Religious Studies Coursework Paper on the American Origins of Pentecostalism

The American Origins of Pentecostalism


Pentecostalism is a form of Christianity that appears to be personal, emotional, and populist in its teachings. It is more popular in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; its ideals include support for the emancipation of the poor people and women. Pentecostalism is the most influential religious denomination in America, with 100 different Pentecostal denominations with a projected following of one billion people in the U.S. by the year 2025. Its theological support stems from the book of Acts that indicates that Jesus’ followers experienced tongues of fire during the Pentecost feast and the aftermath was characterized by their ability to speak in different languages to the people. Apostle Peter interprets this as the culmination of a prophecy given to the Hebrews indicating that God would pour His spirit upon all flesh in the world. According to Acts Chapter 2, when people speak in other tongues, they become Christians. This evangelical revelation explains the events that transpired in Los Angeles in 1902.

The Methodist Church in America had been feeling disenfranchised with the direction of their lives, as most of its followers and leadership could not fit into the elite political society in America. The followers in the rural areas had to let their children go to seek employment in urban areas since they did not have high education and finances (Kosmin et al. 23). Their children came back with foreign ideas, and this created a sense of vulnerability in their cultural ways. They increasingly lost control of their Methodist Church culture, and could not create an easy relationship with government. Consequently, the Pentecostal movement was created. It also created the modern liberal tradition that eroded some of the radical beliefs in traditional Christian society.


Most U.S. Christian people associate the act of speaking in tongues to Pentecostalism. It does not reflect ideals that can be accessed from the vagaries of modernity or science, as it is largely subjective. Anthropologists and psychologists have tried to look at it as a way of having a personal interaction with God as a person. Speaking in tongues amongst the Pentecost believers is not an entirely new thing, as the people in ancient Greece also used to practice it. Pentecostals in the US thus practice it to theologize the acts of the Corinthians and Acts. An African-American son of slaves, William Seymour, originally formed the modern Pentecostal faith in the U.S. He had to sit in the hallway like other Blacks but was later called to Los Angeles to minister (Barkan et al. 39). He grew the number of followers up until he formed the Azusa Street revival that included people of all sexes, servitude conditions, colors, ages, and nationalities. These later became the inheritors of the Pentecostal movement and faith


Ethnicity, Immigration, and Religious Pluralism


The Jews are known to celebrate Rosh Hashanah during New Year in a ceremony known as the Day of Awe. The Jews get to perform deep soul searching for divine judgment of their omissions and deeds during the year. They also get to repent their sins in the ended year just before the Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. The Jews observe the High Holy Days as a constant reminder of the fragility of human life in the world. Jewish faith supports social justice and spiritual engagement, creating an area of similarity with the Pentecostal faith (Gaustad, Edwin, & Leigh Schmidt 41). Jewish faith supports the repentance of sins through Teshuvah, whereby an individual can turn around their sins to get back into the right path of life. However, such reprieve for turning around sins cannot be achieved in circumstances whereby one commits sexual assault or public humiliation or commits murder.


The narrative in the Jewish faith is that Ishmael and Isaac were in constant fight – something that angered Abraham. Abraham was also split between supporting Hagar or Sarah- underscoring the family dysfunction that ended up creating the Muslim faith through the lineage of Ishmael (Barkan et al. 51). Besides, the obligations of Jews go beyond fellow Jews to include the followers of other religions. The book of Torah, a rabbinic text, allows married couples to do anything to each other. Similarly, the book of Deuteronomy, a biblical text, allows the same thing. However, the latter further indicates that people who rape a woman should be punished by marrying the woman. These aspects create increased confusion on how the law should interact with humanity.


Religion and Race – African American Religious Traditions


Most African Americans living in the U.S. are known to be the descendants of the slaves. They used to sing as a way to codify their messages to one another and as a sign of deep spirituality. The slaves drew a powerful connection that appears similar to best ideals and virtues held amongst the Christian believers. The spirit of Christianity appears to be merging with many aspects of African sensibility and music. The slaves were drawn from many different languages and nations in Africa, but they had a common sense of belief in a supreme deity- much in a similar way with the traditional belief of Europeans on the purity of saints.

The African-American slaves could commune with the deities through songs of great fervor. They had to pray to the gods through their ancestors. When they got kidnapped and transported as slaves to foreign lands, their connection with the ancestors was cut, making them desolate in the foreign lands (Barkan et al. 75). At first, they found Christianity and the belief in Christianity as unimpressive, due to the brutality and hypocrisy that their white masters were living. They also disliked the brutality and suffering meted on Jesus the Son of the High God who was suffering like them. They also had a similar feeling towards Daniel and his predicament in the den of lions.

The slaves later adopted the Christianity story as a way to give them hope out of their predicaments. The African-Americans have thus demonstrated how best to survive when one is faced with a persistent crisis or any other human suffering. The songs sung by the slaves in the early years are still relatable to many African-Americans today. Many people still understand the sentiments of spirituals contained in the Welsh hymnbook, as they depict the universal quest for freedom. The slaves gave themselves to suffering and powerlessness in the context of their predicament, as contained in the sentiments in most of their spiritual songs.


Religion, Race, Gender, and Social Justice


For Scott Hanson, Flushing town presents the epidemiology of America’s future trends in religiosity. It is a community with an immense ethical and religious diversity realized from the early periods in 1645 when the town granted religious freedom in America. Some challenges in realizing such freedom include the effort by the intolerant governor to force people to join the Dutch Reformed Church. The Flushing Remonstrance was thus mooted in protest with the declaration that “the people were bound to do good to all men according to the law of God and man” – something that was still carried in the town’s charter (Kosmin et al. 34). Flushing has since allowed different religious entities to spring up after granting religious freedom. There are Muslims, Quakers, Chinese and Korean churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Sikh gurdwaras built side by side with the Orthodox and Jewish churches. Most of these diverse believers belong to small and densely populated places where they can get to interact easily with one another.

Scott Hanson believes that Flushing represents a rich religious heritage full of great diversity such that Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox Jewish synagogues are built side by side with a commitment to religious tolerance coupled with inter-religious dialogue. The quest for religious freedom in America has been covered on many causes, including the constitutional First Amendment and earlier efforts like the Virginia statute that was fronted by Thomas Jefferson. However, according to Raymond Williams, religious diversity is increasingly acceptable amongst towns and municipalities because of the immigrant factor. He thinks that America has far greater religiosity amongst Western nations because the country’s peoples are mostly immigrants. When immigration temporarily ceased in America between 1920 and 1965 because of the Great Depression, World War II, and increased U.S. legal restrictions, the levels of secularization in American society increased.


Scott Hanson believes that the contemporary society seems to support pluralism, going by the case example of Flushing Town. Most of the locals are Christians who live in a diverse community with Jews and believers of other religions. However, this does not mean that there have been no signs of conflict at all. There have been some isolated cases of religious-instigated vandalism, zoning, parking, and attacks on new immigrants (Kosmin et al. 54). However, these actions of perceived religious conflict are far less in magnitude as compared to other areas in America. Flushing’s people to pursue religious disestablishment attribute this to factors such as the commitment, the constitutional restrictions, a vigilant attitude of the residents and a police precinct established in the vicinity. The religious faiths in Flushing town also lack strict claims to territory, making them less vulnerable to open religious conflict.

Raymond Williams think posits that new immigrant groups use religion as a way to create a new identity and gain acceptance in the new society that they join. The absence of religion would make it more difficult for new immigrants to develop group identities and integrate with the new society that they seek to settle in. This forces the new immigrants to insist on religious identity as a way to ease their contemporary mobility (Kosmin et al. 54). Raymond Williams also believes that Muslims have increased in the U.S. population, a situation that impacts on the relationship between Jews and Muslims and between African-American Christians and African-American Muslims.

Tony Carnes argues that Christianity will still dominate the other U.S. religions and that new coalitions will come up as a reaction to the dominant Christian world. Most U.S. immigrants are Christian believers, and this reality contributes to the development of urban Christianity modeled along the Catholic and Protestant denominations (Gaustad and Leigh 66). Immigrants get to experiment with new identities, creating the opportunity for growth of Christian congregations. Liberal religionists can also get the chance to thrive due to a widened acceptance of religious pluralism. On the contrary, the secularists would feel disoriented by the cohesion of majority religious believers who hail from different faiths.


Religion and Globalization 


Religious diversity in America received a new impetus after the passage of a law in 1965 that permitted immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Middle East to move to the US. The immigrants faced little resistance from the locals in establishing and practicing their religious faiths in addition to holding their beliefs in public. The immigrants introduced new religions in the American societies where they moved. The religions became increasingly diverse- as indicated in a book by Prof. Eck titled “A New Religious America.” Los Angeles now has extensive Buddhist following as compared to other parts of the world that are non-traditionally Chinese. Hindus from India, Trinidad, and Caribbean have also established a presence in Los Angeles. Similarly, Muslims from Africa, Indonesia, Middle, and Pakistan also have a strong religious presence in the town. This underscores the strong religious diversity of the US (PBS 1).


The nation should thus forge a path of creating enhanced democracy to nurture an environment that favors multi-religiosity. Religious freedom should be nurtured in different ways to improve the relationship between the people professing different faiths. Presently, Christians in the US appear to be too rigid in their beliefs such that they tend to push the symbol of a transcendent God too hard- against the beliefs of Buddhists who do not recognize it. For instance, Hindus have over three hundred deities- something that goes radically against the core beliefs of Christian believers (PBS 1).

Tony Carnes feels that Christianity will still dominate the other US religions, and that new coalitions will come up as a reaction to the dominant Christian world. Most US immigrants are Christian believers, and this reality contributes to the development of urban Christianity modeled along the Catholic and Protestant denominations. It is reconstructing the earlier perception of sinfulness in cities. Immigrants get to experiment with new identities, creating opportunity for growth of Christian congregations. Liberal religionists can also get an opportunity to thrive due to a widened acceptance of religious pluralism. On the contrary, the secularists would feel disoriented by the cohesion of majority religious believers who hail from different faiths.


Religion, Science, and the Rise of Fundamentalism


There are many points of convergence between the ideals held by scientists in different disciplines and those held by religious thinkers. This is demonstrated in the intersection of science and Hinduism in the personal lives of a Hindu physicist, V.V. Raman. Science explains the principles and laws that define the universe and its many diverse functions. The only key concern is meaning in all the existence of universe. Science represents one of the triumphant spiritual and intellectual traditions for humans.

Hinduism, unlike other religions, takes an explicit step to explain the differences in experiences that may be construed as knowledge on religion from those that may be construed as analytical, intellectual, or secular knowledge. This eliminates the perception of conflict between religion and science. Science provides explanations of phenomena in analytical and logical frameworks, while religion involves deep involvement – creating a situation of experiential consonance rather than cognitive dissonance.


The complexity of the human spirit creates diversity in the kind of experiential possibilities that we may have as humans. What makes science successful is that it is addicted and inclined to rigid rationality. A scientist may have great conviction to pursue rationality, but if they read the book of Ecclesiastes, they would meet a verse like “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” This challenges the rigid rationality that scientists pay fidelity. This reality is captured in Pascal’s statement that “the heart has its reasons which reason doesn’t understand.”

Hinduism is a religious culture that lacks any one specific founder. It only has teachers and sages who engage the followers in the holy Sankrit language. The impulse of universality creates a sense of compatibility or convergence between religions and science.

The religious experience captures the inherent mystery inhuman life. This mystery creates opportunity for one to meditation that constitutes the religious experience. Hinduism encourages the virtue of Dharma – which requires one to pursue truth, failure to which they would face karma (a proverbial answer to those who commit evil).



American Muslims sometimes face increased challenges in their interaction with others due to the largely common prejudice that they represent the face of the troublemakers such as terrorists or sleepers waiting for an opportunity to execute terrorist plans even for a latent period as long as ten years later. The provisions of the Quran do not expressly place women at a subordinate condition as patriarchs believe. The Muslims should also hold onto the idea of separation of roles between religious institutions and the state as required by the American Constitution (PBS 1). The US politicians need to stop creating invectives of superiority in religious factions in order to ease the persistent pressure facing American Muslims. The issue becomes more serious when policies are made to benefit certain religious factions while undermining others. Notably, the legal system in the US currently protects the American Muslims on an equal footing to the other religions in US.


Most Muslims who come into America with a negative perception of America over issues such as a harsh foreign policy need to soften their stance when in America for them to share in the opportunities and democratic space available. They need to develop confidence in their identity. Most foreigners also believe that Islam is oppressive to women. Prophet Muhammad drafted a document preferring a bill of rights that would form a charter between him and the people of Medina (both Jews and Muslims). The charter identified the Jews and Muslims as one people; but every person was his own and was free to hold his own beliefs irrespective of the status quo. The charter also required the people to show loyalty to one another. This charter drafted by Prophet Muhammad is a reflection of the present day federal system in the US that defends the state and its people.



Works Cited

Barkan, Elliott R., et al. “Race, Religion, and Nationality in American Society: A Model of Ethnicity: From Contact to Assimilation [with Comment, with Response].” Journal of American Ethnic History (1995): 38-101.

Gaustad, Edwin, and Leigh Schmidt. “The Religious History of America: The heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today, Revised Edition.” (2002).

Kosmin, Barry A., et al. “American nones: The profile of the no religion population, a report based on the American religious identification survey 2008.” (2009).