USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Moved by the Spirit


In 2008 the John Templeton Foundation gave a grant to the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC to study Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the world. In conversations with Kimon Sargeant, vice-president for human sciences at the Templeton Foundation, we decided to exclude the United States and Europe from this initiative, and instead to focus on Africa, Asia and Latin America, where much of the growth was occurring.

The goal was to fund five research centers with grants up to $500,000 and 15 individual scholars with grants not exceeding $100,000. These two-year grants were to explore answers to one of three questions: 1) What is the religious experience of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians? 2) Why is Pentecostalism growing and where? And 3) what impact is this expression of Christianity having on society and culture, including politics?

In response to our request for proposals, we received nearly 500 letters of interest to apply for funding. With the assistance of judges from the fields of sociology, anthropology, economics, political science and religious studies, we invited 100 scholars and research centers to submit full proposals. Several months later, we sat for two days with our judges and rated each submission, which was an agonizing process since there were many excellent proposals. But eventually we decided to fund research centers in Brazil, El Salvador, Nigeria, Indonesia and Russia. The selection of individual scholars was equally difficult, but finally we gave 16 smaller grants, which sometimes included several researchers.

In total, research was conducted in 25 different countries. Several of the projects had a comparative focus. For example, we gave a grant to study the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement that involved research in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In Nigeria we had three different projects, including a research center in Jos that involved dozens of research assistants. And in Brazil we funded a research center as well as a graduate student’s research on the growth of Pentecostalism in prisons. All together, there were several hundred people involved in research that was funded by the John Templeton Foundation’s grant to USC.

All of the projects employed social science methods, ranging from surveys to in-depth interviews and case studies of congregations. We specifically excluded theological inquiries regarding the truth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity; our interest was in documenting the ways in which this expression of religion was transforming Christianity, especially in the global South—although we did fund a project in St. Petersburg, Russia, which involved a team of 17 anthropologists who were studying small Pentecostal congregations throughout the northern regions of that vast country.

In addition, we funded two other projects. Because of our location in Southern California, and the fact that the 1906 Azusa Street Revival was one of the starting points for the spread of Pentecostalism, we were interested in how Pentecostalism had transformed Christianity in the intervening century in L.A.’s multiethnic communities. We also funded a number of efforts to digitize archives on the history of Pentecostalism that were located in libraries in various European countries and the U.S. These documents are now available through the USC Digital Library (

After the first year of research, we convened representatives of our projects in Quito, Ecuador, for a week of conversation. This was the first time that these scholars had met one another, and a number of collaborations were born as individuals shared insights from their initial findings. A year later, as scholars were wrapping up their projects, we again gathered everyone, this time in Nairobi, Kenya. Scholars shared survey results, findings from their interviews and case studies, and video and photos from their projects.

At both of these consultations, we invited a journalist, Nick Street, to observe the meetings, and with our communications director, Tim Sato, the two of them interviewed each scholar who was present. They were interested in cross-cutting themes as well as differences in various geographical areas related to our three initial research questions. After returning from Nairobi we sat down together and seized on the idea of producing this magazine-style report that would pull together findings across different projects. As one might expect, Nick was not satisfied with relying simply on interviews with scholars; he wanted to see and experience what they had been studying. So we sent him traveling—to Brazil, El Salvador, Nigeria, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and India. I also shared with him notes that I had taken on trips to China, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore.

The various sections of this report are Nick’s attempt to identify themes that cut across the research projects funded by the Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative (PCRI). The nuance and detail of findings—and very possibly disagreements with Nick’s observations—will be forthcoming in scholarly books and journal articles. I am serving as the editor for a series of books on Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity that will be published by Oxford University Press. I will also be writing an overview book for this series with Tetsunao Yamamori that will draw on our travel together in over 25 countries where we have been examining the growth and impact of Pentecostalism.

Hence, this report is simply a “teaser” for what is to come. But it also identifies some issues related to the origins, evolutions, adaptations and engagement of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. The Pentecostal movement, in all of its various forms and expressions, is transforming Christianity. Mainline Protestantism as well as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity are being “Pentecostalized.” Indeed, the boundaries separating Pentecostals from other Christian groups is blurring, especially with reference to evangelical Christianity. And some Pentecostal denominations have been around long enough that they have begun to routinize, struggling with too many layers of bureaucracy and control. In contrast, some of the most dynamic and innovative groups do not care about labels or denominational affiliation—they are simply “Moved by the Spirit” to transform their communities and the lives of the individuals who associate with them.

Donald E. Miller is the director of strategic initiatives with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.