God's Peculiar People

God's Peculiar People

Copyright Date: 1988
Edition: 1
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    God's Peculiar People
    Book Description:

    "Holy Rollers" -- with this epithet most people dismiss members of the Pentecostal sect as wild religious fanatics. In this new study, folklorist Elaine Lawless draws on fieldwork among Pentecostal congregations in the limestone region of southern Indiana to offer a sympathetic view of the Pentecostals as a special group distinguished by their own folk traditions and religious expression.

    From her findings she describes the members' codes of dress and behavior, their attitudes toward themselves and others, their special use of words, and their distinctive religious practices. Focusing on the activity of a particular church, she then analyzes the structure of the service and shows how its elements -- singing, praying, testifying, preaching, and speaking in tongues -- exhibit, not a formless display of fervor, but rather an ordered and traditional sequence that creates a unique religious expression.

    Important to the study is the attention given the role of women. Although the Pentecostal interpretation of Biblical teachings accords men dominance, women occasionally preach in the church and during the testifying part of the service they are often able to exercise control and religious authority. Many of the women have relatives in the dangerous work of the limestone quarries, and for these women the personal experience and close relationship fostered by the Pentecostal church, Lawless finds, offers welcome emotional support.

    This readable study affords a new understanding of one Pentecostal sect and an appreciation of the role of women in fundamentalist religious practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4854-0
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    IN MANY respects, the study of American folk religious traditions is still in an embryonic stage. It is unfortunate that such an expressive part of our culture is often ignored, even avoided. But many people feel uncomfortable examining the specifics of religions of their own culture too closely, and many scholars feel trepidation when they find themselves in a religious context unfamiliar to them, especially one that is strongly evangelical and prone to proselytizing, urging not only participation but conversion as well. It seems easier for us to study the Amish, the Orthodox Jew, or “The Cross, the Sword, and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Field Situation
    (pp. 10-34)

    LIMESTONE is at the heart of southern Indiana industry. Much of the land south of Bloomington is pockmarked with the unsightly rubble left by the quarry crews. Cavernous abandoned pits left by the bulldozers are filled now with filmy green water; bits and pieces of rusting machinery lie half buried in the piles of dirt and sand. The land will never be restored to its natural beauty. Crude barbed-wire fences serve little purpose but to accentuate an already ugly scene. Of course, other quarries in the region further to the north are actively being mined, but the gutted landscape here...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Maintaining Boundaries
    (pp. 35-54)

    PENTECOSTALS are acutely aware of the many stereotypes, fears, and apprehensions that non-Pentecostals share about them. They realize that most nonbelievers find their beliefs and religious behavior strange at best and abhorrent and primitive at worst. Strong anti-Pentecostal sentiment from outsiders only feeds the fire of Pentecostalism, however, and is proof enough for them that they are a special religious group.¹ The differences between Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals become exaggerated as the in-group strives to establish an identity that distinguishes it from other groups.² In general, their conscious withdrawal from the world, their vehement rejection of it, and their refusal to...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Discourse Rules
    (pp. 55-76)

    HIGHWAY 341, a “B” paved road, traverses Indiana from north to south, winding its way down to Bedford, the “Limestone Capital of the World.” On a long stretch, where houses appear infrequently and state forests brood on both sides of the hilly, curving road, a tiny handmade sign on the left, easy to miss, points down a dirt road—“Johnson’s Creek Church.” The road immediately dips low, then curves sharply away from the highway and crawls through private fields, passing rambling farm houses, now in poor repair, with kids and dogs running down the hill precariously close to the road....

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Power of the Word
    (pp. 77-109)

    BECAUSE of the preponderance of women in Pentecostal services, it might be assumed that women dominate them. They do not. Although women are active participants, male authority and control must not be confused with female spiritual power. For example, although women can be preachers in this faith, they are less often pastors.¹ Men generally maintain the positions of authority in this religion, as is consistent with a biblically-based hierarchy that places women below men. The sex-linked roles in this traditional religious community dictate behavior models and support only those performances that allow for the maintenance and perpetuation of the status...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 110-112)

    WHEN I first began doing fieldwork in the Pentecostal churches of southern Indiana, I thought perhaps I had stumbled upon a truly egalitarian American situation where women were free to participate openly in religious church services alongside their men. But long months of continued fieldwork and diligent examination of the history of this charismatic religion brought me to an opposite conclusion: the Pentecostal church is one of the best evidences of male dominance and female submission in a modern American context. With the writing of this book, I feel I have settled into some sensible middle ground between these two...

  11. APPENDIX: A Testimony Service
    (pp. 113-125)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 126-133)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 134-154)
  14. Index
    (pp. 155-159)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 160-160)