Authority and the In-common in Processes of Minoritisation: Brazilian Pentecostalism
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This article examines how Pentecostals, recently emerging as active public actors in Brazil, wrestle with traditional top-down and contemporary decentred understandings of authority in seeking to carve a space of recognition for themselves and to project a public vision of a virtuous society based on their religious perspective. Their emergence at once challenges elements of the country’s political tradition and disputes other minorities’ views on what binds people together and what can be shared in the public sphere. Resisting both secular and ecumenical constructions of the common (shared life, national identity, culture, group ethos, etc.), Pentecostal minoritisation also struggles between its affirmation of the ‘democratic’, free gift of the Spirit, its multiple expressions and their situated reception of it. Minoritarian public religion raises a number of questions about what remains common across differences and the authority of religion over the wider range of public culture and political representation. Subject to multiple lines of force, such forms of emergence of ‘sectarian’ communalism in contexts of growing pluralisation and deterritorialisation are bound to produce various articulations of being-together and being-with and highlight the ambiguity of constructions of the in-common from below. Seeking to nurture community, setting boundaries between communities and appealing to overarching community values and shared legacies, religious minoritisation becomes both a source of commonality and distancing. The argument focuses on how Brazilian Pentecostals have built social and political authority from the bottom up, but in ambivalent ways, against the background of Jean-Luc Nancy’s construal of the common, interrogating both with further reference to Derrida’s notion of hospitality and Laclau’s concept of populism.
KeywordsPentecostalism Brazil Authority Minoritisation Democratisation
This article examines how Pentecostals, recently emerging as active public actors in Brazil, wrestle with traditional top-down and contemporary decentred understandings of authority in seeking to carve a space of recognition for themselves and to project a public vision of a virtuous society based on their own religious perspective. Pentecostals have, since the mid-1980s, become a mandatory reference in public life in the country, and provide an intriguing case of multidimensional pluralism beyond their own ‘official’ self-perception1: strong advocates of a sort of entrepreneurial spirituality, nurtured within a strong communitarian setting (Burity 2013, 2015), they have nonetheless become keenly aware of how an organised minority can achieve great things in the context of pluralising (and globalising) democratisation. Whether one looks at them from a communitarian or public vantage point, the ways they handle and promote leader/led or governing/governed relations show remarkable ability to move up and down, as well as horizontally, at different levels, raising all sorts of issues about patterns of authority and leadership, at organisational, cultural and political levels.2
Pentecostal public emergence is seen from its critics’ perspective as continuing and reinforcing traditional conceptions and practices of production and exercise of moral and political authority in Brazil: authoritarian imposition, hierarchical inclusion, conflation of elite values with national ones, corruption, oligopoly control of the media, privileged access of powerful or co-opted groups to public policy benefits and arenas of decision-making and not least, religious intolerance and confessionalisation of the state (On these traits, see Dagnino et al. 1998; Carvalho 2001; Souza 2003, 2006; Cunha 2006; Botelho 2007; on criticisms of Pentecostal political engagements, see Siepierski 1997; Mariano 1999; Baptista 2009; Mariz 2016).
Pentecostals’ growing preference for hierarchical power structures (encompassing watchful institutional oversight of political representatives), coupled with an almost unregulated authorisation for laypeople to act in promoting the faith, both concentrates and decentralises authority. On the other hand, Pentecostal recently awakened public culture challenges elements of Brazil’s political tradition and disputes other minorities’ views on what binds people together and what can be shared in the public sphere. This is particularly salient in the face of ongoing debates on sexual and reproductive rights, but also in the context of debates on the boundaries of publicly acceptable language and the handling of urban violence. Pentecostal minoritisation—understood in Connolly’s terms (2011), as both a general trend towards the emergence of minorities and their self-assertion as political actors—also struggles between its affirmation of the ‘democratic’, free gift of the Spirit, its multiple expressions and their situated, sometimes frankly contradictory, reception of it.
In this sense, seen as a minoritarian emergence, Pentecostalism as public religion, that is, as religion lived and contested in public, seeking public (both cultural and political) recognition and influence and engaged in public service provision (Casanova 2003; Burity 2015), raises a number of questions about the in-common (shared culture, values, rights, resources belonging to all) across differences and the authority of religion (or better, a religious minority) over public culture and political representation. Subject to multiple lines of force, such forms of emergence of ‘sectarian’3 communalism in contexts of growing pluralisation and deterritorialisation of practices and identities are bound to produce competing articulations of being-together and being-with and highlight the ambiguity of constructions of the in-common from below. Seeking to nurture community, setting boundaries between communities and appealing to overarching community values and shared legacies, religious minoritisation becomes both a source of commonality and distancing.4
In what follows, I seek to develop an empirically inspired argument, drawing on research conducted with Brazilian Pentecostals in Brazil and the UK over the past six years, against the background of Jean-Luc Nancy’s construal of the common, interrogating both the empirical and the theoretical inputs with reference to Derrida’s notion of hospitality and Laclau’s concept of populism. In doing so, I will try and demonstrate that minoritarian engagements with politics in pluralistic landscapes involve a complicated balance between self-assertive identity claims, pluralistic sensitivity, openness to articulation/negotiation with other positions and coming to terms with the antagonistic dimension of the political. While self-assertion clears a space for minoritisation, pluralism provides a more complex set of conditions of possibility for it to thrive, and antagonism strikes a cautionary note against expectations of ‘peace and concord’, by raising the unavoidable questions of limits to coalitions between elites and emerging minorities and of the latter’s co-option by the establishment.
Pentecostals show a remarkable ability to both adapt and offer resistance to such expectations of republican virtue, cultural pluralism and grassroots democratic commitments, as easily found among progressive political actors and academics. They are clearly inside and outside competing constructions of the common in societies struggling with the intimations of minoritisation, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities of Pentecostal renditions of political and cultural activism and how these instantiate new, decentred vis-à-vis reasserted, traditional patterns of moral and political authority at group level and in society at large.
Pentecostal In-common: Community and Difference
In spoken Brazilian Portuguese ‘in common’ (em comum) and ‘uncommon’ (incomum) can sound exactly the same, leaving for the listener to figure out what is meant from context. Although this does not quite work in English, I would like to explore the intimations of such a possible equivocity by way of introducing the questions of what Pentecostals, as a religious minority, have in common with one another, what they sense they have in common with the wider society or particular actors therein and how their uncommon singularity appeals to other social groups as providing common ground or common sense. This three-fold distinction will be spelled out in the last two sections of this article. It is relevant because as a newcomer to the political turf in 1980s Brazil, Pentecostalism has since faced many objections ranging from its ‘foreigness’ to national life (through accusations of being an instrument of American geopolitics) to their divisive impact on grassroots, community bonds (through accusations of sectarianism and proselytism) and self-interested and authoritarian imposition of its views (through parliamentary activity).
Brazilian Pentecostalism went through a remarkable trajectory in the last 30 years which can be described in terms of William Connolly’s concept of minoritisation, but which equally benefits from his sustained reflection on the religious or ‘faith’ dimension of political life (Connolly 2008a, b, 2010, 2011). The concept of minoritisation draws attention to a feature of collective action in contemporary societies which is the proliferation of voices claiming spaces of recognition of rights, reparation of past injustices and political say in the public conversation of the wider society. This expresses and gives shape to a growing pluralisation of socio-political agency, life forms and subjectivities. It also reflects growing mobility of people, who find themselves ‘rubbing shoulders’, as Connolly says, with one another in unprecedented ways. Proximity, inequality and aspirations to enjoyment of rights become globalised and propel minoritisation. The status quo is thereby challenged by emergent practices which invoke notions of justice and self-affirmation to reverse exclusion and discriminations, old and new. Through this, the politically constructed character of existing ‘majority’ regimes is exposed or questioned, demanding the minoritisation of majorities, that is, a levelling of their ‘height’ and ‘numbering’. In the name of justice and democratic rights, majorities are ‘downgraded’ or rescaled to count as one more minority. Religious majorities are no exception. I call this positive minoritisation, because it starts with disempowered groups, it is self-assertive and it is grounded on the dissemination of democratic discourses of rights, pluralism and justice.
There is also a negative minoritisation, which Connolly acknowledges without developing the distinction, as the result of reactive, excluding, discriminatory practices. This largely corresponds to conventional knowledge about minorities as underprivileged or subaltern groups. Negative minoritisation can simply reiterate deep-seated practices of prejudice, segregation, racism, gender subordination and political harassment. But it can also be a resentful, somewhat surprised, reaction to positive minoritisation. It can be expressed by indifference as much as by antagonism and involve plain expressions of prejudice and discrimination or subtler forms of exclusion through legal and political regulation of access, recognition and freedom.
The controversial ways in which Brazilian Pentecostalism emerged both as a demographic phenomenon and as public religion brought to the fore not one but many kinds of minority religious actors, gathered under a common denomination, but also splitting at times across doctrinal, cultural and political lines. Since the early 1980s, according to Brazilian Census data, Pentecostals rose from around 3% of the population to almost 15% in 2010, basically doubling their numbers between 1991 and 2000, when they grew from 5.6 to 10.4% of the population (see Mariano 2004: 121–122; Neri and Melo 2011; Dean 2012; Freston 2007). Their public emergence rallied a motley collection of conservative Protestants under a common name, ‘evangélicos’. They occupied different positions across the political parties’ spectrum, from right to left and many places in between. They formed various alliances with religious and nonreligious actors according to the contentious issues they raised—whether vocal challenges to sexual and reproductive rights, staunch defence of traditional family values or involvement in corruption cases. They represented a true grassroots emergence and yet significant dimensions of their public discourse paralleled the neoliberal rhetoric of entrepreneurialism, competition and consumerism (Burity 2013, 2014). Their internal diversity—in terms of ecclesiological structure, doctrines, size of congregations, social class representation, wealth, individual and corporate political views and degree of professionalisation of their political strategy—added a dizzying note to external observers’ attempt to picture a single or coherent actor. It seemed difficult to see what could possibly there be in common with(in) this emerging minority but because it seemed like it had to be reckoned with, various political players—in government or referenced in civil society and social movement activism—sought to approach or build alliances with Pentecostals.
Over a century, Brazilian Pentecostals thrived in relative obscurity, were it not for occasional cases of religious persecution or discrimination by ordinary Catholics, usually stirred by priests. Their ‘invisibility’ both expressed and reinforced a sectarian identity to form and consolidate. By the late-1970s, under conditions of slow but growing liberalisation of the post-1964 military regime and clear signs of economic downturn, political and sociocultural unrest produced pluralisation in all directions and allowed for various expressions of discontent.
In this context, a number of Pentecostal leaders sought to both promote the awareness that their churches already gathered the majority of non-Catholic Christians in the country and undo the apolitical stance resulting from long decades of public invisibility and oblivion. On the one hand, those leaders appealed to the need for a common voice to be heard in the context of transitional democratisation, in which the language of rights and participation became increasingly disseminated. On the other hand, the perception that a mounting tide of mass mobilisation pointed, in the mid-1980s, to the empowerment of radical democratic demands and collective identities directly influenced by the political and religious left, prompted some Pentecostal leaders to call for mobilisation against what they saw as imminent threats to religious freedom. By 1986, a year after the country’s return to civilian rule, when parliamentary elections were held to form a Constituent Assembly, a combination of local and national efforts resulted in the election of over 33 members of parliament, most of whom came from Pentecostal ranks. This number oscillated since then, but doubled twice, in 2002 and 2010 (Machado and Burity 2005, 2014; Campos 2010, 2011).
Strongly conversionist, Pentecostals became known for their strict codes of personal morality (not applicable to neo-Pentecostals), their demands for equal treatment by the state in competition with the Catholic Church, their confrontation with Afro-Brazilian religions and more recently their openly anti-LGBT and anti-abortion agenda (here there are divisions among neo-Pentecostals). Their firm roots in poor neighbourhoods all over the country has helped raise their profile as welfare providers and social reconcilers once their political mobilisation led to internal and external pressures for showing practical commitment to people in need, beyond the ranks of the faithful. Actions to address poverty, poor health care and urban violence have become grounds for Pentecostal growth and grassroots empowerment and legitimation. Such credentials have been contradicted, since the mid-1990s, by localised episodes of religious intolerance, self-interested approaches to public resources and allegations of involvement in shady deals with local gangs and drug barons. But the compounded picture projects Pentecostals as a complex case of minority (public) emergence, communitarian virtue and ambivalent public (moral and political) standing that renders their recent deprivatisation (Casanova) an enigma to social analysts and adversaries.
Thus, an uncommon new public actor (or better a plurality of them under a common name, evangélicos) emerged, representing a religious minority which confronted both the majoritarian order5 and other minorities, and was in turn countered from all sides as sectarian, lacking a sense of the general or public interest and vulnerable to ethical-political misconduct. Unexpected, largely unaccepted (or only grudgingly reckoned with), Pentecostal emergence introduced a significant challenge to elite discourses on the promises and limits of democratisation in Brazil. In addition to questions of economic justice, human rights and political participation that were firmly set on the post-1985 public agenda, Pentecostals reopened the debate on state-religion relations, unsettling a tacit constitutional and ideological hegemonic articulation which took for granted, or better, settled, the issue of equal treatment of religions by the state and the limits of religious public engagement. Doing so from a non-secularist and non-Catholic perspective, Pentecostalism enacted a minoritarian move that challenged the status quo, repositioning a number of relevant sociopolitical actors, such as legislators, policy makers, civil society (particularly human rights, feminist and LGBT) organisations and activists, academics and the justice system.
As a result, Pentecostals helped bring to the fore a feature of minority politics which is often obscured in liberal and even some poststructuralist or postmodern approaches—the urge for an emerging minority to successfully build equivalences between its demands and those of other actors who are also challenging or resisting the established order. They also helped to inscribe in public debate and in the horizons of participatory demands the question of religious identity, in terms which jarred with the taken-for-granted place and role of Catholicism in Brazilian socio-political affairs. Pentecostal minoritisation never conformed to single-issue collective action (not even religious freedom or traditional values) or posited an opposition between minoritisation and struggles for hegemony. Rather, they have employed tactical and strategic logics involving articulations, coalition building and self-interested claims to carve a space of recognition in a situation which largely overlapped national identity, Catholicism and the political order. The historical solution to the ‘separation of church and state’ issue among Brazilian political, economic, social movement and academic elites had reconciled in a remarkably stable way the neutralisation of Catholic hierarchy’s interference in state affairs with granting the Church’s institutional voice a legitimate place in the definition of public authority, through the portrayal of Catholicism as a binding cultural foundation of national identity and of the Church as a longstanding welfare provider. The rise of ‘evangelicals in politics’ in the mid-1980s decisively disturbed that elite pact (Burity 2016).
Such an interpretation of how the transformations of Brazilian public life were prompted by the implications of the process of democratisation, despite all its constraints and shortcomings, calls for a broader take on the question of the socio-political bind in contemporary societies. It calls for a consideration of how anything can be shared by various social and political identities in dispute with one another. It calls for a consideration of the importance of processes of minoritisation to account for emergent forms of political action and micro-processes of cultural contestation, in order to better grasp how majoritarian regimes become established and are challenged by claims to democratic inclusion and participation. It calls for due attention to forms of collective identity which reassert the value of (religious, local, national) community while enacting polemical minoritarian figurations of it that immediately raise the question of whose community and the boundaries of the in-common that gathers, separates, ignores or opposes social demands and the actors formed around them into a majoritarian order. Finally, the interpretation presented above calls for the acknowledgement of the irreducible antagonistic dimension of the political and its production of difference and commonality as asymmetric and unstable formations, allowing for unpredictable demands and processes of hegemonisation to redraw the boundaries of the public sphere beyond the state or any particular definition of what holds the social together.6
In the following sections I will try to expand this protocol of interpretation by focusing on conceptions and practices of moral and political authority that respond to the intimations of the preceding analysis. I will operate with an underlying hypothesis on the multiplicity of ways in which minoritisation and hegemony relate, widening spaces for politicisation but also implicating minority actors in disputes for moral and political leadership. Empirically, the minimal references are the experience of democratisation in post-dictatorship Brazil, since the mid-1980s and the impact of current forms of globalisation cutting across local and national boundaries. Such processes set off dynamics in which the contingency of institutional framings and legitimate forms of collective identity or community exposed both the narrow and authoritarian limits of cultural and political life and the dispersal of demands of inclusion, distribution and participation. My hypothesis is that the possibility for a new experience of moral and political leadership (Gramsci’s shorthand definition of hegemony) in this context can no longer point to or even afford a single place of convergence or irradiation. Public authority becomes a site of permanent contestation. And this leads to the emergence of multiple and complex forms of production of community ties and leadership. In this case, through religious identity, cultural affirmation and political disputes for recognition and influence.
Democratisation opens up an indeterminate range of expectations of public recognition and demands for access, justice and voice which introduce an ever-expanding series of inclusive moves. Where democratic demands will emerge or who will ‘oversee’ the overall cohesion of the democratic order is not pre-given or settled once and for all. On the other hand, globalisation has, in highly asymmetric ways, constrained autochthonous delimitations of culture, identity, economic and political sovereignty, but also intriguingly amplified the circulation and articulation of minor expressions of such autochthony. If the global/local nexus effectively harms vulnerable and historically wronged identities and communities, it also provides opportunities, through some of the flows and networks which have become a feature of contemporary globalisation, to project minoritisation across borders and back into local arenas of contestation.7 Thus, we see an emerging multidimensional picture that, while magnifying asymmetries of power amongst global and local actors also exhibits promises of justice and empowerment for minority groups. The picture is not about juxtaposition or contiguity but interweaving, articulation and nested forms of self-assertion (differentiation) and being-together. It is multidimensional because things may be taking place simultaneously and yet not producing a single or coherent thread or gravitational force among them. It is also multidimensional because what democratisation and globalisation are or can achieve, who can be part of them or lead them mean different things for different actors at different times. Such pluralised agendas and actors rub shoulders with one another, activating both forms of coalition and togetherness and sites of friction, contestation and realignment.
Before I move on to how I see Pentecostals and Pentecostalism as one such site of production of community, minority identification and figuration of moral and political leadership which at once unites and divides, shares and disperses identity, community and authority, I would like to provide three very brief conceptual threads, based on the works of Jean Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida and Ernesto Laclau, well-known for their insistence on the undecidable relation between difference and commonality. Through them, I seek to undergird the explanation of Pentecostal public emergence as an articulation of plurality, commonality, majority reactions to minoritisation, the articulation of minority voices and their impact on hegemonic formations.
Nancy and Exposure as the In-common of Community
For him this raises questions about what is really achieved in being-together, living together, acting together:
existence is only in being partitioned and shared. But this partition, which we could call the ‘unto-itselfness’ of existence, does not distribute a substance or a common meaning. It parcels out only the exposition of being, the declension of self, the faceless trembling of exposed identity: we are what it divides and parcels out. (Idem: 4–5)
The implication of this, to bring the matter back to the questions I wish to address here, is that to think about the emergence of minority actors seeking to exercise new forms of public authority (that is, being seen, heard and given due attention to) requires an attention to the multiplicity of what is ‘out there’, both as an established order and as events of emergence. Whether emergent forms bring tidings of a new quality of being to bear against rigid or chaotic oppressive existence, or are mere variations of existing forms, one needs to recognise this inside-outside dimension not to miss the fact that emergence may be unpredicted but not necessarily unheard-of, it may be transformative but not necessarily fully consistent with itself, it may produce new forms of (the political) community, but it will inevitably fall short of coinciding with it.
“With,” “together,” or “in common” obviously do not mean “in one another,” nor do they mean “in each other's place.” That would imply an exteriority. (Even in love, one is “in” the other only outside the other. The child “in” its mother is also exterior in that interiority, although in quite another way. And in the most assembled crowd, one is not in the place of the other.) But “with” does not mean “next to,” or “juxtaposed,” either. The logic of the “with” —of the being-with, of the Mitsein that Heidegger makes contemporary and correlative with the Dasein—is the singular logic of an inside-outside. (...) A logic of the limit pertains to what is between two or several, belonging to all and to none—not belonging to itself, either. (Idem: 6)
In raising the question of the extent to which Pentecostalism is both a harbinger of any new form of public authority in a context of enhanced participation, and even who Pentecostals are as public actors, I suggest we do not lose this from sight. Because the experience of community that Pentecostals live and which they have recently tried to project on other forms of life in Brazil, through legislation or public policies, will not only always be a singular one but already more-than-one, not one with itself. Pentecostals ‘do not represent’ all Brazilians, and Pentecostals are not all the same, do not all think the same way, do not act the same way. So, one cannot tell a single story about that which is not one. As Nancy in rather aforistic manner says, in two ways: ‘there is no common being, no substance, no essence, or common identity, but that there is being in common’ (Idem: 7); and ‘[n]othing is more common than being: it is the self-evidence of existence. Nothing is more uncommon than being: it is the self-evidence of community.’ (Idem: 8).
Pentecostalism has ‘touched’ Brazilian politics and this has affected both. And many faces of Pentecostalism have since become visible, from the angry or cynical parliamentary elite to critical, progressive young laypeople and pastors/theologians, from classical ‘sectarian’ Pentecostals to prosperity-gospel consumerist neo-Pentecostals. Contestation coming from political adversaries and academic critics has implicated them in drawing moving boundaries for and against the ‘evangélicos’ minority; a telling example came from feminists, LGBT and human rights activists.
Being in common, or being together, or more simply still, or in a starker [dénudée] form, being several, is being in affect: being affected and affecting. It is being touched and touching. “Contact” – contiguity, brushing together, encountering and clashing – is the fundamental modality of the affect. For what the touch touches is the limit: the limit of the other, that is to say the other body (2007: 12, emphasis added).
Derrida and Hospitality
The question of hospitality refers to both the arrival of something or someone who is precisely not (or, in certain cases, no longer) part of the home, the community, and to the rules of engagement between those who already inhabit, and maybe own, the place. Hospitality then has to do, in the discussion I am proposing here, with how the experience, legitimacy, reasons and demands of the other who/which comes finds room for sharing on the status quo and its protocols of recognition, of participation, in other words, is given a legitimate place in the political community, even though this sharing, this finding space for accommodation, this extension of hospitality to the newcomer, may only take place by unsettling the peace of the community, challenging its hold on the boundaries and possession of the home, which precisely would only accept commonality with whoever/whatever is already included. In a sense, Derrida’s problematic of hospitality announces the conflictive and political dimension of hospitality when it is no longer a question of temporarily welcoming the stranger, who will not stay, but opening up for long-term residence and claim on the rights of citizenship (Derrida 2000a, b, 2005). This recent condition—which more obviously applies to the debate on immigration and asylum-seeking, but can easily inform the debate on emergent political subjectivities, on the recognition of new political actors—is alien to the traditional thought of hospitality, which always stipulates rules and conditions for its granting, and has therefore always inscribed this relationship to the other within the juridico-political bounds of the state. Even to qualify as a guest, as worthy of hospitality, one needs, at the very least, to spell out one’s identification (one’s name and origin), credentials, good faith, intentions, length of stay, and all this takes place before the law, placing or refusing place to the newcomer through the law (Derrida 2000b: 27, 29). And yet hospitality is not contained at this level or by this jurisdiction, especially when the guest takes place and stays, eventually claiming ownership over the community.
Around the question of hospitality, I wish to raise the issue of minoritisation, that is, of the emergence of a hitherto unexpected actor in the political system, in mainstream culture, of the recognition of an authority to speak of things political and to have a say in the cultural conversation about what makes the home a home, what gives place to whom under what conditions in the national identity/culture, in political institutions, in local community life. How is a minority received as a legitimate participant in these contexts?
As religion, as a religion of unrefined theologians and pastors and ‘sectarian’ ordinary followers, as religion trespassing the bounds of the public (without, in this case, being the religion of the home, Catholicism), as politicised religion that does not seem to speak the language of ‘secular’ politics (which seems to be the first question posed to any guest/visitor/foreigner in search of hospitality—cf. Derrida 2000b: 15, 17), Pentecostalism raises all sorts of questions of hospitality to the Brazilian democratising context.
To frame the question of minoritisation as a problem of hospitality means to be on the alert for the un-commonality the arriving guest may embody, before any understanding is worked out, any translation, any trust, or perhaps any pact that would lay out the conditions of acceptance, of sharing in the common of the community, that is, its rules, rights, mores. Because, although the first guests may settle in and stay, adjust to the rights and duties of hospitality, it is not given that similar others will not disturb the negotiated space and rules of the home. Who can tell if or when the settled guests, or those who joined them later, will not become hostile and hold us hostages to them, threatening our community life? Should recognition of second-generation guests be secured in the same way? (Derrida 2000b: 21, 23, 25, 53, 55).
My point is that the emergence of Pentecostalism as public religion in Brazil issued in a problem of hospitality, and Derrida’s analysis of the complexity and puzzling dynamics of political recognition of ‘foreigners’ raises relevant questions about the unwillingness and discomfort that the ‘arrival’ of Pentecostals have produced in Brazilian politics.
Laclau and Populism
A lot of recent discussions on new parameters of representation tend to point to what would lie beyond representation through a reclaiming of direct voice and bodily presence—no more delegation, no unqualified representation, direct action, etc. In the face of a representative malaise in democratic institutions, which no longer prove to be responsive enough, accountable enough, to their citizens, the construction of spaces and experiences of the common has been associated to a proliferation of sites of self-presentation, of irreducible singularities, and yet, to an imagination of a certain form of convergence, solidarity, or brief but intense encounters where a commonality could emerge. Commonality without institutionalisation, a non-substantive sharing, sharing as dispersal, not as communion. Of course, this is said with Nancy in mind. Nevertheless, I would like to make a necessary qualification to this figuration of what would be pointing to new, emergent forms of power or authority. This will be done with reference to Ernesto Laclau’s concept of populism (2005a, b, 2006).
Although Laclau is vividly interested in emergent forms of political subjectivity that can challenge situations where demands are not being met or may even been prevented from articulation in the public domain, he gives keen attention to relationality. He raises various reservations against approaches based on emergence that would privilege the dimension of extensionality, horizontality or contiguity between various forms of identification and collective action, such as liberal multiculturalism or single-issue politics (Laclau 2005a: 68). The kind of aggregation the category of the people involves is more than the mere transience of a multitude, or the convergence of interests through a liberal contract. But it is also less than the fusion of a mass or the mystical fusion of a spiritual or religious togetherness.
Because ‘the people’ is a relational category, it does refer to the common, but only to the extent that such commonality results from two movements. In the first one various, different and unconnected singularities (persons, movements, organisations, informal groups, states, localities, etc.) experience scarcity, pain, oppression, fear, insecurity, injustice and denial of rights and come to associate those to a certain situation, order of things, sometimes even specific groups or people (that is the antagonistic moment which produces a relative simplification of the social, or some area of the social). The second movement refers to how those differences recognise what they hold in common, and this is not simply shared contexts, wishes or identity traits; it is, above all, a reference to a common other as ‘responsible’ for their lived/perceived predicaments. Thus, the opposition to this common enemy turns their grievances and demands equivalent to one another. However, if these demands are to really change the situation, they cannot just assert themselves, they must be organised. And here, because none is the natural bearer of authority or embodies all other demands, one of those demands (which may be voiced by various groups or a movement), without ceasing to be particular, usually takes on the role of representing all others, coming to name the ensemble of aspirations and complaints. Where this fails to develop, demands will be treated separately, granted or denied, or co-opted, undoing the collective formed and bringing life ‘back to normal’. Where it succeeds, we have a people.
Two implications emerge here: first, that nothing essentially requires that a particular difference will take the place of general equivalence, of representation, of political authority. This is an entirely contingent process. Secondly, such commonality will remain dependent on the relation with the antagonising order as well as the ability of the emerging leadership to coordinate, rally and lead the other demands. There is nothing substantively shared, distributed across either side of the political divide. The people, a people, is the name of such a relational complex drawing a line between irreducible singularities being antagonised, done wrong to, and the situation or force that is held responsible for such perceived threat or source of dislocation, in such a way that only in defeating the latter can the former ‘be who they are’, in their singularity.
So, a/the people can be embodied in any difference, in principle, provided the latter succeeds in taking on such a general function of representing the possibility of community. In other words, a people is a composite actor, represented by a particular demand (through its bearers), whose unity depends on a political relation to an opposed order. Nancy’s description of the common can be recalled here. Such production of the people, of a name for the community and/or for what the latter stands for or promises to achieve, requires, for Laclau, more than mere proliferation of demands and less than any sense of an inherent and lasting commonality. Populism is the name of the articulatory logic briefly described above and can inform different forms of demand and collective action, and be claimed by different agents.
As regards Pentecostalism, there are several aspects of Laclau’s approach that can carry weight, and that I highlight while suggesting their interconnections: (a) Brazilian Pentecostalism emerged—having subsisted for over seven decades without any indication to that effect—in the context of a protracted and controlled democratisation process, involving both a political crisis of the military regime to secure its self-preservation and self-reform and a deterioration of the population’s lives through economic recession, growing unemployment and high inflation; (b) rather than having contributed to setting in motion that democratising process in the mid-1970s, Pentecostals benefited initially from the slackening of the authoritarian order’s grip over social, cultural and political groups and movements, and then emerged claiming a share in the newly accomplished democratisation in as from the early 1980s, alongside a plethora of other demands for distribution, recognition and participation; (c) Pentecostal minoritisation was also a claim on the very definition of the (Brazilian) people, as part of it and as willing to contribute towards it; (d) ultimately aiming to ‘redeem’ the nation and its political life through a moralisation of politics, Pentecostalism did not succeed but it did become a surface for the inscription of many religious and social demands from different people, whether Protestants or not, and managed to carve a space for its own visibility as it took on a function of representing and articulating certain kinds of democratic conservative views and demands. In sum, a ‘Pentecostal people’ was formed as from the mid-1980s which has increasingly included non-Pentecostals, through a representation of conservative moral views within a democratic order.
Sharing (or dispersing) Authority
I think it is time for a more direct exploration of how Pentecostal emergent authority unfolds, preventing a synthetic and coherent narrative but highlighting the complexity of such practices as minoritarian. In the process, I will relate to the conceptual framework laid out above. In the next subheadings, I wish to explore dispersal, concentration and building of authority in the trajectory of Pentecostalism as public religion in Brazil. These images can provide a way to address the issues I am pursuing, namely, what Pentecostals have in common with one another, how they exercise authority in the public domain and what in Pentecostalism is appealing to other social groups as providing common ground or common sense.
It is almost a commonplace in studies of Pentecostalism that, as a global phenomenon, it involves strong experiences of community where ordinary and marginalised people alike find a space for recognition and empowerment (Pew Research 2013; Miller and Yamamori 2007; Martin 2003). Some observers are sometimes enthusiastic about the ability demonstrated by a movement largely led by poor or otherwise ordinary people, frequently drawn from the underside of history and institutional life (whether schools, academia, organised civil society, business organisations or political representation) to grow and morph into cultural and political forces across the so-called global South. We hear conjectures about their potential to enact another Reformation in a context of declining religious adherence in the old European centres of power and the promise of reinvention of new forms of social bind making their way towards mainstream society from below and from its periphery.
In other words, studies of global Pentecostalism have increasingly constructed a narrative that links up voluntaristic, community-based, charismatic religion to notions of civic virtue, sociocultural rebuilding of collective belonging and personal self-confidence, pluralistic (if contentious) affirmation of religious freedom and moral values, with occasional forays into radical social activism (particularly through networks of civic associations and grassroots ethnocultural movements) (see, for a fragment of this literature, Corten and Marshall-Fratani 2000; Martin 2003, 2011; Freston 2004; Anderson 2004; Jenkins 2006; Miller and Yamamori 2007; Meyer 2010; Yong 2010).
The evidence is of course a lot more nuanced and ultimately undecidable, but there are grounds to believe that such portrayals of Pentecostalism do have some bite. They highlight myriad forms of small and large endeavours to form communities; to instil in marginalised or vulnerable people a sense of self-worth and self-reliance; to provide access to a form of symbolic power which can authorise unsuspecting voices to impart knowledge, inspire moral guidance and stir public mobilisation as they tap into, or respond to, spiritual sources of wisdom and empowerment. These things do not all add up to a homogeneous political identity or follow a linear path. But they cannot be ignored.
Thus, producing alternative sources of authority in different social and political contexts and providing concrete, local as much as networked, forms of mutual recognition speak to what Pentecostals have in common with one another. Within Pentecostal churches, people are encouraged to seek, embody and share spiritual and scriptural experiences that produce effects on themselves and on others. Whether uncompromising ‘sectarians’ or in open dialogue with the wider areas of society, Pentecostal church life provides people with other practices of subjectivation, energies of minoritisation that may lead to politicisation. Leaders emerge among them by divine calling; seers, prophet(esse)s, healers bring closer at hand contact with mysteries of existence and bodily well-being: self-giving, voluntary spirit moves some to attend to material and emotional needs of fellow members. Men and women, young and elderly, seem to all be at least likely to receive from God and all are expected to share whatever gifts to strengthen, guide or rebuke others.
It has also become a striking feature of recent Pentecostal expansion how carefully planned it is, and how much it resorts to network structures of organisation and dispersal of authority. Most of the inputs for this have indeed come from the spread of market structures and practices, especially under the influence of neoliberal and new (public) management discourses. But the clear tendency towards adoption of networked forms of activism and organisation among social movements and NGOs has not gone unnoticed within Pentecostalism. From both sides, through dissemination or emulation, churches have not only multiplied their levels of leadership and ‘management’ but they have, as organisations themselves, stepped into public life in ways that provoked repositioning and redistributive power effects in Brazilian society.
Such qualities of group life have often highlighted a perception of tightly knit communities, sometimes striking warning notes about manipulation and constrained behaviour, sometimes being hailed as genuine alternatives to marginalisation or dislocation leading to proto-democratic experiments. In such churches, emotional worship, mutual service and self-reliance require arts of autonomous governance in which people are trained on-the-job, whether as pastors, ministry leaders, administrators or hired staff for daily duties. Learning to live in community comes coupled with learning to exercise a variety of community chores and responsibilities with an overall effect of empowering individuals and tying them up firmly to the organisation.
The post-1980s political rise of Pentecostals has demonstrated how instrumental church socialisation has proved to project successful political careers, in the absence of previous histories of participation in social movements, civic associations or political parties. A new development introduced by two of the largest Brazilian Pentecostal denominations, the setting up of a ‘political council’ at national level, allowed for both strategy, training and monitoring to unfold that trickled down all the way to congregational life (Burity 2006; Giumbelli 2008; Mariano and Oro 2011).
However, one should resist idealisation. Because another very distinctive feature of Pentecostalism as a movement is its incredible drive to split and break into new and agonistic formations. And this is so for reasons that are not accidental to the experience of identity and community within Pentecostalism. Let us mention two of these situations which at once represent what is in common and what prevents communion, unity in Pentecostalism. In other words, Pentecostals are not one within themselves and power contests, not just doctrinal matters, often lead to splintering.
Firstly, access to divine gifts, resulting in special knowledge and wisdom or in special powers to heal often create expectations of recognition which may not be met. Speaking in tongues, interpreting them, healing through prayer and laying on of hands, receiving messages from the Holy Spirit to be addressed to particular individuals or to the whole congregation, developing leadership and management skills hitherto unknown—these things are said to be both ‘available’ to any and dependent upon spiritual exertion, so not everyone achieves them. But they are not, in fact, equally available. This is where such expectations may generate tension with the already recognised authorities within the community or the denomination (as a translocal body, beyond and above the congregation) leading up to splintering.
Secondly, leadership within Pentecostalism is connected to two rituals of authorisation that rely entirely on consent to be initiated: possession of spiritual gifts that produce recognition by others and transmission of charisma, usually along kinship lines. None are inherent in individuals. They are recognised or (forcefully) ascribed to some of them. Pentecostal leaders are people who have been spotted or put themselves forward or who have received their standing from a retiring leader (parent, relative or in-law are the most frequent cases). There is a strong tendency for leadership in this context to be strong and bound to the will of the leader. One should not think that this in any way weakens the role and importance of consent. Moral slippages or arbitrary exercise of authority, in voluntary associations such as these, will often cost the withdrawal of support.
Pentecostals may be acquiescent and conformist vis-a-vis their leaders, but they are not dupes. In any case, attitudes to authority, when it usually emerges among equals, can lead to failures of identification of emerging leaders or acceptance and legitimation of aspiring ones. This produces tensions and sometimes conflicts resulting in reinforcement of powerful leadership or in the emergence of a contesting and inassimilable one, therefore, a step away from a new Pentecostal community to be formed.
In sum, the spiritual sources of power, knowledge and special skills offered to the religious community are in principle accessible to all, but are not distributed evenly or fairly. When the personal combination of innate propensities and specially acquired spiritual gifts is met by group recognition, charisma turns into authority and is both shared with the community and strengthens the overall ‘institutional charisma’ of the community (Oro 2003; Burity 2006). But, many times, emergent authority is confronted by established forms of leadership that will not let go, will not share, or is met with a lack of enthusiasm for the same revelations or alternative style of leadership.
In such cases, sharing authority leads to dispersal. Following a logic which is not at all strange to radical political activism, splintering and regrouping is a recurrent form of dispersal of authority. Although it may lead to later convergences, its usual lasting result is an agonistic relationship among fellow Pentecostal churches and members. If Pentecostal rise to public prominence can be seen as a process of minoritisation through which it claims recognition, inclusion or simply denounces wider social, cultural and political practices Pentecostals will not condone, grassroots-level sharing/dispersal of authority and its splintering implications amount to micro processes of minoritisation within the Pentecostal fold itself. What Pentecostals hold in common is not, following Nancy, in this sense, communion of being.
Thus, authority does not inhere in the faith community but is produced in such ways that can always lead to both shared recognition and conflictive dispersal. This very dynamic is then raised to a different level when Pentecostals ‘cross the line’ into the public realm: (a) their ‘sectarian’ ethos is met with uneasiness or rejection, leading them to claim an authority lacking in that realm (Derrida); (b) they have to find ways of ‘hiding’ their fissiparous behaviour by projecting an image of a unified bloc, ‘os evangélicos’, with a mission to redeem the political, which is however not unified (Nancy); (c) their unexpected and unwanted appearance forces them to both claim hospitality (Derrida) and build alliances and equivalences between their demands and those of other actors (both inside and outside the official space of representation)—they have to construct a people (Laclau); (d) thus, public authority is decentred and dispersed, if only in some respects, creating space for a contestation of the dominant cultural and political codes.
Concentrating, Applying or Imposing Authority
However, there are less edifying stories about Pentecostal experiences of authority. They relate to certain layers of religious identity some of which are common to other religions while others are particular to Pentecostals. In addressing the point on what they deem to have in common with the wider society and how, accordingly, they seek to exercise authority beyond their religious bounds, I would start by stressing the ambivalent effects of Pentecostalism as a public force. On the one hand, minoritisation has certainly successfully projected Pentecostals as public actors and spread their influence culturally. On the other hand, Pentecostals have tended to champion conservative views on family, sexuality, cultural/ethnic identity, education and biotechnology that set them in sharp contrast to gender, sexual and ethnic minority politics as well as the academia. Although Pentecostal politicians and denominational leaders have been shrewd enough to constantly seek to build coalitions of the like-minded, across religious, party and ideological divides, Pentecostals’ stance has marked their public perception as politically uncompromising, intolerant and regressive. Using their political leverage—through an Evangelical Parliamentary Front which gathers over 120 members in the Brazilian National Congress (Medeiros and Fonseca 2016; Baptista 2009)—to block demands, halt or reverse legal achievements of civil rights movements in the country, has attracted bad publicity and antagonism toward Pentecostal public figures. It communicates a message of either anxious conservative rebuttal against changes that have significant popular support or attempts to impose values and practices stemming from a very particular form of social identity on other social groups. Even though such criticism has not directly translated into general rejection of the cultural relevance of the Pentecostal faith and social contribution of its organisations, it raises issues about their ability to handle deeper regimes of pluralism, about their ability to sustain and expand the ‘Pentecostal people’, in Laclau’s sense, they have so far mobilised.
Thus, the controversies Pentecostal emergence has sparkled since its rise to public visibility in the 1986 national elections stem from both its style of exercising authority in some kind of oracular capacity (that is, voicing the will of God) and from its success in giving voice to long excluded and politically alienated Brazilian citizens, to take political office and influence policy and legal decisions affecting Brazilian society in general.
Minoritisation, if sustained long enough, can lead to assemblages, coalitions and disseminative effects that translate as Laclau’s stress on building hegemony through the construction of a people (Laclau 2006). That means that emergent authority may find the means to make hegemonic advances while remaining minoritarian—whether in numerical or political terms, or both. If, with Laclau, one can say that contemporary democratic struggles irreducibly exhibit two dimensions—equivalence/difference, hegemony/autonomy, democracy/populism, then Pentecostal minoritisation, however one evaluates or judges its political meaning, is a good example of that double bind. Even as it shares and disperses authority, some of it can morph into political leverage that concentrates institutional authority and seeks to project values and practices of the religious community beyond its strictly communitarian or broader denominational bounds.
Building Public Authority
Lastly, I would like to comment on how Pentecostal singularity appeals to other social groups as providing common ground or common sense. Having experienced dispersed authority within their own communities and struggled for a dispersal of authority at political and cultural levels, making them hospitable in their claim to be a legitimate part of the people, Pentecostals have consistently engaged in disputes with other public actors, striving to reap benefits from the majoritarian rules of political democracy such as legislation as a production of binding rules and norms, and political rights to aggregate interests and voices in elections, gather votes in parliament or take positions in government cabinets that will translate into public policies.
Of course, such shows of strength, when they happen, can seem threatening, especially if they produce negative implications for the forms of life of other minorities. However, Pentecostal politics has learned to operate within the rules of the democratic game—though there have been strong reservations, by adversaries and critics, whether Pentecostal politicians subscribe wholeheartedly to those rules. As a result, Pentecostal politics is a case of success in showing the possibility for minoritisation to link up with hegemonic processes, but it also shows that this is not a seamless and irreversible process.
At this level of analysis, the question is not so much whether this all should add up to more democratic forms and experiences of emergent authority. The important point, for political analysis—as distinct from political commitment and activism—is that the process of Pentecostal minoritisation has not followed a single path or led to a single outcome. I have pointed to internal differences among Pentecostals. I have pointed to cultural and political impacts of Pentecostalism. I have mentioned a general trend to do politics from its more conservative quarters. But this has not prevented participation in left-wing politics. This was openly the case between 2003 and 2016, under Workers’ Party-led coalitions. There have been Pentecostals in the ranks of progressive political parties in Brazil, several of whom have been elected at different levels. There are Pentecostals in radical social movements. Pentecostal well-known fissiparity does not apply only to doctrine and ecclesial politics, but also to ideological dispersal and, therefore, informs different kinds of political mobilisation and participation. This plurality has allowed for multiple ways of responding to their call for hospitality and their attempts to summon a collective voice in public life.
As far as building public authority is concerned, Brazilian Pentecostalism has succeeded in harnessing consent or adherence from ordinary citizens and potential political and cultural allies. They get votes from a much wider constituency than their churches. They become interlocutors of many ordinary people’s grievances and demands in everyday situations. If democratisation and the global spread of discourses favouring mobilisation, participation and network forms of governance are conditions of possibility for such stories, we still need to be specific about how this benefits Pentecostalism. To mention but a few aspects of its ability to contribute to emergent experiences of participation and alternative moral and political leadership, let me stick to three examples: electoral strength, organisational capillarity reaching across every corner of the Brazilian territory and the strong emphasis (not always honoured, to be sure) on connecting personal morality and public behaviour.
Over the last decades, a growing acknowledgement has taken place among practitioners of different kinds and persuasions—politicians, government officials, public agencies’ staff responsible for the implementation of public policy programmes, civil society activists, etc.—that constraints coming from fiscal pressures, neoliberal attacks on state-led economic and social policies, failure of comprehensive political ideologies, recommended a humbler approach to public action. This tallied with demands from grassroots movements and local or international NGOs for increased mechanisms of direct participation in policy decision making, but also in institutional politics (through referenda, plebiscites and other forms of general consultation). This created a space for the recent wave of public religion—for religious voices to articulate political demands and for religious organisations to become sites of policiticisation taking on public spaces.
Arguments then began to emerge that challenged the hybrid ‘Catholic/secularist’ structure of political discourse and operation of state institutions. While the demographic factor (evangelical growth) justified a pragmatic approach to non-Catholic religious leaders and communities, two other arguments related more clearly to serious dialogue: first, the recognition that such groups were present and active where state bodies could not reach; and second, that ordinary people did relate and trust such religious leadership coming from below, seeing a certain coherence between their religious values and public behaviour. So, electoral politics increasingly enlisted the support of non-Catholic religious leaders; policy makers sought to develop partnerships with local churches and denominational bodies in order to gain leverage and turn more efficacious social, educational, health, cultural and public safety programmes; and against the background of the widespread perception of ingrained corruption in politics, ‘ethics in politics’ discourse gained ground, in the early-1990s, among civil society actors and an array of political representatives which opened the doors for religious contestants putting themselves forward as reformers of public morality with plausible credibility.
On such bases, a wide range of situations opened up for deep and extensive involvement of Pentecostals (as well as other religious actors) in public affairs, which have produced a significant impact on participatory politics, policy implementation and relationships developing across civil society-religious groups-state agencies, contributing to at least incremental changes to political culture, public accountability and policy effectiveness. The record is not straightforwardly positive, as repeated allegations of corruption have implicated all sorts of public agents, but it seems to me beyond dispute that the broad scenario of participation, which coincides with the momentum of Pentecostal emergence, provides interesting stories on which to ponder when it comes to the question of new patterns of social and public authority in the context of participatory democratisation.
I have argued in this paper for a reception of public religion as a good site for exploring the multidimensional character of emergent patterns of authority as linked up to enhanced (horizontal and vertical) participation, cutting across everyday/grassroots and institutionalised dimensions of politics, and involving both radical and conservative directions. Pentecostalism has long ceased to be a localised phenomenon. Not only it has become globalised, but truly glocalised in the double sense that translocal features are reinterpreted and re-enacted locally and that local experiences continually cross borders physically and virtually, through migration, missions, websites, social media and other communication devices and resources, producing effects well beyond their situated origins.
But the process of creating space for alternative forms of authority needs probing. It is hugely contested and uncertain in its outcomes. Because it calls for hitherto excluded or invisible actors to be seen and accepted as legitimate, such process involves claims on what is considered to be common to all by the established order but is challenged as not inclusive enough. It involves requirements from the challenged order for newcomers to prove their credentials, trustworthiness. However, emerging contestants are not at one with themselves, they are not homogeneous collectives. And their ‘entry rights’ require engaging, confronting and negotiating with others—both within and outside the hegemonic order. Which at once sets off a relational dynamic that will divide and transform the aspiring actors ‘original’ identities. The rules of political hospitality and the concrete allies and adversaries interfere create the possibility for emergence and set limits to it or contest it.
Pentecostalism has engaged with alternative forms of building and sharing authority in unpredictable ways and with unexpected results, and I offered three examples of how this took place, through electoral empowerment (an aspect of minoritisation), recognition of their rooting in local realities and appeal to ordinary citizens (ability to construct a people), and perception but also constant assessment of coherence between personal beliefs/community ethos and political behaviour (an index of authority in the making). Pentecostals have managed to displace certain traditional preserves of power and authority, bringing forth new actors, new patterns of action, controversial as they would have been anyway. Dispersing authority, this produced democratising effects (that is, more participants and more spaces for political participation).
We need to take both a critical and ‘pedagogical’ standing in assessing these stories. Because they point at once to different directions, not always convergent, not always guaranteeing political virtue, but certainly contributing to a plausible claim to emergent forms of democratic authority in the context of globalisation. In such a context, we need more, not less, agents of change. They need not be angels (and they certainly are not!), only folks willing to play pluralistic games of hospitality and construction of the people. This does not come naturally. Pluralism is still a challenge for Brazilian political culture. But in the fact that Pentecostals are both bent on leaving their mark in social and political life and not alone in this endeavour, chances are that agonistic pluralism can still thrive. Those games can also reveal weaknesses of Pentecostal politics, its division with itself and affection of others (Nancy), leading them to defeats. Such seems to be the current troubled juncture in Brazilian politics.
This does not mean Pentecostals are unaware of their pluralist perspective on public affairs. It means there is more to Pentecostal pluralism than its ‘official line’—provided by its parliamentary elite, its top denominational leaders and its media-savvy most prominent preachers—as mid-range leadership and an emerging young generation’s grassroots articulation show a growing dissonance with that line. It also means, for outside interlocutors and adversaries, that the pluralist implications of Pentecostal public emergence can easily be missed if the focus is only on the ‘official line’ rhetoric and political dealings.
Authority is understood here in the framework of democracy and its expansion. On the one hand, democracy does not have a pre-given guardian or privileged subject. So it involves an endless debate and contestation about the spaces and rules through which democratic actors are acknowledged and act. On the other, it always involves a claim that ordinary folks should have the final say in crucial rituals of authorisation for the exercise of power. Emerging new actors make this claim heard. But democracy is about such claims to equality and participation, not exactly about a structure that already guarantees them. As Claire Blencowe writes, ‘democracy is more fundamentally about where authority rests in society. A democratic society is one where ordinary people have authority; enough authority to make political demands, to hold people to account, to be taken seriously’ (Blencowe 2013). So, who is granted authority, where it comes from and how it translates in terms of wider participation is a problem connecting authority, democracy and participation (Noorani et al. 2013). This article is about one story of construction of authority by an unlikely actor, Pentecostal religion.
I mean a form of spirituality and communal experience of religion that insists on its distinctiveness and tension vis-à-vis society at large or particular aspects of its majority definition. It does not imply—and this is a significant point in the present context—any withdrawal from public culture and political life, but an open challenge to prevailing relations and practices therein, from the perspective of the self-image and ethos of a particular (religious) group, leading to various levels of engagement aimed at transforming the social order. Because agonistic engagement is an enduring feature of this public profile, the perception generated by such practices is that of a confronting sectarian behaviour.
This way of framing the question of the emergence of Pentecostalism as a public religion and its impact on definitions and institutional expressions of common life in contexts of pluralisation is indebted to William Connolly’s debate on pluralisation (Connolly 2008a, 2011) and articulates, as he also does, concepts coming from a Deleuzian backdrop, such as minoritisation, as a form of public religion. The approach is complemented with other theoretical contributions, as will be seen later.
For the distinction between minority and majority, minoritarian and majoritarian, I refer to Deleuzian analyses on the emergence of a multiplicity of social and political actors since the late 1960s which have challenged the wider forms of social ordering (at cultural, social, political or economic levels) and asserted claims to inclusion or to recognition while refraining from setting their own views and values as blueprints for a new social order (e.g. Connolly 2011; Patton 2000). This challenges the quantitative understanding of those two notions, as numerical minorities can also grip numerical majorities under authoritarian regimes, or form alliances with other minorities to claim leadership, being in this case majoritarian. Minorities, however, as they step into the public limelight will invariably provoke reactions and some realignments among the prevailing majority regimes. In this sense, minoritisation raises immediate questions about whether these emerging public actors do belong to the political community, are to be trusted and reckoned with or have anything in common with the ‘identity’ of that community. Additionally, minorities are not intrinsically ‘emancipatory’ and their identity can change as a result of their engagement with others and with the dominant order. These motifs also resonate with Derrida’s discussion of hospitality and Laclau’s argument of the construction of a people (see also Burity 2015, 2016). I will return to these later.
The implication of such claims at this point is to frame the question of Pentecostalism as a public religion from a specific political perspective, drawing from contemporary political theory, in dialogue with theoretical and empirical social-scientific studies of religion in public life. For reasons of space, it is impossible to provide more than some hints at such a project.
Latin American Pentecostal global expansion and its interaction with both local forms of religious formations and recent global ‘big issues’ (neoliberal economic discourse, poverty, ethnic conflicts, gender and sexual claims to equality, environmental challenges, etc.) are for me telling examples of this set of glocalising trends (see Freston 2004, 2007, 2014; Oro et al. 2012; Meyer 2010; Beyer 2007; Miller and Yamamori 2007; Anderson 2004; Martin 2003; Vásquez and Marquardt 2003; Corten and Marshall-Fratani 2000).
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