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"Rivers of Living Water": The Movements and Mobility of Holiness-Pentecostals, 1837-1910


This dissertation follows the fluid and dynamic movements of holiness and pentecostal worshipers who crossed boundaries of race, gender, language, and region at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century. It demonstrates how the changeable, decentralized, and anti-institutional character of the holiness-pentecostal movement allowed for both radical social behavior and dynamic geographic mobility. The movement was in a constant state of flux as the sanctified traveled across the continent, as holiness ideas circulated amidst an explosion of print culture, and as worshipers moved in and out of socially transgressive practices. By the early twentieth century an expansive network of holiness and pentecostal folk, tied together by railroads and holiness newspapers, sprawled across the United States. The American holiness-pentecostal movement had flowed from the homes of Northern social reformers in the 1840s, to black sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta and white cotton farmers in East Texas after Reconstruction, and finally to the West at the turn of the century.

Popular depictions of Los Angeles on the brink of the Azusa Street Revival describe a seed about to sprout, a woman in labor, or a tree being transplanted. In contrast, this dissertation argues that Los Angeles was a catch basin of diverse streams, each one converging, mixing, adapting to one another and the new environment. It considers what happened when these diverse streams, of holiness-pentecostals - bringing with them diverse cultures - mixed, collided, and adapted to one another and to their new environments. It follows the streams, confluences, and tributaries of the holiness-pentecostal movements, which converged in a torrent of radical boundary-crossing at the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. However, the factors which allowed for such boundary-crossing were short-lived. While streams of Pentecostalism would continue to flow throughout the United States, and in particular outside the United States, the moment of the Azusa Street Revival’s torrent was liminal.

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