Encyclopedia of Religion
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William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Also called neo-Pentecostalism, this movement emerged in the 1960s and caught fire in the 1970s, although the fires have since cooled. Following in the American tradition of revivalism, it is concretely linked with and shares "classical" pentecostalism's enthusiastic and experiential approach to religious practice. In particular, charismatics share with their pentecostal cousins a belief in "baptism of the Holy Spirit" and the related "gifts of the Spirit" such as speaking in tongues (glossolalia), healing, and prophecy (charismatic is from the Greek charismata , meaning "gifts"; see Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14). However, while pentecostalism is a group of independent sects formed by schism, the charismatic movement remains a revitalization movement within established churches, seeking to integrate Spirit baptism and gifts into the organization and practices of mainline Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic Church. Although initially there was some experimentation with independent "covenant communities," the predominant organizational form currently is the parish-based prayer group.


A notable aspect of the charismatic movement is that it surfaced early in the two churches that are the most hierarchically and sacramentally organized, churches in which priests have traditionally monopolized the "technologies of grace": the Episcopal Church in 1960 and the Roman Catholic Church in 1967. The roots of this infusion of pentecostal spirituality into mainline churches are complex, but one important source can be traced to 1952, when Southern California dairyman Demos Shakarian's Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International held its first meeting (at which then pentecostal faith healer Oral Roberts was the guest speaker) and began providing a space for mainline clergy to interact with pentecostals.

Wider recognition of neo-pentecostalism is associated with Dennis Bennett, who, while rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, received Spirit baptism and spoke in tongues while worshiping with a group of charismatic laypersons in 1959. His resignation in 1960 under pressure from his superiors gained national attention for the charismatic movement, including coverage in Time magazine. Bennett was appointed to a stagnant congregation in Seattle, Washington, where he continued to encourage baptism of the Spirit and assisted thousands in receiving the charismata (Poloma 1982:14).

The birth of Catholic neo-pentecostalism is dated to 1967 when a group of faculty—who had been involved with the Cursillo movement—and students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh experienced baptism of the Spirit while on a retreat. The movement quickly spread to Notre Dame and the University of Michigan, and at its peak the "Catholic Charismatic Renewal" (CCR) encompassed hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics and had made contact with perhaps as many as 4 to 7 million more. The movement generally embraces orthodox Christian teachings, stressing particularly Christ's divinity, and the church hierarchy up to and including Pope John Paul II has been supportive of the CCR—or has co-opted it, depending on one's perspective.

Sources of Neo-Pentecostalism

Although Pentecostalism has been analyzed in terms of classical deprivation theory—Pentecostals being drawn from "the disinherited" economic classes—the social sources of the charismatic movement within mainline churches do not suggest a similar explanation. Early pentecostals were indeed predominantly marginalized in the new, urban, industrial social order; neo-pentecostals, in contrast, are typically white, suburban, well educated, and of middling socioeconomic status. In this sense, it might be said that the charismatic movement is pentecostalism for the middle classes. Some have suggested, following Charles Glock, that the deprivation that leads people to enthusiastic religion such as neo-pentecostalism need not be exclusively socioeconomic but can also be psychic, ethical, or health related. Neitz (1987:251), by contrast, argues that conversion to the charismatic renewal is based less on deprivation—unless deprivation is defined so broadly as to lose its explanatory power—than on "a practical and rational process of assessing the claims of competing belief systems in the light of daily experience with an eye toward particular goals." Neitz suggests that the renewal movement emerged as a result of the same "cultural crises" that produced the "self-awareness" movement of the 1970s: It is a reaction to the "iron cage" of modern, rationalized life experienced by those middle-class Americans most exposed to its sterility.

Moral, Social, and Political Views

Morally, charismatics see society as being in a state of crisis to which spiritual activities such as prayer and worship are the appropriate response. While they bear a surface resemblance to classical pentecostals in this respect, they differ considerably in the details. Charismatics diverge from pentecostals in their liberalism on issues such as abortion, divorce, premarital sex, and homosexuality; they are, however, more conservative than Americans generally on these same issues.

Although charismatics seem to be apolitical, even narcissistic (Neitz 1987), it simply may be the case that social factors other than religious affiliation explain charismatic political opinions better than religious beliefs and practices. That is, in the political sphere, they may simply mirror those who fit their demographic profile (Poloma 1982:222). More research is needed if this issue is to be addressed adequately.

David Yamane


M. B. McGuire, Pentecostal Catholics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982)

M. J. Neitz, Charisma and Community (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987)

M. M. Poloma, The Charismatic Movement (Boston: Twayne, 1982).

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