8th GloPent Conference: Pentecostalism and Development (Report)
About 90 delegates from all six continents gathered at SOAS on 5 and 6 September 2014 to participate in the 8th GloPent conference, which was convened under the theme of “Pentecostalism and Development.
Given the rise of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, especially in the so-called “developing world”, the conference addressed a highly relevant theme. The conference programme, consisting of three keynotes, one plenary discussion and nine parallel panels, raised a number of specific issues, such as the role of Pentecostalism and shaping the economic outlook of its members, possibilities and limitations in collaborating with Pentecostal development agents, or the impact of Pentecostalism teaching and practices on social mobility, sexual ethics, or health care.
The conference was opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at SOAS, Gurharpal Singh, who framed the theme from his own expertise and experience in researching religions and development. This was followed by Matthew Clarke's keynote from the disciplinary vantage point of Development Studies. Clarke, who teaches at Deakin University in Melbourne, advocated finding common ground between religion and development. The sheer size of the movement in Africa, Asia and Latin America necessitates that development actors become “religiously literate” with regard to Pentecostal beliefs to maximise the potential for collaboration with the movement. This was echoed by his respondent, Michael Jennings from SOAS, who pointed to the long historical background of the debate of religions in Development Studies, beginning with the “civilising mission” of colonialism.
The keynote in Religious Studies was offered by Tomas Sundnes Drønen from the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway, who demonstrated from his own work in Cameroon that one must consider a large field of economic, social, and interreligious factors in order to fully understand the development potential of Pentecostal churches and adherents in a given context. His respondent, David Maxwell from the University of Cambridge, further illustrated the historical dimension of these factors, linking up the study of Pentecostalism with the longue durée of missions, European influence and local traditions.
The third keynote, delivered by Dena Freeman, Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics, gave an anthropological insight into the local development dynamics of Pentecostals. Comparing two cases from Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia, Freeman argued that while Pentecostals manifest a certain eagerness for new business endeavours and social development, an outside impulse, such as an externally funded small business initiative, was needed in order for these aspirations to be realised and have a wider societal impact. Her respondent, Birgit Meyer from the University of Utrecht, connected these findings to the wider theoretical debate about religion, social mobility and capitalism in Anthropology.
In between the keynotes, 36 papers about specific research on the conference theme were presented and discussed in the following nine parallel panels:
- Megachurches and Social Engagement
- Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements in Contemporary China
- Pentecostalism and Interreligious Boundaries
- Pentecostalism, Development and the Welfare-State
- Pentecostal Entrepreneurship, Development Initiatives, and Social Mobility
- Pentecostalism and the Politics of Homosexuality in Africa
- Media, Charisma and the Constitution of Pentecostal Authority
- Gender in Pentecostal Experience and Development
- Transcultural Dynamics & Migrant Pentecostalism
The conference closed with a plenary discussion on issues of practice in the development collaboration with Pentecostals. This session was hosted by Carole Rakodi from the University of Birmhingham and featured four experts. Two of them came from faith-based organisations (Claudia Währisch-Oblau from the United Evangelical Mission in Wuppertal and Daniel Akhazemea from the Redeemed Christian Church of God), and the other two represented a governmental (Mike Battcock, DFID) and a non-governmental organisation (Rick James, Intrac).
The keynotes and further publications from the conference will be published in a special edition of PentecoStudies.
The conference was organised by Jörg Haustein and hosted by the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS. GloPent would like to thank the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at SOAS, Brot für die Welt, and the Evangelische Missionswerk Deutschland for their generous support.