Among many American scholars, the standard narrative about Pentecostalism is that contemporary global expressions of the movement trace their roots to Los Angeles and the Azusa Street Revival in the first decade of the 20th century. But the charismatic impulse in American Christianity has a much older lineage—including the camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in the early 19th century and other events associated with the First and Second Great Awakenings. Members of renewalist movements often locate the source of their theology and practice even farther in the past, identifying their cultivation of ecstatic experiences with the spiritual fervor of Christianity's earliest apostolic age. And many Pentecostal and Charismatic communities in Korea, Fiji, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere nurture origin stories that offer a counter- narrative to the assumptions that underlie the Azusa Street mythology.
The radically decentralized nature of Pentecostal and Charismatic religion also means that renewalist movements often readily absorb local spiritual and even secular practices into their modes of worship and evangelism. For example, shamanic beliefs in eastern Russia and indigenous forms of animism in Nigeria figure into some expressions of renewalism in those countries. And in China, outlawed renewalist churches have adapted Maoist cell-group strategies to propagate themselves and ensure their survival in an extremely repressive environment. Thus an accurate historical perspective on Pentecostal and Charismatic religion necessarily entails a close examination of the cultural idiosyncrasies and innovations of particular communities as well as the broader characteristics of the movement within the span of Christian history.
Patrick Platett, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Center for the Study of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements in Russia