Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Globalization of Religion: Pentecostalism

Globalization is the result of advances in different areas of society, such as technology, science, and the access to communication and information. It has been an unavoidable process which has gradually changed all human traditions, including religion (Ayatollahy, 2008). This paper aims to explain the relationship between globalization and religion, more specifically Pentecostalism, through the concepts of religious resurgence, religious boundaries, exclusion, inclusion, and stereotypes. From the different types of Pentecostalism and their marketing and branding strategies, the role of the media in Pentecostalism will be analysed, as well as how this type of technology is utilised to further its progress as a worldwide religion. Also, explanations of the huge growth of Pentecostalism across the globe will be provided.

Bouma (2007) refers to globalization as ‘the global movement of people’, and recognised how globalization is enabling the reach of ideas and stories about religion through television and the internet. Some of the reports and stories about people or religious organizations are creating “continuous moral panics about terror” in order to prevent terrorist attacks and seek security. He pointed out that with the use of new technologies and the easy spread of information, more stories and reports about religious groups who are living in harmony should be shown and given more importance (Bouma, 2007). Moreover, Thomas (2009) pointed out in his study how the use of the internet is causing traditional society with traditional religious groups to struggle because of their authority and control.

Globalization and the media are helping the process of religious resurgence. This resurgence is overpowering and also encourages religious diversity to rise as well as increase conflict, structuring and negotiating boundaries between and within religious organizations. Religious resurgence can be identified within Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikh, and other Christianity divisions like the Mega-church phenomenon (Almond et al., 2003).

As well as religious re-emergence, migration has radically inclined religious diversity within different cultures. Immigration relocates both people and their religions or doctrines. Some religious organizations aide migrants in their settling and it is believed most refugees are likely to become more religious than what they were in their home country, and generally more religious than before (Bouma, 2007). The increase in religious groups and their respective doctrines can lead to competition within these religious organizations. Although, to counteract this, Bouma (2007) states that the creation of boundaries would help in preventing conflict between these sects. The creation and declaration of boundaries is necessary when conflict threatens the process of resurgence. That is to say, most of the conflict between religious groups is in defining boundaries. Within the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), there are arguments from each claiming they possess the real truth, who interprets the scriptures in the correct way, who owns the right theology, and of course the only adequate views and faith for life (Bouma, 2007).

There is also a role of ‘the imaged other’ that leads to stereotyping within religious affiliations. According to Bouma stereotyping is a “creation of imaged communities of otherness” (Bouma, 2007:190). The use of stereotypes is another form of defining boundaries. The use of stereotypes and definition of boundaries are evident in past conflicts. One such example is where the Western world has labelled Islam as ‘the imagined other’. Another example is the time of the Crusades (1095-1291), which promoted stereotyped relations between Christians and Muslims. From this, it is easy to deduce that this process of the imagined other exists on both sides (Bouma, 2007).

As previously mentioned one of the roles of conflict within religious groups is to create boundaries. Nowadays with the increase of terrorism, societies are more aware of and concerned with these boundaries which have the potential to create more conflict (Bouma, 2007). The theory of ‘mediatization’ is based on the process of changes in social structure, cultures, and certainly including religion due to the increase and influential role of the media throughout the world (Hjarvard, 2008). According to Meyrowitz (1993), there are three different aspects of the media. Firstly, media is a conduit, producing, editing, and distributing religious materials to a general market as well as a religious market. Secondly, the media as language and how the media designs messages and connects the relations between sender, content and receiver. Thirdly, the media is an environment where the media serves as a tool for human interaction and communication. The media somehow has become the provider of morals, values, and traditions shaping social institutions (families, schools, and religious organizations).

There are several opportunities that the role of the media provides for the globalization of religion (Ayatollahy, 2008):
• The emergence of new technologies contributes for the Wide distributions of Religious messages within religious communities as well as between religious diversities.
• The media is making religion omnipotent. Religious activities are not restricted to physical places these days, and anyone can have access to religious events.
• The media involves religion in moral solutions to environmental pollution.
• The media’s function allows a better understanding within religious groups. Internet and television are helping different religions to have a more mutual understanding. This is through dialogues that could reduce conflict within religions.
• In this global age, the media strengthens the religious ‘dimension of culture’ by allowing more access to your own religious beliefs, and thereby gaining a larger understanding of the doctrines.
• Globalization through the improvement of media technologies and in particular the internet has brought benefits to less-developed countries in order to flourish.
• Media is the medium by which religious groups interact between each other as well get involved and take action in international affairs.

On the other hand there are also drawbacks arising from this process of globalization of religion made by the media (Ayatollahy, 2008):
• The extension of cultural imperialism. Imperialism is generally considered as the domain of economical, political, and geographical spheres, and controls the values, knowledge and beliefs between states in the form of an empire. Therefore, with the use of media, an imperialist society has the influence to impose values or morals that are the basis of religion.
• There is also a danger of the destruction of older traditions in this modern world. New lifestyles are advertised by the media and often contradict old traditions or customs that are also related to religion, values, family and human relationships.
• Globalization through the use of media is also deteriorating human values. As we know, religion endeavours to maintain these values together, but the global economy in which we live in puts more emphasis on pleasure and luxury rather than focusing on societal relationships.

After pointing out concepts about the globalization of religion, as well as its opportunities and threats in making religious organizations engage with their audiences, we now move to an example of a religious group which has markedly flourished in our modern society.

Over time, Christianity has been evolving as a social institution, presenting different views of their mission and developing new forms of worship (Miller & Yamahori, 2007). Pentecostalism is the second largest Christian group in the world, with an estimated 500 million followers. Even though this religious movement has American origins it is mainly a non-western phenomenon and most of its followers belong to poor or working class status. Also, the great increase in followers of the Assembly of God (AOG) in the United States is particularly due to the increase of migration of Hispanics (Poloma, 2002). Most of the research and relevant literature on this phenomenon has stated that Pentecostalism is having a huge impact on the shape of Christianity, its world-view and the restructuration of Christianity. According to the Dictionary of Pentecostal Charismatic Movements, there are three major types of Pentecostalism in the 20th century (Yong, 2005):
• The Classical Pentecostal movement, Los Angeles (1906-1909)
• The Charismatic-renewal movement (1960s)
• Neocharismatic-indepent, indigenous groups not classified as Pentecostal or charismatic but they also have in common the faith in the Holy Spirit.

Mcclung (1988) maintains that the major ideas found within Pentecostal literature have taken this phenomenon to succeed in its missionary activity. The first theme refers to the strict following of the scriptures and the guidance of the Bible. The second theme relates to ‘experiential Christianity’ and its personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. The third theme talks about the activeness of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives as well as guiding them. The last theme is related to the importance and understanding the ultimate destiny of humankind as an important part of the zeal of Pentecostalism (Mcclung, 1988). Furthermore, Johns (1999) describes some of the characteristics of the Pentecostalism world-view. In this view, God is centrifugal to everything. Although Pentecostals are sometimes viewed as ‘trans-rational’, they still stand by the function of the scriptures an dthe importance of God and the Holy Spirit in making things work.

As previously mentioned, most of the growth of Pentecostalism has happened in developing countries. One of the countries where Pentecostalism is vivid is Brazil. One example of Brazilian Pentecostalism is the Neo-Pentecostal movement called Renascer em Cristo, which supplies medical care, counselling, and housing for the homeless or lost to its followers. Some of the church members help recently released convicts to aid them in easing back into society (Miller & Yamahori, 2007). They are also concerned in helping children and their families living in the ‘slums’. Thomas (2009) also mentioned in his study that, particularly in Guatemala and Brazil, the recent missionary activity made by Pentecostal churches have revolutionised the traditional religious power of the Roman Catholic Church.

Thomas also observed the expansion of the religious market and consumerism as well as the consumption of Christian products. For example, the most consumed Christian products are from the music industry and Gospel music. There is as estimated $4 billion in sales annually. Also, Hollywood movies such as The Passion of the Christ (directed by Mel Gibson) contributed directly to the promotion of Christian cultural goods (Thomas, 2009). He also perceived a contradiction in religious consumerism; most of traditional religious organizations attempt to maintain the values and the importance of God. On the other hand, new religious groups compete to be involved more and more with the economic market (Thomas, 2009). In his study, Thomas mentioned that Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal groups are definitely contributing to the increase of networks in order to assist the people that suffer because of some of the disadvantages of globalization (Thomas, 2009).

Pentecostalism can be viewed as an aid to people living in inferior conditions who are looking for stability in their lives. Certainly the new face of Pentecostalism is the increase of ‘community-based social ministries like the ones provided by Renascer em Cristo (Neo-Pentecostal movement) (Miller & Yamahori, 2007). In conclusion, Pentecostalism is a religious movement that keeps revolutionizing and restructuring the view of Christianity as a whole. The massive growth of this phenomenon is due to their missionary activities as well as the use of the media and new technologies. As Thomas (2009) said, new religious group are more involved with the market and the consumption of religious goods while more traditional religions seem to struggle in this globalized world. Pentecostalism is a religious movement capable of adapting to any circumstance or change which is likely to occur in third world countries (Poloma, 2002). Pentecostalism is developing as a world-wide religion and seems to be successfully demonstrating that Christianity is still as active as ever and following its own steadfast path of worship.


Almond, Gabriel, R. & Appleby, S.& Sivan, E. (2003). Strong Religion: the rise of fundamentalism around the world. In P. Beyer & L. Beaman, (2007), Religion, globalization and culture, Leiden: Boston.

Ayatollahy H., (2008), ‘The role of media in the threats and opportunities of globalization for religion’, Journal of Media and Religion, 7(1):34-44.

Bouma, Gary D., (2007), ‘Religious resurgence, conflict, and the transformation of boundaries’, pp. 187-202. In P. Beyer & L. Beaman, (2007), Religion, globalization and culture, Leiden: Boston.

Hjavard, (2008), Media as Agents of Religious Change: The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, 1, 9-26.

Johns J., (1999), ‘Yielding to the spirit: The dynamics of a Pentecostal model of praxis’, pp.70-84. In M.W. Dempster, B.D. Klaus & D. Peterson (eds), (1999), The globalization of Pentecostalism, Regnum Books: Carlisle, CA.

Mcclung, L.G., (1988), “Missiology”, pp.607-609. In S.M. Burgess G.B. McGee (eds), (2008), Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Zodervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Meyrowitz, J. (1993), ‘Images of Media: Hidden Ferment – and Harmony – in the
Field’, Journal of Communication, 43: 3 (Summer), pp. 55–66.

Miller, D., & Yamamori, T., (2007), Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian social engagement. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

Poloma, M., (2002), The Spirit bade me go: Pentecostalism and global religion. Department of Sociology, University of Akron, pp.1-18.

Thomas, P., (2009), ‘Selling God/saving souls: Religious commodities, spiritual markets and the media’, Global Media and Communication, 5(1): 57-76.

Yong, A., (2005), The spirit poured out on all flesh: Pentecostalism and the possibility of global theology. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI.

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