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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Chapter 13 - Gender and society


The social dimensions of Pentecostalism

Probably more than most other subjects, Pentecostalism has been studied in a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary way, and no discipline can rely on its own resources exclusively. Social scientists with their emphasis on empirical evidence are essential for a proper understanding of Pentecostalism. The literature on Pentecostalism has been enriched by the proliferation of social scientific studies since the 1960s, particularly in the disciplines of social history, anthropology and sociology. These often provide incisive and authoritative commentaries on the social significance of the movement worldwide, through studying Pentecostalism as a lived contemporary religion. Studies on Latin American Pentecostalism have been in the forefront of this development, pioneered by David Martin in 1990 (at least in English texts), following the earlier, more polemical texts of Lalive d’Épinay and Emilio Willems. Lalive d’Épinay saw Pentecostalism in terms of a social deprivation theory: it was a ‘haven to the masses’. This was also the approach of Robert Anderson, who saw early American Pentecostalism as a ‘vision of the disinherited’, and Malcolm Calley who regarded African Caribbean Pentecostalism in Britain in the 1960s as a refuge for the oppressed. The more recent studies are characterized by a neutrality and objectivity that is lacking in the older literature. They seek to demonstrate what it is about this rapidly growing movement that has shaped human relationships and influenced communities, families and political and economic life, the subject of the next chapter. Religion is a vital component of societies the world over, and it is impossible to fully understand those societies without understanding the role of religion there. There is a dynamic relationship between religion and all aspects of society, and in the case of Pentecostalism, we need to explore that relationship in order to understand its influence and avoid its pitfalls.