Author Summary: This book addresses language, charisma, and creativity via the empirical example of a contemporary religious movement known as Catholic Pentecostalism, or the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. How do these theoretical issues take into account the significance of a "rumor of angels" in the bosom of what still portrays itself as a secular, scientific society? In this context, to take a close look at a contemporary religious movement such as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is to embrace one of the primary tasks of anthropology as a scholarly discipline committed to critical thought: to stimulate reflection by making the exotic seem familiar and the familiar appear strange.' In an instance like ours, this is more complex than it at first appears. Unlike anthropological studies of distant tribal societies, where the reciprocal movement between familiar and strange ideally occurs simultaneously as a consequence of the ethnographic portrayal of the cultural "other," our task includes showing that people who might be regarded by many as "religious weirdos" are quite like ourselves, and at the same time that people who might be our neighbors in fact inhabit a substantially different phenomenological world. In addition (though it is also increasingly the case of ethnographies in Third World settings), a text such as this is easily available to participants in the religious movement, and for them what is already familiar can be rendered challengingly strange by the relativizing style of ethnographic writing.
Moreover, by a curious twist, this relativizing style renders itself strange (and the ethnographer along with it) when applied to a cultural phenomenon that is so close to home yet so puzzling within the cultural context of academic anthropologists. I am thinking here of the convention in ethnographic prose of describing religious ritual and spiritual phenomena in straightforward declarative language: "The spirit speaks through the medium," or "The deity is propitiated by sacrifice," or again "The deceased becomes an ancestral spirit that is responsible
for the well‑being of the clan." I have adopted this declarative convention in writing and speaking about Charismatics, with the surprisingly frequent result that I am myself suspected of being a "believer." I am not at all concerned here with the question of whether one can be a believer and still be a good anthropologist. I am concerned instead with an observation that to me is quite ironic: that what is strange in a familiar way (because it is part of one's culture) can render what is familiar (in this case a convention of ethnographic prose) strangely difficult to recognize as such.
In Part One, the first chapter introduces the Charismatic Renewal and surveys its development, first within the Euro-American United States, then cross‑culturally and internationally. The account is more descriptive than analytical, and it is intended to convey a sense of the scope and internal diversity of the phenomenon that is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Chapter 2 is a more concentrated attempt to place the movement in its cultural historical context given the contemporary postmodern condition of culture, with emphasis on the contemporary nature of rationality, the question of identity as a Charismatic, and the transformation of space and time in Charismatic daily life. I examine the Renewal as a "movement," arguing that this is an obvious but also a problematic theoretical category under which to subsume the phenomenon, and introducing a distinction between religions of peoples and religions of the self.
Part Two presents a thesis ascribing the performative generation of diversity within the movement to a dual process of rhetorical involution characterized by the ritualization of practice and the radicalization of charisma. This thesis is elaborated through an account of what is, within the Charismatic world, the largest and most renowned and at the same time the most controversial of Catholic Charismatic communities, The Word of God/Sword of the Spirit. Chapter 3 combines a historical sketch of the community's development and an ethnographic sketch of its organization. Chapter 4 examines the dual processes of radicalization of charisma and ritualization of practice within the community over the course of more than two decades. Special attention is given to gender discipline and the ritual enactment of key psychocultural themes of spontaneity, intimacy, and control.
Chapter 5 is an interlude between those chapters that problematize movement and community and those that more explicitly problematize language and creativity. It juxtaposes material from The Word of God, Melanesian cargo cults, the African Jamaa movement, and the sixteenth‑century movement of Savonarola to point toward a rhetorical theory of charisma grounded in performance. I propose that charisma is a self process the locus of which is not the personality of a charismatic leader but the rhetorical resources mobilized among participants in ritual performance.
The two chapters of Part Three show how charisma operates as a collective self process by examining the performance of ritual language. Chapter 6 demonstrates the creativity of ritual performance, adopting a methodological distinction among event, genre, and act. I describe an intrinsic dialectic between ritual event and everyday life, between genres of ritual language and the motives or terms that are circulated among participants in performance, and between individual terms and the metaphors generated from them. Chapter 7 examines the ritual genre of prophecy, starting with a semiotic analysis of an important Charismatic prophetic text. This analysis uncovers the rhetorical conditions for the radicalization of charisma that we earlier encountered in covenant community life at The Word of God. I then present a phenomenological account of speaking and hearing prophecy and a comparison of prophecy with glossolalia. I suggest that the existential force of prophecy stems from the sense in which all language can be understood as an aspect of bodily experience, which in turn proves to be the ground of all experience of force. As a self process, charisma thus appears to be equally a function of textuality and embodiment.
Chapter 8, a theoretical epilogue written in light of the foregoing discussion of Catholic Charismatic ritual life, foregrounds the anthropological debate about creativity in ritual performance. I examine this issue by comparing the work of Stanley Tambiah and Maurice Bloch, two prominent anthropologists who take contrasting stances on the problem of creativity. The chapter concludes with a summary of how a sacred self is created in practice and performance.
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