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Pentecostal Missionary Training: Cultivating Body Logics, Converting Missionaries, Building A Movement

  • Author(s): Brahinsky, Joshua
  • Advisor(s): Epstein, Barbara
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

This dissertation explores missionary training pedagogies among the Assemblies of God (AG), a global pentecostal fellowship. Tensions between systematicity and the sensory manifesting via meticulous pedagogies, portable body logics, and evental ruptures contributed to AG's growth from a few thousand to over 67 million in the past 100 years.

"Missionary conversions" meant US missionaries transformed political-theology through encounter with postcolonial interlocutors and came home to provoke AG with newfound cultural sensitivity and compassion ministries. Similarly, pedagogy at AG's Bethany University inoculated students against secularism via encounter with it. Thus, AG shifted from rigid fundamentalism to a more fluid evangelicalism with kingdom theology challenging previous pessimistic premillenialisms. Bethany was closed through a schism between evangelical-pentecostals and fundamentalist-pentecostals in 2011.

Tracing techniques that render bodies capable of mystical experience from 1800s radical evangelicals to current AG practice and its training manuals suggests that instead of "discipline" or the "Age of Mobilization," cultivating tension between systematicity and the sensory characterizes modern evangelicalism, perhaps modernity itself. For pentecostals "cultivation" signals collective self-fashioning that aspires towards skilled yielding to the Holy Spirit. As such, modern religiosity might be less about turning inward, than about inhabiting modern rationality.

Further, pentecostal practice provides a foil for post-structural mobilization theories responding to similar tensions within modernity. Resonances between pentecostal missionary strategies and post-structural "agency," "resistance," and the "event" when thought with the pentecostal penchant for right wing politics suggests such strategies are politically empty. That pentecostals incite Western agency-anxiety with collective and yielded practices stretches agency to include explicit rendering of relational hierarchies and the recognition of scale effects and scale battles.

In all, pentecostal volitional affect involves sedimenting practices of mutability into the bodies of practitioners via the rhythmic cellular thrumming of flesh, church, and doctrine. Here, ephemeral sensations and testimony solidify into durable sensibilities, aptitudes, and rites, congeal as tradition tied to training texts or scripture, and the crystalline structures enabling rupture - conversion, experience of spirit, and schism - emerge to catch the edges of modern capitalist proliferation and suggest a model for mobilization effective in a period of neoliberal globalization.

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