Pentecostal Body Logics: Cultivating a Modern Sensorium

Peer Reviewed


Pentecostals put intensive study into bodies, texts, practices and their interrelationships so as to effectively cultivate a sensory culture - sensorium - and invite authoritative religious experience. This ethnographic study follows a Pentecostal sensorium from its crucial institutionalization in early Assemblies of God practice to more contemporary manifestations at Bethany University and among the Promise Keepers. It traces the historical mutations of what I call the body logics – or portable sensory dynamics – that are central to Pentecostal pedagogies of conversion and commitment, especially in their relatively easy transposition to new contexts and ambivalent but productive relationship to modern secularity. Further, it argues that religiously inflected sensory aptitudes, and perhaps even mind-body dynamics, emerge through a process of careful cultivation and nurturance.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on sensory culture, including Brad Weiss’s “Making Pigs Local: Discerning the Sensory Character of Place” (2011), Eva Hayward’s “Fingeryeyes: Impressions of Cup Corals” (2010), and Nancy Rose Hunt’s “An Acoustic Register, Tenacious Images, and Congolese Scenes of Rape and Repetition” (2008).

Cultural Anthropology has also published articles on Pentecostalism. See for example, Jesse Weaver Shipley’s “Comedians, Pastors, and the Miraculous Agency of Charisma in Ghana” (2009) and Rosalind Shaw’s “Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone” (2008).

About the Author

After graduating from Oberlin College, Josh Brahinsky organized unions for eight years, taught high school for five, got so excited about teaching that he went to graduate school, finished an Oral History MA studying the Promise Keepers from Western Washington University, and is now in his fifth year of a PhD program in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.    

Josh Brahinsky, May 2012.

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. What is a sensorium? What about the senses is historically formed and cultivated in Pentecostal communities?

2. What are body logics and what are their role in Pentecostal conversion and commitment?

3. How does Brahinsky's own corporeal experience factor into his research, analysis, and writing?

4. What is the "negotiation with modernity" that Brahinsky describes? How are notions of modernity relevant to the the Pentecostal sensorium?  

Related Readings

Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Howes, David. The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Keane, Webb. Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Schmidt, Leigh. Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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