Pentecostalism, Cultural Analysis, And The Hermeneutics Of Culture

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PNEUMA 37 (2015) 313–316

Pentecostalism, Cultural Analysis, and the Hermeneutics of Culture

The cultural linguistic turn in the humanities and social sciences has brought culture to the fore for analysis. Cultures are like texts that can be read, inter- preted, and analyzed. Cultural studies, therefore, have taken up the theoretical and methodological questions of interpreting culture and their application to various research fields that have influenced such diverse scholarly disciplines as hermeneutics or anthropology. Cultural analysis sees meaning as socially constructed through semiotic symbols, signs, and signifiers. As an example, cul- tural anthropologist Clifford Geertz argues that culture is embedded in “webs of significance” that form the basis for human evolutionary development and sentience. In order to understand different cultures, the researcher must strive for “thick” descriptions in order to unpack the layers of linguistic meaning.1

Poststructuralist and postmodern discourses critically appropriate earlier versions of cultural analysis but eschew any pretense to essentialist truth claims. The pluralistic interplay of signs and signifiers generates multiple, his- torically contingent meanings and interpretations.2Consequently, culture is no longer viewed in the singular as this implies a monolithic understanding of cul- ture that does not actually exist in the world. For instance, while H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture was immensely influential in the mid-twentieth century, his proposal of ideal types that define various relationships between Christianity and culture today appear naïve.3 Niebuhr’s work has come under increased criticism for its aspirations to establish a hegemonic claim around Christ transforming culture.4In the end, however, Niebuhr argues for what cul-

1 Clifford Geertz,TheInterpretationof Cultures(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973), esp. chapters

1 and 3.

2 For instance, Michael Bergunder, “The Cultural Turn,” in Studying Global Pentecostalism:

TheoriesandMethods,ed.AllanAndersonet al.(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,2010),


3 H. Richard Niebuhr,Christ and Culture(New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1951). 4 John Yoder offers this criticism, arguing that lost in Niebuhr’s subtle advocacy for Christ

transforming culture is the prophetic voice found in Christ against culture. See Craig A. Carter,

The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (Grand Rapids,

mi: Brazos Press, 2001), 122–126.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03703014



althouse and waddell

ture “ought” to be, rather than the realities of cultures in their plethora of social settings.

In order to account for the different cultures, a distinction was made between culture in the singular and subcultures in the plural. But this dis- tinction did not solve the problem of hegemonic discourses in which culture is constructed by elites to support and maintain their power bases, and sub- cultures were relegated to a subordinate status that references alternative yet subordinate discourses, but only in relation to the hegemony of a singular culture. Consequently, scholars are currently reframing the study of cultures pluralistically by moving away from the language of culture in favor of other designations, such as “habitus”5or “scenes.”6

Cultural analysis has also taken up the issue of power and control whereby the hegemonic discourses are seen as efforts to maintain elite power structures. Issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and class have become acute, and, therefore, important topics for analysis. These designations, which are assumed by the elites of a culture to be undeniable, are actually socially constructed discourses of power—created by the culture’s privileged members in order to control and maintain social systems. Culture in this mode of analysis comes under suspicion as something that needs to be exposed for its systems of power and control.7

Many of the articles in this issue address the cultural sphere in one way or the other as the authors engage in cultural analysis while interpreting Pente- costalism. Kenneth Archer leads the issue with his presidential address given to the Society for Pentecostal Theology at Southeastern University. He delves into the identity crisis that has plagued the society in recent years between scholars who want to adopt and require a confessional stance for member- ship and scholars who insist that members need only adopt a neutral position from within their various research disciplines. Drawing on his earlier work in pentecostal hermeneutics that correlates Spirit, Word and Community, Archer

5 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, uk: Cam-

bridge University Press, 1977).

6 For example, Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson, eds.,Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and

Virtual (Nashville,tn: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004).

7 Noam Chomsky, for instance, argues that the political culture of mass media supports the

hegemonic discourses that establish elite power structures, while alternative political sys-

tems are not tolerated. Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic

Societies (Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1989/1991); Edward S. Herman

and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New

York: Pantheon Press, 1988).

PNEUMA 37 (2015) 313–316


pentecostalism and cultural analysis


claims that the intellectual communities adhere to cultural particularities that operate according to different hermeneutical emphases. He maintains that the different intellectual communities that participate in scholarly discourses offer avenues for understanding the various pentecostalisms throughout the world. As such, each intellectual community should be valued for its contributions without requiring conformity.

Rodolfo Galvan Estradaiiialso takes up the issue of pentecostal hermeneu- tics, but with a postcolonial perspective that seeks to interpret Pentecostal- ism through the cultural lens of Chicano/a-Latino/a identity. Estrada engages Archer as his conversation partner but critically appropriates the trilectic of Spirit-Word-Community to suggest that community is prone to theological abstraction that fails to accomplish its hermeneutical goal. Race, ethnicity, and identity are critical in the cultural construction of meaning. By appropriating Chicano/a identity within the Latino/a community as a people who live in the margins, the pentecostal hermeneutic can provide greater specificity to a read- ing of the text and its appropriation for theological meaning. This reading must include a decentering of hegemonic power structures and discourses in order to offer a more inclusive understanding of the text and its importance.

Michael McClymond takes up the question of origins that has created ten- sions for Pentecostal Theology in recent years in order to mediate between mono- genetic and polygenetic claims. By adopting Michael Bergunder’s cultural anal- ysis, McClymond believes that identifying linguistic shifts in how Pentecostals self-identify can enrich the discussion of origins. Specifically, ruptures in lin- guistic practice point to cultural shifts that are both contested and/or accepted. The term Pentecostal itself was a contested term with denominations such as the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, who dropped Pentecostal from its name, or when charismatics who originally accepted the term Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostal wanted to distinguish themselves from the older pentecostal groups, which they labelled as Classical Pentecostal, a term older Pentecostals increasingly adopted in an effort to define themselves against charismatics. McClymond proposes that to overcome the rift between “black origins,” “holi- ness origins,” and “global origins,” the label of “inclusive origins” has the poten- tial to mediate between monogenetic and polygenetic classifications.

Seth Tweneboah explores the problem of human rights abuses by the pastor- prophets in Ghanaian Pentecostalism. Specifically, the pentecostal pastor- prophets in Ghana practice forms of deliverance and exorcism against so-called witches that often end in emotional and/or physical violence—and, in some cases, death. Adopting Bourdieu’s cultural notions of habitus and symbolic vio- lence, Tweneboah argues that Ghanaian Pentecostals who focus on deliverance and exorcism produce the symbolic habitus of violence that views witchcraft

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as demonic, thereby leading to real violence against women who are accused of witchcraft. For Tweneboah, this is a human rights issue, and women abused in witch-demonic practices must come under the protection of human rights legislations.

A.J. Swoboda addresses the issue of environmental sustainability and asks whether or not the prosperity gospel, with its emphasis on individual material accumulation as an indicator of divine blessing, contributes to the ecologi- cal problem. Swoboda contrasts divine economy in Word-Faith that supports individual prosperity with agrarianism’s great economy, which casts prosper- ity across generations and biological life in toto. In the end, Swoboda argues that the prosperity gospel lacks a holistic view of life that contributes to its lackofecological responsibility.However,heofferssuggestionsthatmayenable the prosperity gospel to support a shift to ecological sustainability if prosper- ity advocates are willing to reframe their theological assertions. Although not explicitly expressed, the issue is the conflict between a culture of prosperity in relation to a culture of ecological responsibility.

CulturalanalysisaddstoourunderstandingofthemanyfacesofPentecostal- ism across the globe. The essays in this issue bring greater clarity to the ways in which particular pentecostalisms negotiate their cultural claims in relation to the multiplicity of cultural claims in pluralistic settings.

Peter Althouse and Robby Waddell

PNEUMA 37 (2015) 313–316


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