the self-regulated global economy and the need to
create new modes of governance by which to re-embed economic activities into
social life.
Saskia Sassen, Globalization and its Discontents (New York: New Press, 1998).
Guy Standing, Global Feminization through Flexible Labor, World Development 17:7
(1989); Peterson, op. cit.; Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman, Latin American Class
Structures: Their Composition and Change during the Neoliberal Era, Latin American
Research Review 38:1 (February 2003), pp. 4182.
Brigitte Young, Financial Crises and Social Reproduction, in Bakker and Gill, op. cit.,
p. 103.
Saskia Sassen refers to this process as the feminization of survival in Womens
Burden: Counter-Geographies of Globalization and the Feminization of Survival, Journal of
International Affairs 53:2 (2000), pp. 503534.
Polanyi, op. cit., p. 141.
412 Isabelle V. Barker
Polanyis analysis begs two related questions: how is the principle of social
protection manifesting itself today? And what mechanisms are emerging to re-
embed economic activities into society? A growing body of Polanyi-inspired
scholarship is addressing the rst question from a variety of angles.
And, in an
era of the neoliberal state, most scholars underscore that the processes responding
to the quest for social protection are located primarily in non-state institutions.
Peter Evans has written of transnational consumer and labor networks, Stephen
Gill of a concern about a rise in fascist elements, and Valentine Moghadam of
global feminist networks, while John Gerard Ruggie suggests that corporate
participation in the Global Compact is lling in for governance gaps and forging
norms for a global public domain.
I add my analysis of Pentecostalism to this
body of literature. One implication of this framing is that in the context of
destabilized state sovereignty, neoliberalism may come to be embedded by non-
state processes and institutions that have ourished in the wake of the weak state
capacity, such as, in this instance, Pentecostalism.
In the discussion that follows, I will argue that Pentecostalism reects yet
another social response to neoliberal economic restructuring. In suggesting this,
I do not mean to interpret Pentecostalisms growth solely as a reaction to neoliberal
globalization. There are numerous reasons for Pentecostalisms popularity and
expansion, many of them having little to do with political economy. Rather, what
I argue is that the historical coinciding of the ascendance of neoliberalism and the
continued expansion of Pentecostalism is itself no coincidence. Here I join Bernice
Martins innovative claims that Pentecostalism and contemporary forms of
capitalism are related by way of a complex symbiosis rather than a simple one-
way causal relationship.
It is not that one causes the other, but rather that the
two phenomena appear to harmonize quite readily one with the other and, in the
process, resolve questions of social reproduction instigated by economic
restructuring. In the course of addressing these questions, Pentecostalism
reconstitutes forms of social life in ways that have the effect of embedding
neoliberalism. So, while Polanyi held that countermovements would challenge the
laissez-faire organization of the global economy by prompting interventionist forms
of state governance, in the current context the neoliberal market is not necessarily
its own gravedigger. That is, in an era of weak states, institutions in civil society
have the capacity to put forth mechanisms to reconstitute social and political life
A body of Polanyi-inspired feminist scholarship is also growing. This work has
generally focused on the gendered and racialized aspects of the social dislocations set in
motion by neoliberal restructuring. See all the essays in Bakker and Gill, op. cit. See also
Lourdes Bener a, Economic Rationality and Globalization: A Feminist Perspective,
in Marianne Ferber and Julie Nelson (eds), Feminist Economics Today (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 115134.
Peter Evans, Fighting Marginalization with Transnational Networks: Counter-
Hegemonic Globalization, Contemporary Sociology 29:1 (January 2000), pp. 230241;
Stephen Gill, Globalization, Democratization and the Politics of Indifference, in James
Mittelman (ed.), Globalization: Critical Reections (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner, 1996);
Valentine Moghadam, Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Networks (Baltimore, MD:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); John Gerard Ruggie, Taking Embedded
Liberalism Global: The Corporate Connection, in David Held and Mathias Koenig-
Archibugi (eds), Taming Globalization (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).
Bernice Martin, New Mutations of the Protestant Ethic among Latin American
Pentecostals, Religion 25 (1995), p. 101.
Charismatic Economies 413
that in turn recongure norms and practices in a ways that do not negate neoliberal
restructuring. Instead, in some cases, they enable it. Pentecostalism illustrates just
this dynamic. Before going any further to make this argument, I turn next to dene
the Pentecostal movement.
The topic of Pentecostalism as a movement has lled the pages of an untold
number of books. For brevitys sake, I limit the current overview by laying out the
biblical roots of Pentecostalism; its history, worship practices, and theology; its
class make-up and the emergence of the prosperity gospel. Drawing on recent
ndings, I will also review the contours of Pentecostalisms extraordinarily rapid
expansion around the world.
The word Pentecost derives from the Greek term for the Jewish holiday
occurring on the 50th day following Passover; today, Pentecostals celebrate
Pentecost Sunday on the seventh Sunday after Easter rather than Passover.
According to chapter two in the Acts of the Apostles, the original Pentecost
foreshadowed the second coming of Christ, with the Holy Spirits presence
enabling the Christian faithful to converse across different nationalities, touched
as they were by the Holy Spirit. According to Acts, on the day of the Pentecost, at
a gathering of fellow believers from distinct backgrounds, the Holy Spirit
appeared to them tongues as of re, distributed and resting on each one of them.
And they were all lled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues,
as the Spirit gave them utterance.
In addition to the divine gift of speaking in
tongues, the faithful can possess any one of a number of gifts of the Spirit.
participatory and embodied, or charismatic, nature of worship deriving from
individual experience of gifts of the Spirit lies at the core of Pentecostalism in all
of the varied forms it has taken across the globe.
Pentecostalism dates back to 1906, to its origins in a working-class, mixed-race
neighborhood in Los Angeles. William Seymour, an African American preacher,
is often credited with convening the rst Pentecostal services.
It was here that
the distinct Pentecostal forms of worship rst manifested. Pentecostal worship is
notable for a highly personalized relationship with God whereby individual
worshippers experience personal salvation through conversion and baptism by
the Spirit. This charismatic experience of baptism denotes an immediate
relationship with the Holy Spirit, evidenced in manifestations of the gifts of the
Spirit, including glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. Other gifts include
interpretation of tongues, prophecy, and miraculous healing. In addition to
church services, the original Pentecostal faithful incorporated specic forms of
discipline into their daily lives that included rejecting alcohol, dancing, and music,
and adopting conservative dress styles, especially for women. While strict
discipline in lifestyle has lessened in many Pentecostal communities, the
emphasis on a direct link between personal faith and character has not, a point
I will return to in discussing the prosperity gospel.
Acts 2:34 (Revised Standard Version).
Corinthians 12 and 14.
Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995).
414 Isabelle V. Barker
Commentators universally take note of the egalitarian nature of Pentecostal
worshipwhat some refer to as a contemporary priesthood of all believers. The
faithful continue to enjoy an unmediated relationship with the divine, thus
making worship primarily participatory with, at least in its origins, a de-emphasis
on doctrine, theological training, and hierarchical organization of the church
community. Moreover, as Harvey Cox notes, the focus on speaking in tongues and
on spiritual gifts makes Pentecostal religious expression, and even religious
authority, accessible to those at the margins of societythe illiterate, the
undereducated, the poor. Pentecostal worship has seemed to challenge other
social hierarchies as well; dating back to its origins, women and children have
often been the bearers of spiritual gifts.
Though Pentecostalism has transformed over the years and has taken various
forms in local contexts throughout the world, there remains a common theological
thread that runs through Pentecostalism both historically and globally.
Pentecostalism continues to be dened by its interpretation of millennialism:
the belief that the second coming of the Messiah is imminent, evidenced by
spiritual gifts amongst the faithful. Evidence of the second coming is further
derived through signs and symbols in daily lifeleading Pentecostals to embrace
a dispensational interpretation of human history and to be receptive to ideas
about magic and the supernatural.
While Pentecostalism had its origins amongst the dispossessed of the United
States, this is no longer the case; now, Pentecostalism has a diverse class make-up
throughout the world. The majority of worshipers continue to be primarily from
underprivileged sectors, but, that said, Pentecostalism has enjoyed success
amongst middle-class populations around the world who make up the members
of the mega-churches dotting urban and suburban landscapes in so many
It is difcult to pinpoint a clear cause-and-effect relationship, but it
does seem that the shifting class make-up of Pentecostalism, as well as shifting
fortunes within a rapidly changing global economy, has coincided with changes in
theology, as evidenced by the massive popularity of what is known as Faith
Theology. The contemporary version of this theological approach was developed
in the 1970s out of Oral Roberts University, and is alternatively known as the Word
of Faith Movement, the prosperity gospel, or, to critics, the health and wealth or
name it and claim it gospel.
The prosperity gospel interprets health and material prosperity as evidence of
faiththat is, health and wealth are viewed as gifts of the Spirit and as central to
charismatic worship. Based on the interpretation of certain passages of the Bible,
the Word of Faith movement holds that health and material prosperity are the
rightful rewards for the Christian faithful, but that these need to be claimed.
Through faith and the naming of what is rightfully theirs, Pentecostals undertake
a confession that becomes energizing and effective, resulting in receiving [what
they have claimed] from God. When people do not receive what they have
Ibid., ch. 7.
Dispensationalism reects the literal interpretation of passages from the Bible such
that human history is understood to be made up of several stages. History will culminate in
the separation of true believers and all others, destined for either eternal heaven or eternal
hell. Anderson, op. cit., pp. 218219.
Ibid., p. 282.
Charismatic Economies 415
confessed, it is usually because of a negative confession, unbelief, or a failure to
observe the divine laws.
The prosperity gospel has enjoyed particular success
in middle-class populations around the world, but variations on the theology have
certainly inuenced underprivileged Pentecostal communities as well.
there is disagreement as to the extent of the appeal of this theological approach
amongst poor and working-class Pentecostals, its vast popularity across the globe
seems clear.
As Steven Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan Rose have pointed out,
the appeal of the prosperity gospel for underprivileged groups would certainly
seem to lie in its ability to enchant people with the prospect of a miracle cure
for their own and their societies economic maladies.
I will return to this aspect
of the prosperity gospel as it relates to global economic restructuring.
Pentecostalism enjoyed tremendous expansion over the twentieth century.
Researchers David Barrett, George Kurian, and Todd Johnson note that just over
30 years ago, adherents numbered around 72 million.
By 2000, the number had
mushroomed to nearly 525 million with predictions of upwards of over 800
million by 2025.
The majority of this growth has taken place in non-Western
contexts. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the worlds largest Christian
church is located in Seoul, South Korea: the Pentecostal Yoido Full Gospel Church,
with 700,000 members. Currently, Pentecostalism is the second largest Chris-
tian denomination, following Catholicism, which has over 1 billion adherents.
Considering that RomanCatholicismhas beeninbusiness for quite some centuries,
this is impressive growth on the part of the relatively young Pentecostalism.
Embedding Neoliberal Globalization
As noted above, neoliberal globalization is marked by a number of social
dislocations; these can be roughly broken down into three categories, each
reecting an aspect of social reproduction more generally. First, the provision of
policies to address social needs is increasingly shifted into the private sphere,
through the decentralization and individualization of public services, resulting in
the shifting of burdens into the private sector to be taken up by civil society
institutions and individual households. Second, the integration of domestic
markets and labor sectors into the global economy exposes individuals and
communities to economic cycles that can be quite volatile and unpredictable, with
nancial crises in one country or region reverberating far and wide. Moreover,
work is being rapidly reorganized in multiple ways due to the global integration
Ibid., p. 221.
Steven Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan Rose, Exporting the American Gospel
(New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 197198.
For example, Brouwer et al., drawing on the case of Guatemala, suggest that
theological distinctions split along class lines, with the prosperity gospel appealing to
middle-class Pentecostals around the world, while the older theology of strict personal
discipline continues to be practiced by poor, working-class Pentecostals. Brouwer et al.,
op. cit., pp. 5964.
Ibid., p. 198.
David Barrett, George Kurian, and Todd Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Some scholars have taken issue with how broadly Barrett et al. construe
Pentecostal/Charismatic. See Anderson, op. cit., pp. 1113. But the fact of explosive
growth is uncontested.
416 Isabelle V. Barker
of markets and production, transforming identities, expectations, and values
surrounding work. A third site of social dislocation centers on community as
global economic integration results in a deep and rapid reorganization of how the
human need for community is met. This is in part the result of increased
migration, both rural-to-urban and international. As economic activities that
previously provided for subsistence lose viability in relation to the international
market, livelihoods in these sectors disappear, fostering rural-to-urban migration.
And, for middle-class workers, the stagnation of domestic economies has often
resulted in middle-class wages at home amounting to far less than working-class
wages in advanced industrial countries, leading to international labor migration.
In a variety of ways, Pentecostalism addresses each of these arenas of social
dislocation left in the wake of neoliberal economic restructuring. As Brouwer et al.
[t]his religious tradition helps people exercise control in a seemingly uncontrollable
world through strict standards of right living. Incomprehensible cycles of poverty
and violence are made comprehensible through an all-encompassing theology and
by the personal authority of the pastor. And, access to an everyday miracle religion
empowers people; it gives them hope of negotiating insurmountable obstacles of an
unknown future.
Certainly, every age presents aspects of the above since the experience of human
existence is by denition marked by grappling with the uncontrollable, the
incomprehensible, and the uncertainty of what the future holds. However,
neoliberal economic restructuring casts these questions in a particular wayand
Pentecostalism provides answers for the kind of questioning endemic of our age,
even as these questions are framed by local conditions. The neoliberal market, on
its own, cannot reference moral norms to frame society, nor can it address social
reproductive needs that go unmet by the market mechanism.
communities in settings throughout the world, on the other hand, can and do.
As I will suggest below, Pentecostal communities meet social reproductive needs
in a neoliberal era by providing services along with moral frameworks regarding
how social needs should be met, by recasting individual values and practices, and
by reconguring community and social identity. Its rapid expansion partially an
effect of the conditions of neoliberal globalization, Pentecostalism simultaneously
normalizes the rapid changes and dislocations that ensue from neoliberalism.
Non-state Provision of Social Services
Neoliberal economic policies prioritize the deregulated, liberalized market as the
means to secure economic growth. However, this market mechanism has no way
of ensuring that any economic growth that does occur will benet all members of a
Brouwer et al., op. cit., p. 179.
This is the point that Amy Sherman makes in her favorable appraisal of the
coexistence of evangelical Christianity and economic restructuring, noting that the free
market needs the kind of moral-cultural context provided by orthodox Protestant
communities in order to function well. Amy L. Sherman, The Soul of Development: Biblical
Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala (New York: Oxford University Press,
1997), p. 18.
Charismatic Economies 417
society, or will enable social reproduction in all of its forms. In the wake of
neoliberal states decentralizing service provision to meet conditions of free market
reform, religious organizations have stepped in to reconstitute processes of social
Pentecostal communities have been particularly well organized in their
provision of services in areas around the world. For example, Hannah Stewart-
Gambino and Everett Wilson explain that across Latin America Pentecostal
communities provide an array of social services. They write, [t]ypical programs
created and funded by Pentecostals include rehabilitation programs for substance
abusers, educational projects, and womens and childrens assistance
Pentecostals are also in the business of education, extensively so,
as the Pentecostal school system is second in size only to Catholic schools in terms
of private education in Latin America. Moreover, social service provision is
bundled together, as Pentecostal social services are consolidated for ready access.
For example, as Stewart-Gambino and Wilson explain, [t]he vast majority of
these schools can be found in the most economically distressed areas, and most of
them offer meals, uniforms, and medical and dental assistance.
In the absence of the possibility of services being directly provided by the state,
this civil society site of needs provision plays a crucial role in the lives of
individuals. As such, Pentecostal communities represent new forms of social
But these forms of social solidarity harmonize readily with the
privatization of social reproduction such that, while providing new collective
forms of needs provision, Pentecostal communities place great emphasis on the
role of the family as a proper locale for needs provision and in effect de-emphasize
the state as a venue for resource redistribution.
Pentecostal communities around the world universally idealize the nuclear
family form, with interesting twists regarding the gendered division of labor and
with the effect of situating this arena as the proper venue for social needs
provision through gendered domestic and care labor. In addition to the church
community, the family is another civil society institution picking up the slack of
eroded state social policies. Within the family, women remain the primary
providers of domestic and care labor. Pentecostalisms clear chain of command,
as it were, reinforces patriarchal authority along with the notion that gendered
roles are divinely ordered. Authority can be traced down from God, to pastor,
Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde have gone so far as to develop a model using data
from the World Values Survey and from the IMF and World Bank to argue that state welfare
spending and religious participation are inversely related. This would suggest that in an era
of welfare retrenchment, religious participation will go up. They interpret the strong
negative relationship (abstract) between welfare state spending and religiosity as based on
a substitution effect (p. 25). So, it would follow that in the case of welfare state
retrenchment, religious institutions will substitute for the state by providing social services
to attract parishioners. Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde, State Welfare Spending and
Religiosity: A Cross-National Analysis, paper presented at the American Political Science
Association National Meeting, Philadelphia, 2003.
Hannah Stewart-Gambino and Everett Wilson, Latin American Pentecostals: Old
Stereotypes and New Challenges, in Edward Cleary and Hannah Stewart-Gambino (eds),
Power, Politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), p. 233.
Ibid., p. 234.
Sorj, op. cit., p. 123.
Thanks to Kate Bedford for making this point in comments on an earlier draft.
418 Isabelle V. Barker
to husband, to wife, and nally to children.
This conception of the family is
essential to Pentecostalism and is reproduced in churches across the world. In its
materials and theology, Pentecostalism pays extraordinary attention to family and
to domestic matters, providing clear-cut conceptions of a gendered division of
labor. While this attention is certainly indicative of the tendency for religion,
particularly conservative forms of religion, to seek to control womens sexuality, it
is also indicative of a need that has been left in the wake of neoliberal economic
restructuringthe need to locate non-state sites to meet social reproductive needs.
Indeed, Pentecostal communities idealize a version of the family model in ways
that can accommodate a number of the social reproductive demands passed on by
the neoliberal state.
In this context, it should not come as a surprise that women Pentecostals
generally outnumber men, by nearly two to one in some estimates.
scholars of Pentecostalism have interpreted this lopsided gender make-up as
evidence that women nd its message and egalitarian charismatic practices
But this view ignores the larger structural context of Pentecost-
alism within neoliberal economic restructuring and the increased demands on
womens domestic labor that restructuring has entailed. Certainly, Pentecostalism
does break down rigid gender hierarchies in more traditional cultures by
valorizing the family for both men and women. The family is not the sole province
of women. Rather, Pentecostalism teaches that the family should be at the center
of both womens and mens lives.
In this articulation, clearly distinct roles are
ascribed to husbands and fathers on the one hand and wives and mothers on the
other. By orienting men to family responsibilities in addition to placing men and
women as equally submissive to God, so this interpretation goes, Pentecostalism
reorients patriarchal practices in many communities in developing countries,
empowering women in at least the revalued domestic sphere.
But I suggest an alternative explanation for why Pentecostalism seems to have
so much appeal for women in particular. Because women are disproportionately
negatively affected by the privatization of social reproduction, a religious
movement that seems to address these concerns, even if this means subscribing to
gendered social hierarchy, would be appealing.
In other words, the high value
that Pentecostalism places on the domestic sphere, and so on the work of women,
may make more bearable the increased burdens women experience due to
The pastoral authority demarcated here seems to contradict earlier forms of
Pentecostalism, which de-emphasized pastoral leadership. Scholars suggest that this shift
toward greater pastoral authority is the result of the gradual institutionalization of church
communities, as well as the increased use of the mass media for evangelism.
B. Martin, op. cit., p. 107; David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Oxford:
Blackwell, 2001).
Elizabeth Brusco, The Reformation of Machismo: Asceticism and Masculinity among
Colombian Evangelicals, in Virginia Garrard-Burnett and David Stoll (eds), Rethinking
Protestantism in Latin America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), pp. 143158;
Carol Ann Drogus, Private Power or Public Power: Pentecostalism, Base Communities,
and Gender, in Cleary and Stewart-Gambino, op. cit., pp. 5576; Anne Motley Hallum,
Taking Stock and Building Bridges: Feminism, Womens Movements, and Pentecostalism
in Latin America, Latin American Research Review 38:1 (February 2003), pp. 169186.
Brusco, op. cit., p. 149.
Anna Peterson, Manuel Vasquez, and Philip Williams, Christianity, Social Change, and
Globalization in the Americas (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), pp. 910.
Charismatic Economies 419
economic restructuring. Moreover, it is in the collective provision of services that
Pentecostal communities provide much-needed labor and whereby some of the
burdens borne by women are alleviated while leaving intact the notion of the
gendered division of labor within the family.
The Pentecostal nuclear family model takes on additional signicance in
relation to transforming political economies. Writing of the growth of
fundamentalist churches more generally, Brouwer et al. argue that these churches
can prove to be modernizing inuences in the case of the family and gender
ideologies. Indeed, in the context of many patriarchal societies across the globe,
evangelical Christian churches, including Pentecostal churches, have the effect of
reorganizing the family form and gender ideology in ways that t quite well with
new social and economic conditions of neoliberal globalization. In parts of the
world where societies have for generations been organized around extended
kinship networks, this nuclearization of the family is one of the transformations
wrought by the expansion of neoliberal capitalism.
Pentecostalism eases a shift
away from family linkages that extend to large networks of relations by holding
up the small nuclear unit as a model for family and providing for ones
dependents within this unit as ones God-given responsibility. This occurs at a
time when traditional responsibilities for extended kinship networks function as a
hindrance to economic success and mobility.
We can interpret the effects of Pentecostalisms value of the nuclear family in a
variety of ways. For example, emphasizing the more individualized, psychologi-
cal impact, David Martin explains that from the nuclear family can follow all the
other forms of bettermentin health . . . in work, in giving priority to feeding,
clothing, disciplining, and educating the children, and oneself, in discovering the
potential for leadership and initiative within the life of the church.
This may be
the case, but from a structural perspective it is of note that the high value
Pentecostalism places on the family coincides with the neoliberal shift whereby
families and local communities bear an increased burden of ensuring that social
reproductive needs are met. This valuation also serves to recongure community
as based in church and family, rather than in extended kin, towns or villages, or
even nationsa point I will return to.
Charismatic Worship, National Economies, and Neoliberal Workers
In addition to the increased pressures surrounding domestic and care labor,
neoliberal economic restructuring has resulted in rapid changes in individual and
national economic well-being due to nancial crises and to the reorganization of
the division of labor. In response to these economic conditions, and at another
level of social reproduction vis-a`-vis the fostering of an effective workforce,
individuals must nd systems of meaning to make sense of the new economic
forces shaping their lives. Pentecostalism is responsive to, and reinforcing of,
Brouwer et al., op. cit., p. 246. For a fascinating analysis of the relationship between
World Bank policies and the heterosexual nuclearization of family life, see Kate Bedford,
The World Banks Employment Programs in Ecuador and Beyond: Empowering Women,
Domesticating Men, and Resolving the Social Reproduction Dilemma, unpublished dissertation,
Department of Political Science, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2005.
Brouwer et al., op. cit., p. 222.
D. Martin, op. cit., p. 75.
420 Isabelle V. Barker
these changes. Pentecostal theology and charismatic worship styles provide
means of rendering restructured economic conditions coherent.
From a theological perspective, the contemporary variant of the prosperity
gospel provides a lens to render meaningful the individuals experience of
unpredictable changes in personal economic well-being. By linking individual
faith and personal salvation through Spirit baptism to material well-being, the
prosperity gospel lters all economic experienceshardships as well as
successesthrough the lens of faith and miracles touching the lives of those
who have been baptized in the Spirit. Earlier forms of the prosperity gospel linked
success to a combination of hard work and faithtoday, it is faith along with the
active claiming of what is ones right that will lead to material prosperity.
this it follows that individual as well as systemic poverty can be interpreted as the
result either of a lack of faith or of God testing the congregation.
In an age of neoliberal economic restructuring of national economies, the
personalized version of the prosperity gospel has a national variant, particularly
in poor and indebted states. Brouwer et al. cite the sermons of a Filipino
Pentecostal pastor who, when sizing up the Filipino economy against that of
South Korea, explains that the difference between the national economies boils
down to the faith and prayers of the evangelized faithful. According to the pastor,
the intense prayer life of the Koreans has not only resulted in their miraculous
church growth; it has also brought miraculous advancement to the whole nation as
well. Devastated by two major wars, Korea gradually rose from the economic
shambles to become one of the most prosperous nations in the world todaya
leading manufacturer of cars, ships, electronics and other products.
In a theology that asserts that economic collapse is a sign of national sin, it is not
surprising that examples of national economic growth are attributed to the power
of prayer and conversion.
Economic downturns, on the other hand, point to the
urgency of evangelism for the sake of the nation and demand disciplined
obedience, prayer, and evangelism on the part of the individual believer.
Pentecostalism can also help provide meaning for the mystication that is the
mark of neoliberalisms organizationof capitalism. It does so by rendering spiritual
the incomprehensible, ltering the extraordinary complexity of the global
economic system through the lens of divine order. Brouwer et al. explain that, in
contrast to early capitalism wherein economic dynamism was driven by the local
activities of small-scale merchants, contemporary capitalism is driven by export
production overseen by national and multinational corporations and facilitated
by international nancial institutions and foreign direct investment.
As a result,
the link between hard work and personal benet is tenuous, with the benets of
economic growth gravitating upward through complex channels to an
Brouwer et al., op. cit., p. 26.
Ibid., p. 84, quoting Tom ODowd, a US pastor who presides over a poor congregation
on the plantation island of Negros in the Philippines.
Ibid., quoting Butch Conde, a Filipino pastor who presides over a mega-church in
the Philippines.
Ibid., p. 83, quoting Juan Vencer, the rst non-Westerner to head the World Evangelical
Fellowship. At that time, he was also appointed head of intelligence for the Armed Forces of
the Philippines under the Ramos administration.
Charismatic Economies 421
anonymous, transnational investor class and with inequalities within countries
and between countries on the rise. In this context of widening gaps between
rich and poor and between hard work and economic reward, miracle religion is an
invaluable resource. That is,
because the ultimate economic authority resides in places so remote from everyday
life, and is exercised through a labyrinth of networks incomprehensible to the
ordinary citizens, this authority is quite mysterious. The invocation of miracle
religion for a whole variety of material needs indicates that even those people who
are moderately comfortable are afraid of instability and have little concept of their
own individual agency within the political economy.
This focus on miracles in ones own life also has the effect of easing the transition
to an era dened, on the one hand, by expanded popular sovereignty while, on the
other, by diminished state power vis-a`-vis global economic forces. It is in response
to this dynamic that Pentecostals conceptualize economic and social conditions as
relating to personal salvation, rather than to larger economic, social, and political
structures. This mystication could simply be written off as a variant of Marxs
opiate of the masses. But, in the context of economic restructuring, it makes
better sense to understand Pentecostalism as a rich resourceone that provides
for social needs as well as a space for self-representation in an era of splintered
state sovereignty.
In addition to providing a lens through which to render meaningful the
vicissitudes and complex organization of the global political economy,
Pentecostalism also fosters norms and values that harmonize well with a
neoliberal work ethic. In so doing, Pentecostalism enables individuals to adapt to
the demands of a exible labor market and an expanding informal and service-
based labor sector. Based on interviews of Pentecostals across Latin America,
Bernice Martin has concluded that Pentecostalism effectively updates the
Protestant ethic to harmonize with contemporary labor demands of post-industrial
capitalism. It does so by fostering the personal discipline and self-condence
required by self-employment, by setting forth both institutional and internal
modes of monitoring, by offering training in marketable skills, and, nally, by
creating networks of social capital.
The stringent lifestyle strictures of earlier Pentecostalism have in many places
beensomewhat loosened, withemphasis remainingonbanningbehavior associated
with the vices of drunkenness, gambling, and sexual promiscuity. In turn, qualities
of cheerfulness, trustworthiness, non-violence, andhardwork are condoned.
combination of Foucauldian-like self-monitored behaviors and personal qualities
serve the believer well as references on the job market, with Pentecostalism
functioning as a shorthand for reliability in the eyes of potential employers. Martin
notes that this was afrmed in interviews with Pentecostal believers at all levels
of services, from successful businessmen to domestic workers to street vendors.
Moreover, Pentecostalism holds that evidence of the Holy Spirit is reected
Ibid., pp. 251252.
Much of the following is drawn from B. Martin, op. cit., and From Pre- to
Postmodernity in Latin America: The Case of Pentecostalism, in Paul Heelas (ed.), Religion,
Modernity, and Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).
B. Martin, New Mutations, op. cit.
422 Isabelle V. Barker
in happiness and prosperity and so provides a theological basis for an often
astonishing level of self-condence, persistence against all odds, energy and
ingenuity and a willingness to try anythingand then call the result the Lords
This translates into a high level of self-employment amongst
Pentecostals, a manifestation of the independence instilledby unmediated worship
practices. Self-employment also provides believers exibility to incorporate
evangelism and prayer into their working life.
Finally, the conversion and
redemption practices of becoming a Pentecostal can serve well in a volatile labor
market that requires that individuals re-invent themselves as sources of income
disappear and new ways of making a living have to be created.
Pentecostalism also updates mechanisms of self-monitoring. The centralized
Fordist mode of production with its vertical systems of employer oversight is
waning in response to the exibilized reorganization of production and the
expansion of jobs in services. Thus, oversight is shifted to other sites.
Pentecostalism fosters modes of self-monitoring at the level of the individual
believer, accountable now not to an employer or overseer but to the pastor and
their Christian peers and, of course, to God.
Furthermore, Pentecostal pastors
and churches both directly and indirectly provide training and encouragement in
money management and entrepreneurialism. The high level of participation in
Pentecostal churches may readily be transferred into skills useful in the services-
based labor market, as activities such as teaching Sunday school, preaching in
public, and assisting with organizing Church funds can all translate into
marketable skills.
Finally, there is the question of social capitala question that has been the
focus of debate amongst scholars of Pentecostalism. Some scholars enthusiasti-
cally appraise Pentecostalism as providing the faithful with networks that in turn
facilitate connections leading to employment. Others are less optimistic,
suggesting that Pentecostal churches tend to be economically homogenous, so
that any social capital generated rarely translates into upward class mobility.
Regardless of this question of class mobility, there is no doubt that being a member
of a Pentecostal community can be benecial at the level of pooling employment
resources. For instance, David Martin writes of the example of landless informal
agricultural laborers in Chile who will collectively purchase a truck, driven by the
dual motivation of needing transportation to get to distant harvesting jobs and to
travel great distances to evangelize.
The issues raised by social capital point to
the third arena of social dislocation that Pentecostalism addressesthe human
quest for community.
Forging Community in a Global Era
In taking up the issue of community, the concept of social capital is dreadfully
anemic. Social capital portrays community in an instrumental fashion, as a means
to economic ends. But community serves greater human ends than that. We are
social animalsperhaps even political ones if Aristotle and, more recently,
Ibid., p. 111.
B. Martin, From Pre- to Postmodernity, op. cit., p. 136.
B. Martin, New Mutations, op. cit., p. 110.
D. Martin, op. cit., p. 81.
Charismatic Economies 423
Hannah Arendt are correct. Moreover, community is the means by which we
derive our sense of worth, a means by which we are made to feel that our ideas
and opinions matter. Communities also provide a framework for moral norms
and a site for practicing rituals that give meaning to our lives.
Forms of community that have cohered over decades, if not centuries, are
coming undone due to neoliberal economic restructuring. Conditions of
neoliberal economic restructuring have radically altered so many communities,
both through transforming the market and through setting off numerous patterns
of migration. Of course, communities have never been ahistorical and static
entities immune to change. But what is notable in the contemporary context is the
rapidity with which communities are subject to change. This speed, in turn,
necessitates an equally swift adaptation of new means of deriving identity and a
sense of meaning in a social context. Pentecostalism seems to provide tools for just
such a creative rebuilding of social life, in part due to its highly adaptable nature
to begin with. As such, Pentecostalism re-embeds neoliberalism by way of
fostering social practices and forms of community.
In contrast with the dense bureaucratic institutions of so many religious
denominations, Pentecostalism is notable for is fragmentation, ssion, and
Pentecostal history is riddled with tales of storefront start-up
churches that began from nothing only to grow exponentially over time.
Disagreements amongst the faithful rarely lead to the demise of the church, but
rather to the splitting off and creation of a new church down the road. In the case
of expansion, churches generally have come to be organized in a cell structure so
as to maintain a sense of community in churches whose membership can number
in the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. The pastor Paul Yonggi Cho, who
heads the Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea, organizes his 700,000
members this way. Members are divided up into groups of ve to ten families of
similar socio-economic background and meet outside of services for spiritual
support and to undertake evangelizing together.
This adaptability and
organizational systematization is the hallmark of this decentralized, but
extraordinarily popular, religious movement and renders Pentecostalism well-
suited to adapt to changing social needs.
This is particularly notable in the case
of people on the move.
A number of sociologists have observed that Pentecostalism is a form of
worship that seems to have particular appeal for migrants, both those relocating
within their country as well as those relocating overseas. Allan Anderson
explains that this appeal lies in Pentecostalisms sympathetic approach to local
life and culture and the retention of certain popular religious practices.
kind of incorporation would hold particular appeal to those overwhelmed
Ibid., p. 74.
Brouwer et al., op. cit., p. 117.
See also Malcolm Gladwells discussion of the cellular structure of the largest church
in the United States, Rick Warrens Saddleback Church in Orange County, California.
Gladwell quotes Robert Putnams positive appraisal for the churchs capacity to organize
small groups in what represents a desert in social-capital terms (p. 63). Gladwell
also notes that the church serves as an alternate site for needs provision and even for
ghting global poverty (p. 67). The Cellular Church, The New Yorker, September 12, 2005,
pp. 6067.
Anderson, op. cit., p. 223
424 Isabelle V. Barker
by urbanization with its transition from a personal rural society to an
impersonal urban one.
Moreover, this appeal applies equally to international
For example, in his research on Pentecostal churches in the Netherlands, Rijk
van Dijk notes that the ethnic Church is often a means by which migrants adjust to
life in the host society and, furthermore, often serves as a link to life in Ghana.
By connecting new migrants with those who are more established, Pentecostal
churches in the transnational diaspora offer resources and networking, arranging
housing, fostering links to friendship circles, and establishing connections to
employment. Membership in a Pentecostal church in the Ghanaian diaspora in the
Netherlands entails lengthy rituals of initiation, entrenching the individuals
connection to that community and attachment to the leader of the church.
The church pastor, in turn, often maintains active ties with parishes in Ghana and
so serves as a conduit for ows of transnational information. Thus, the migrant
church provides resources of community, all the while helping individuals
maintain links to Ghana by way of a pastors active contacts with churches in
Simon Colemans innovative analysis of Pentecostalism explores transnational
community from a different angle.
Granting that Pentecostalism certainly
provides for the immediate needs individuals have for community, he adds that
Pentecostalism, by its transnational character, crafts a sense of identity that
transcends the local by promoting a particular kind of internationalism.
Pentecostalism, especially in its prosperity gospel variant, is a decidedly
transnational phenomenon. It is not simply that Pentecostalism exists in so many
contexts internationally, but rather that its very organization and practice
transcends localities, easing the acceptance of migration and transnationalism into
the lives of its members.
Pentecostalism normalizes the transnational nature of contemporary life,
conveying that phenomena such as mass labor migration are merely means
by which the Spirit moves through the world. With its international market
of literature, tapes, and videos and the network of preachers traveling the
globe and recognizable from the media that have preceded them,
Pentecostalism may indeed be considered to be a global, charismatic meta-
culturethough a global culture that is receptive too, indeed fosters, local
That said, Coleman points out the striking similarity between styles
of worship around the world, noting that while Pentecostals would attribute
this to the work of the Spirit, from a social science perspective this is likely
due to complex overlapping social networks fostered through global travel and
Peggy Levitt, The Transnational Villagers (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,
Rijk van Dijk, Time and Transcultural Technologies of the Self in the Ghanaian
Pentecostal Diaspora, in Andre Corten and Ruth Marshall-Fratani (eds), Between Babel and
Pentecost (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).
Simon Coleman, The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity: Spreading the Gospel of
Prosperity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Ibid., p. 68.
Charismatic Economies 425
Making use of the information and communication technologies and the
relative ease of travel, Pentecostalism is able to in turn foster a global orientation
amongst its members around the world. Based on this reading, it should come as
no surprise that Pentecostal churches have embraced the global even in their
names. For example, van Dijk points out that starting in the 1980s, Pentecostal
churches in Ghana began adding international, global, and world to the
names of their parishes.
Facilitated by globalization, this orientation is further
normalized by Pentecostal theology and its emphasis on evangelism. Coleman
explains that Pentecostals are concerned to prompt the ow of people, ideas
and material objects across the globe, and the idea of cementing interconnections
between believers united in Spirit is powerfully articulated by them in sermons,
oral testimonies and literature.
Indeed, the biblical passage regarding the
Pentecost is striking in its depiction of the capacity for believers of multiple
nationalities to understand one anothertouched as they were by tongues of
Imagining a global community of believers, then, merely reects an updated
manifestation of the original Pentecost.
Coleman points out that this global orientation serves as a substitution for
the organization of the modern state as Pentecostal ideology usually abjures
overarching, centralising structures of governance.
In the place of the
centralized institutional form that is the modern state, Pentecostalism as a global
networkis organizedaroundconferences, prayer networks andmedia, andthese
forms of participation are valuable precisely because of their transient nature
that is, they are impermanent, free-owing structures.
Colemans intriguing
point then is that the conditions of globalization, including the ow of people and
commodities in ways that are no longer coterminous with national boundaries,
are not only acknowledged by Pentecostalism, but are in fact welcomed.
This transnational community of believers apparently erodes national
difference all the while allowing for local distinctions and, as such, ironically
represents a religion-based variant of Marxs workers of the worldhis, of course,
a call for unity amongst the global proletariat that has yet to materialize. This
current variantthe Pentecostals of the worldseems more successful in
transcending national differences. But this version of the International for the
most part has to date remained silent when it comes to redressing the structural
inequalities that exist globally and between Pentecostal communities. Instead, at
the moment and in locations throughout the world, Pentecostal churches have
addressed the social reproductive need for community in an era of mass migration
both through providing community to substitute for whats been lost and through
reconstituting what community should be in the rst place. Moreover,
Pentecostalism has done this in a way that incorporates and celebrates
transnationalism and neoliberal economic restructuring.
Van Dijk, op. cit., p. 221.
Coleman, op. cit., p. 67.
The passage reads: Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from
every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were
bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Acts 2:56
(Revised Standard Version).
Coleman, op. cit., p. 67
426 Isabelle V. Barker
Pentecostalism: A Soul for Soulless Conditions?
The economic restructuring of the 148 countries that are members of the World
Trade Organization has for the past decades applied policies dedicated to the
workings of the invisible hand. Forgotten in the process is what economist Nancy
Folbre has termed the invisible heart.
Folbres denition of the invisible heart
as representing the care-giving, altruistic activities that underlie any society can be
incorporated into the broader concept of social reproduction. As I have noted,
social reproduction refers to the physical reproduction of the species, along with
the care work that goes along with meeting material and emotional needs; the
reproduction of labor power through education and training; and, the
reproduction of broader cultural and social norms, practices, and identities.
While perhaps unnerving for secular progressives, it is important to take note of
how Pentecostalism addresses each aspect of social reproduction in ways that
both embed and validate neoliberal economic policies. In an era of diminished
state sovereigntydiminished due to the emergence of competing local, regional,
and global institutions and due to the neoliberal erosion of state functions vis-a`-vis
public programsit appears that the non-state site of the Pentecostal movement is
addressing the social in ways that the neoliberal market mechanism on its own
does not.
In conclusion, it appears that the study of religion and politics is not well
served by Marxs oft quoted opiate of the masses. That said, wisdom may be
gleaned from his less-cited suggestion that religion represents the sentiment of a
heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
In the case of
Pentecostalism, it may be said that this religious movement represents a soul
for the soulless conditions of our times, perhaps even a manifestation of the heart
that Folbre has written of. Differently put, as evidenced by how Pentecostalism
seems to address social reproductive needs engendered in a neoliberal economic
era, it appears that the rapid growth of Pentecostalism can, at least in part, be
explained by the resources it offers for meeting these needs in ways that
harmonize with the economic conditions in a neoliberal era of destabilized state
governance. Certainly, in most manifestations Pentecostalism does not appear to
have the capacity to advance liberal democratic politics, and so it is
understandable that this form of civil society response to neoliberal capitalism
is cause for concern for many on the political left. But if a secular progressive
response is to be effective, it must at least begin by acknowledging why
Pentecostalism has held such appeal for so many. Moreover, it is important not to
put too much faith into social protective movements as automatically being sites
of progressive resistance and to understand that at least one such social protective
movement, Pentecostalism, has helped embed an economic system in ways that
Polanyi thought was impossible. Contrary to Polanyis evaluation of the fate of
earlier forms of economic liberalism, for now at least, Pentecostalism in many
developing countries provides a non-state mechanism that successfully embeds
neoliberal economic restructuring into social life.
Nancy Folbre, The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values (New York: New Press,
Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right: Introduction,
in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1
ed., 1972), p. 12.
Charismatic Economies 427