The Pneuma Network: Charting the Global Pentecostal Press in the Early 20th Century

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Lindsey Maxwell, Florida International University
The emergence of Pentecostalism on the global scene at the dawn of the twentieth century represents one of the most significant developments in modern religious history. While the origins of the mass religious phenomenon have received extensive coverage by historians, this project instead seeks to unveil the engine of the movement’s success: a global network of periodicals that helped create, nurture, and grow the community from its earliest days. During the formative years of the movement, Pentecostal groups in Europe, the U.S., South America, Africa, and Asia established dozens of magazines devoted to promoting their premillennialist message to readers around the world. The resulting social network of editors, authors, and readers nourished the movement in its earliest days and contributed to the emergence of a Pentecostal identity. By publishing detailed testimonies of supernatural miracles, experiences, and healings, along with theological articles, sermons, prayer requests, and mission reports, these periodicals helped to mold and unify Pentecostal discourse while simultaneously fostering a sense of spiritual community among remote groups. One of the most critical implications of this network was the way in which it blurred racial, ethnic, and national lines. Even as localized groups became increasingly segregated, the textual nature of the network allowed access to anyone who could read, regardless of race, gender, or national origin. The network also served as a primitive form of modern crowdfunding, offering individual missionaries a ready source of income.

Combining periodical studies, information visualization technology, and global religious history, this project digitally visualizes the global Pentecostal networks that sustained the growing movement, and highlights the connections between individuals within its ranks. Utilizing Pentecostal periodicals from the Unites States, South Africa, and Europe, the study identifies and recreates the network using digital data visualization tools, thereby shedding light on the diverse individuals at the heart of the movement. While Pentecostals have traditionally been viewed as a primarily theologically oral culture, this project illustrates how their mastery of mass-produced text was at least equally critical to their rise. Building upon the work of scholars who have noted the role of periodicals in Pentecostalism, this study thus contributes to an understanding of how Pentecostals built a modern religious movement in the twentieth century.

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