Urbanization, Pentecostalism, and Islamism

Writing at The Christian Century, Philip Jenkins notes parallels between the rise of modern Pentecostalism and modern Islamism among urban newcomers.

On Pentecostalism:

Most have moved to new megacities in their own countries, but other former rural dwellers have journeyed to cities in the Global North. In the challenging situations they face in their new homes, migrants naturally gravitate to those religious groups that offer them the means of survival. They find there opportunities for fellowship and community, but also the basic necessities of welfare, education, and health that the state cannot provide. Commonly, it is the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that are best organized to supply these needs, and in turn they benefit most from the repeated infusions of the uprooted.

Social change means religious transformation. People abandon the old sacred landscapes they knew in their rural homes, with all their saints and shrines, and a sacred year marked by religious feasts and fasts. In the cities, they adopt a globalized form of modern faith, characterized by sophisticated modern media and advertising, including the most contemporary social media. They abandon their old languages and dialects, so that pastors hold their revival crusades in the global languages of modernity—English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

But whatever new believers have lost through cultural change, they feel that they have gained much. However poor in material things, they know in their hearts that they are following a pristine form of apostolic faith.

On Muslim immigrants in the West:

In books like Holy Ignorance, [Olivier] Roy relates global religious change to such mega­trends as mass migration, urbanization, and modernization. He stresses how deeply integrated Islam was in traditional societies like Morocco or Pakistan, where faith was tied to particular communities and clan structures, to shrines, saints, and sacred landscapes, and to a sacred calendar. All were severed with the migration to the West, creating an Islam that was suddenly and painfully deterritorialized….

In the Muslim case, the young respond by rejecting both the lost traditional culture and the new Western alternative. They turn instead to the apparent certainties of a universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wahhabis or Salafists. In return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.

I think that this also works for the appeal of socialism and popular nationalism to urban workers in 19th-century Europe, who also were recently uprooted from their rural communities and traditions. This isn’t something that I came up with on my own, but I don’t remember where I read it.

The appeal of membership in large-scale groups — the global umma for Muslims, the (German, French, etc.) nation for nationalists, the working class for workers — is all part of the movement in modern times away from local identities toward large-scale ideologies, states, identities, and movements. Of course, with independence movements in regions of different European countries and the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, we could be seeing the limits of that trend in the contemporary world.

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One comment

  1. […] If you favor decentralization, you may find him too optimistic that this is the wave of the future (and you may find his assessment of the 20th century progressive state’s accomplishments to be too positive). Still, it’s an interesting argument and might be identifying an important countertrend against the large-scale movements and identities of the modern period that I pointed to in my last post. […]

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