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Mysticism and Identity Formation 
in Social Context:
The Case of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement

by Margaret M. Poloma
Department of Sociology
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1905
e-mail: mpoloma@uakron.edu


Prepared for Identity and Character Conference; The Seventh International Congress of Professors World Peace Academy. The Washington Hilton and Towers. Washington, D.C. November 24-29, 1997. (Section on The Formation of Selfhood; Topic, The Influence of Religion. William Garrett, section organizer.)

Due to the length of this article, you may choose to download this article now in a printable format. 

Mysticism and Identity Formation in Social Context:
the Case of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement


The pentecostal-charismatic approach to Christianity is a curious combination of premodern, modern and modern elements that transcend both national and denominational boundaries. Having its origins at the turn of the 20th century, now at the turn of the 21st century, it has become the fastest-growing approach to worldwide Christianity. Using data from a stream (the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’ at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) of a renewal presently underway in the p/c movement, this analysis will explore the role that religious experience has for the formation of selfhood. Both qualitative and quantitative data will be used to demonstrate changes in self-perception and self-esteem that have been generated by the Blessing. Especially important to these changes in self-perception are alleged "healings"--spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and social--which are believed to empower individuals and to alter the larger social order.


Mysticism and Identity Formation in Social Context:
The Case of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement


Once upon a sociological time, the secular world view was predicted to darken the sacred, ethics was foretold to cause the demise of religion, and the rise of science was prophesied to quench religious "superstition." The modern mind, so it was said, had little tolerance for rumors of angels. Occasionally a prophetic research report (usually from the pen of priest-sociologist-novelist Andrew Greeley) would surface to assert that the supernatural was alive and well, but secularization theory persisted as a dominant social scientific creed. So it was-- that is, until recently. As the new millennium approached even heralds of the "old order" began to proclaim something new is in the air. More scholars (some lamenting, others rejoicing) began to acknowledge that many modernist presuppositions have lost ground to postmodern thought. Angels are no longer mere rumor, as they enjoy being the subject of entertainment, kitsch art, and news reports. A New Age is upon us where the voices of gurus fill the airwaves, psychic hotlines are big business, and keeping up with websites on Christian religious revival can be a full-time job. So it is as humankind moves into the Third Millennium.

As the 21st century approaches, what theologian Harvey Cox has referred to as Christianity’s "primal religion" is showing itself to be an important player in the resacralization of the social order. Adherents of this so-called "primal" Christianity are found in nonmodern as well as modern and postmodern societies, and they transcend new emerging as well as old Protestant-Catholic denominational boundaries. They are the Pentecostal-charismatic Christians whose numbers have increased to an estimated 410 million followers worldwide, with an international movement exhibiting a reported growth rate of 20 million members a year (Cox 1995). They represent members of historic Pentecostal churches, followers of new sects and denominations spawned during the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s, those in mainline Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches who have embraced the paranormal Christianity of the early Pentecostals, the countless independent churches who follow similar tenets and practices but who insist they are non-denominational (and often not "religious"), as well as millions who embrace the 1990s renewal/revival now spreading across the globe. Pentecostal-charismatic (p/c) Christianity and its recurrent revitalization is a clear example of Peter Berger’s (1979) "inductive response" to the "heretical imperative" generated by the modern world view.

Although social scientists increasingly have recognized how secularization theory led them to underestimate the power of fundamentalist thought, most are still oblivious to how it also blinded them to the role religious experience plays in the revitalization of religion. (Peter Berger provided a theoretical model that recognized the role that deduction or fundamentalism and reduction or liberal thinking played in responding to modernism in The Heretical Imperative, but he too underestimated the power of Christianity to generate such an inductive or experiential option.) The modern focus on cognition and religious beliefs has left many social scientists of religion blind to the power of the "supernatural" to impact identity formation, families, religious communities, and indirectly, the larger social order. Yet it is the p/c approach to Christianity--an approach that Grant Wacker (1986) once described as a "blend of the supernatural and pragmatism"--that is reportedly the fastest growing stream of Christianity (Barrett 1982; Cox 1995). The p/c movement is a global and often indigenous movement that has spread to all continents during this century and is presently experiencing fresh revitalization as the millennium comes to a close. It is the revival currently underway in the p/c movement which provides the material for this analysis of religious experience and its effects on identity formation.

From Whence the Fire

Harvey Cox (1995) metaphorically refers to this rapidly growing religious development, whose origins are often traced to the 1905-07 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, as "fire from heaven." This fire, sometimes reduced to glowing embers in modern nations during this century, has been dramatically rekindled in the 1990s. For those who have not personally visited a renewal site [scores of them, including major ones in Toronto (Ontario), Sunderland (England), Pasadena (California), Pensacola (Florida), Portland (Oregon), Sydney (Australia), and Pretoria (South Africa) are readily accessible through websites and have been the subject of extensive media coverage], the following description provided by Leslie Scrivener, a reporter from the Toronto Star (October 8, 1995), shortly after Hurricane Opal had spewed its wrath on the east coast of North America may provide some descriptive insight:

The mighty winds of Hurricane Opal that swept through Toronto last week (were) mere tropical gusts compared with the power of God thousands believe struck them senseless at a conference at the controversial Airport Vineyard church. At least with Opal, they could stay on their feet. Not so with many of the 5,300 souls meeting at the Regal Constellation Hotel. The ballroom carpets were littered with fallen bodies, bodies of seemingly straightlaced men and women who felt themselves moved by the phenomenon they say is the Holy Spirit. So moved, they howled with joy or the release of some buried pain. They collapsed, some rigid as corpses, some convulsed in hysterical laughter. From room to room come barnyard cries, calls heard only in the wild, grunts so deep women recalled the sounds of childbirth, while some men and women adopted the very position of childbirth. Men did chicken walks. Women jabbed their fingers as if afflicted with nervous disorders. And around these scenes of bedlam, were loving arms to catch the falling, smiling faces, whispered prayers of encouragement, instructions to release, to let go.

Although the renewal (as the movement is often called) has its origins in the Argentinean revival under the pastoral leading of Claudio Friedzon and through the crusades of former South-African evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne (who has recently established a church in Tampa, Florida), it is the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) that is considered by many to be the birthplace of the renewal (Ford 1997). Whether or not the "birthplace" of the renewal, TACF unquestionably has been the catalyst that launched this social movement into its present global orbit. It was at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (formerly known as the Toronto Airport Vineyard) where, on January 20, 1994, Randy Clark, a Vineyard pastor from St. Louis, Missouri, was invited by TACF’s pastor, John Arnott, to lead a local church revival. The rest, as commonly said, "is history." (For some first -hand accounts on the spread of the renewal see Chevreau 1994, Arnott 1995, Gott 1995, Fish 1996, Helland 1996, Campbell 1997, DeLoriea 1997, Kilpatrick 1997).

The renewal birthed through TACF represents the latest phase of the larger p/c movement, an approach that is said to account for nearly one out of four Christians worldwide (Cox 1995). Beginning with the Welsh revival (1903-04), escalating with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles (1906-07), and rekindled through the Latter Rain (1948), the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the "Third Wave" in the 1980s, and now the ‘Toronto Blessing’ (1994) and the ‘Pensacola Revival’ (1995), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 20th century America may be characterized as a religious movement struggling against the forces of institutionalization (Poloma 1989; 1996; Riss 1995, 1997). Although the original charismatic "sign" was claimed to be glossolalia or speaking in tongues (made into doctrine by many Pentecostal sects), greater significance is now being accorded to a wider range of "signs and wonders," including prophesy, miracles and especially "divine healing." Healing through the power of prayer, a phenomenon that was found in Azusa Street and which has even greater importance in the movement as the century draws to a close, has special significance for exploring the role that the renewal has on changes in the self and the larger issue of identity formation.

Although it is outside the province of sociology to ascribe origins to the fire that is setting the Christian world ablaze, it is the task of social science to place as much as possible within a natural context without destroying the essence and meaning the renewal has for the millions who have been touched by it. Being personally involved in the charismatic movement and now the renewal has provided me ample opportunities to observe and experience the phenomenon about which I write. Seeking a theoretical paradigm that would allow me to be faithful to my observations and experiences in order to enhance social science’s understanding of the ongoing renewal, I have chosen to focus on the insightful work of Victor Turner. It is within the dramaturgical paradigm provided by Turner, complemented with symbolic interaction theory’s development of the concept of self, that I will seek to demonstrate the impact that charisma (specifically "divine healing") has on self formation, identity, and character.

Victor Turner on Brain, Body, Self, and Ritual Applied to the Renewal

Although social scientific theory and research often purports to be about determining causation, in reality it is usually about offering insightful description. Turner’s work is no exception. It will not provide an explanation for renewal phenomena, but it does provide a heuristic device for exploring the relationship between religion and identify formation within the context of the renewal (as the revitalization of the p/c movement has come to be called in much of North America, with "refreshing" being the common British term).

Turner’s most developed work on nonmodern cultures and subsequent attempts to apply this theory to modern culture has revolutionized anthropology. His dramaturgical theory with its focus on rituals that transcend everyday life--rituals which generate dignity and meaning within "communitas" points to the significance of ritual in understanding the individual’s role in the community. As Deegan (1989:8) notes:

In fact, for Turner, the experiences generated by formal rituals bind the individual to the group in everyday life. The symbolic structure of rituals is the means for connecting experience and meaning between the individual and the group. The social appears in the individual through the union of group experience and meaning.

Deegan goes on to observe that, in contrast to the sociological dramatist Erving Goffman, Turner "explicates the ritual process in which a sense of ‘self’ and ‘community’ is found with the other." This nonmodern ritual, a sense of self integrated within the community, seems to stand in stark contrast against the rituals of modern societies. As Deegan (1989:9) further observes:

The rich and powerful ritual world of premodern societies studied by Turner contrasts starkly with the ritual world of modern societies studied by Goffman. It is striking to find that Turner started to struggle with the modern ritual and its relation to human experience. His untimely death left these analyses in a more rudimentary stage that his earlier work.

I would venture to say that Turner would have been fascinated with the spread of the renewal from its birthplace in a small church (located in an unobtrusive strip mall) adjacent to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, with its primal ritual behavior occurring to the tune of amplified contemporary Christian rock music while often being videotaped, reflecting a blending together of modern technology with an "antistructured" ritual. It is within Turner’s paradigm, beginning with some of his observations on ritual and then moving to one of his last essays titled "Body, Brain and Culture," that I will explore changes in self-identity facilitated through this latest revitalization of the p/c movement. The data for this article come from supplemental qualitative sources (letters, pages of diaries, audiotapes, and e-mail messages) sent to me by participants in a structured survey conducted in 1995 of over 900 persons who had visited the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. While some survey figures will be provided within the context of this discussion, the focus will be on healing and self within the "renewal" stream of the larger P/c movement.

Renewal Ritual

"Strange things were happening here and there. We heard someone roar like a lion. The man would stiffen up and pull his legs in and the kick them out with all his strength as he roared. . . . One, not so slender girl, danced the most graceful ballet. I was envious of her freedom. At intervals she would bark like a little dog. It seemed to be beyond her control and she would put her hands in front of her mouth afterwards as if she hadn’t meant for it to escape from her. . . . (Then) I let loose with laughter. I remembered the phrase John (Arnott) has used, "God is playing with his kids." These strange phenomena make me feel like I’m in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. There is no fear, darkness or heaviness about them. Some portray great strength and others playfulness. It felt good just to sit there and watch it all. Now and then I let out a burst of holy laughter." (Case #121)

"John Arnott was praying for some people not too far from the back. A circle formed around him which Herb joined. He told me later that people danced real fast, stomping up and down and shaking and jerking. The on-lookers roared with laughter. Even John laughed with them and egged them on. He himself got affected a bit with some involuntary movements. One Swiss lady started yodeling which added to all the hilarity. I went over and watched a bit. Darick was in the circle too. He later told me he never had such a good time and break through in all his life. . . . I finally went to the front and sat down in my seat, raised my arms, closed my eyes and worshiped. What freedom! Here anything Spirit-motivated goes. I feel sorry for the few that still sit or stand around with sour, dark faces, not entering in." (Case #121-continued)

"Yet--yet, there are still times when the direct ministry of the Lord needs to blot out or at least soft-pedal all the hymn singing, preaching and passing of collection plates (in the respondent’s formal Anglican liturgy). We all have a built-in hunger to be dealt with One on one. . . .At Toronto the timetable was still there. Many of the timetable events--workshop, meal, talk, ministry--were filed with grace. Some were not. It really didn’t matter! For again and again, God dropped me out of the singing and listening or ministry by gently but firmly dropping me to the floor and keeping me pinned down there for extended periods. So I am a faulty and inaccurate witness to all that may have happened on the platform or in the hall during the conference. From my place down on the carpet, God directly (a) taught me, (b) healed me, and © empowered me by withdrawing even me from the heady new routines of the TACF." (Case #745)

I have reported on TACF-style renewal ritual at some length elsewhere (Poloma 1997) and space constraints do not permit me to describe it in detail at this point. Sufficient to say that the ritual is flexible and encourages individual response within a communal service. There is a sense within the congregation that God is at work--or at play--as reflected in the above quotations. Survey respondents were nearly unanimous in their assertion that because of the renewal they were "more in love with Jesus than ever before" (89%) and that they had come to know the Father’s love in new ways (91%). Half (50%) said they came to the TACF service "spiritually dry" and most left feeling greatly refreshed (Poloma 1996). The reported experience of God’s love, often accompanied by strange physical manifestations, transcended whatever was actually going on during the ritual, binding the participants into "communitas" that extended beyond the church’s walls to restaurants and hotel lobbies where it was not unusual to see people "drunk in the spirit." Who was preaching, what was being said, the kind of music ministry, the decor of the auditorium did not seem to matter. What did matter (to the respondents, and critical point for a better understanding of the process taking place) was the meaning pilgrims were ascribing to their unusual experiences. For them God was visiting TACF in an unusual way and was changing their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a sociological starting point, however, the ritual framework within which these experiences originate (although they may be actually experienced after leaving TACF) is of particular relevance.

The quotations cited earlier suggest that the succinct description of Turner’s rituals as being "antistructural, creative, often carnivalesque and playful" (Schechner 1986:7) fits well Toronto-style worship. It provides opportunity for "luminality"--Turner’s "betwixt and between" threshold which reflects celebrated feelings of "spontaneous communitas." The lumen, or threshold, according to Turner (1986:41-42) "is a no-man’s-land, betwixt and between the structural past and the structural future as anticipated by the society’s normative control of biological development." Turner (1986:41-42) goes on to describe the liminal phase

....as being dominantly in the subjunctive mood of culture, the mood of maybe, might be, as if, hypothesis, fantasy, conjecture, desire--depending on which of the trinity of cognition, affect, and conation is situationally dominant. Ordinary life is in the indicative mood, where we expect the invariant operations of cause and effect, of rationality and common sense. Liminality can perhaps be described as fructile chaos, a storehouse of possibilities, not a random assemblage but a striving after new forms and structures, a gestation process, a fetation of modes appropriate to postliminal existence."

What has often drawn the pilgrims is a curiosity about the open display of emotion and seemingly bizarre physical manifestations--a ritual context that allows for catharsis quite atypical of modern society. The focus of testimonies given during the ritual itself like those which accompanied the survey responses, however, is much less likely to be on the physical manifestations than on the changes brought about in self identity. Seventy percent (70%) of the 1995 survey respondents agreed with the statement that their "family and friends have commented on the changes that have observed in me [as a result of the renewal]" (Poloma 1996). The following selection of unsolicited comments found in the qualitative data accompanying the questionnaires reflect these perceived changes:

"My life has been totally changed since my first visit to TACF." (Case #399)

"Personally I am ecstatic at the love, mercy and favor God has been poured out on me by His grace! I’ve come from a place of somewhat forsaking life, not being suicidal but one where death seemed appealing. I was loosing all hope for change and transformation; I was tired and all of the fight was wrung out of me. Being clueless as to why, I was losing the fight and giving up ground. But God in His kindness and mercy began to visit me with His presence and began to help me, opening my eyes and delivering me from the assault of the enemy and the deception in my heart." (Case #832)

(As an unsolicited explanation as to why the delay in filling out the questionnaire): "The reason I waited was very simple: I experienced such a dramatic change in my life, I couldn’t believe it myself." ( Case #797)

"In short, my visit to TACF was the most significant time in my Christian life, after conversion." (#041)

"What happened to me at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship has changed my life in such a dramatic way. My friends and others comment voluntarily on how different I am. I have been told that I shine! That makes me laugh because in the past I have always felt as though a dark cloud hung over my head. Now it seems as though I am talking about another person (Case #634).

Using a holistic model of Christian healing derived from the qualitative work of Meredith McGuire (1988), Poloma and Hoelter (1996) have used the survey data in another article to explore the relationship between ritual (specifically the prayer offered by team-members after the more formal part of the service), physical manifestations, emotional responses and various types of healing (Poloma and Hoelter, under review). This model suggests a complex understanding of "healing" for those in the p/c movement--one that goes beyond the common understanding of being free from physical disease and centers on the spiritual. As McGuire (1988:43) observed during her study of p/c Christians a decade ago: "It is not necessary to have a medically diagnosable condition in order to experience healing. . . .More important, however, is that healing ‘works’ first and foremost as a spiritual experience; physical and social-emotional changes are hoped-for, but secondary aspects." According to McGuire, ". . . .the key criterion of healing is the process of becoming closer to the Lord" (italics added for emphasis).

The p/c model of healing is holistic with "spiritual healing" (one’s relationship to God) being the linchpin. It is within this context that deliverance, inner healing, emotional healing, and healing of mental and physical illnesses is believed to occur. Healings of various types are frequently reported in testimonies about the renewal services and are reflected by statistics on healing found in the 1995 survey data. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of the respondents who visited TACF claimed to have experienced an "inner or emotional healing" as a result of prayer at the renewal site; five percent (5%) claimed a healing from a "clinically diagnosed mental health problem"; and twenty-one percent (21%), a physical healing (Poloma 1996).

How is it that such self-transformations from brokenness to wholeness occur? Without invoking the explanation of the Holy Spirit (an explanation clearly outside the scope of both nature and social science), it is useful to consider Turner’s (1993) exploratory essay on "Body, Brain, and Culture," written shortly before his death (in December, 1983) to frame the process of self-transformation.

The "Triune Brain" and Renewal Experiences

Turner’s (1993) use of cerebral neurology to fashion a new synthesis with his anthropological work on ritual is intriguing and provocative. Recognizing the two schools of seemingly opposing thought on ritual--one insisting that ritual is culturally transmitted and the other that it is genetically programed--Turner attempts to complement his cultural approach with that of genetics. He (1993:83) describes this approach as "a kind of dual control leading to. . .a series of symbiotic coaptations between what might be called culturetypes and genotypes." At the center of his discussion is Paul MacLean’s theory of a "triune brain." As Turner (1993:83) notes:

According to his model, MacLean sees us as possessing three brains in one, rather than conceiving of the brain as a unity. Each has a different phylogenetic history, each has its own distinctive organization and make-up, although they are interlinked by millions of interconnections, and each has its own special intelligence, its own sense of time and space, and its own motor functions. MacLean postulates that the brain evolved in three stages, producing parts of the brain which are still actively with us though modified and intercommunicating.

Turner’s discussion of the triune brain--described as the instinctual brain, the emotional brain, and the cognitive brain, with its right and left compartments--warrants closer examination.

Instinctual or Reptilian Brain

The instinctual brain or reptilian was the first to evolve and is the center of human physical existence. Among other things it (1) "contains nuclei which control processes vital

to the sustenance of life (i.e. the cardiovascular and respiratory systems"; (2) is "concerned with the control of movement"; (3) is responsible for "the storage and control of what is called ‘instinctive behavior’"; and (4) "is responsible for alertness and the maintenance of consciousness" (Turner 1993:83). In other words, bodily movement of the type experienced by participants in the renewal may be controlled by the instinctual brain. Although some of the thrashing, rolling, falling down, deep laughing, etc. that has come to characterize this renewal may be learned behavior, reports suggest that much of it may be involuntary. I have personally witnessed any number of accounts of such behavior, after which I would casually approach the manifestor and ask questions. At times the person would say something similar to "I could stop it if I wanted to, but why would I want to. It feels so wonderful!" At other times, however, a person who had engaged in similar manifestations would claim, "I couldn’t stop (laughing, weeping, jerking, etc.); I was aware of what I was doing, but I could not stop it."

Kotarba (1994:226) has recently noted "how prudish, cautious, and/or negligent interactionists have been when dealing with the body in the past." [One might change the word "interactionists" to "social scientists," many of whom limit their research to reflect the mind (opinions and attitudes) rather than to focus on the seemingly more mundane part of the dichotomized mind-body person.] At best when the body is dealt with in social scientific research, it often deals with what happens when the body "breaks down" (i.e. is sick, passive or powerless). Rarely are potentially positive changes in self discussed in relation to the physical body.

The unusual manifestations reported in quotes throughout this paper--of shaking, falling, rolling, uncontrolled weeping, deep belly-laughter, and occasional animal sounds--make it impossible to ignore the body when studying the renewal. It is worth noting that not only have similar manifestations been part of earlier American religious revivals (see White 1988; Campbell 1996; Riss 1997) and shamanist behavior (Kakar 1982; Pierce, Nichols and Dubrin 1983), but they can also found in some psychoanalytic accounts (Scheff 1979; Pierce, et al., 1983; Orcott and Prell 1994) as well as reported by practitioners of kundalini yoga (St. Romain 1994). It might be argued that all of these seemingly diverse contexts tap a primal vestige, namely, the "oldest" part of the human brain, which may be seen as responsible for triggering the physical or bodily manifestations observed in psychoanalysis as well as religious ritual. These physical manifestations, however, are but the tip of a deep human iceberg as suggested by some findings from TACF respondents.

Findings from the 1995 TACF survey suggest that the physical manifestations may be important instruments in the healing process and thus support similar observations made on the healing effects of psychoanalysis and shamanism. For example, Poloma and Hoelter (1996) found the manifestations to be positively related to reports of positive emotional responses (feelings of love, joy, gratitude, peace, being cleansed, self-forgiveness, strength, and compassion) while unrelated to negative affect (anxiety, frustration, depression, anger, shame and guilt). Positive affect (but not negative affect) in turn impacts different forms of healing. This does not imply that all seemingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable physical responses have a positive effect on emotional response, healing and self-identity. In other social contexts seemingly bizarre physical manifestations might be linked with negative affect (for example, if similar activity was to be demonstrated in a church that is opposed to or unfamiliar with the renewal). What is strongly suggested by these findings is a need to take the functioning of instinctual brain into account when discussing healing and wholeness, particularly when addressing the topic of emotions.

Emotional or "old" Mammalian Brain

Within the past two decades sociologists, particularly social interactionists, have come to recognize the importance of taking emotions into account when studying human behavior. Criticisms of an overcognitized conception of human behavior in sociology fell on fertile symbolic interactionist ground, even yielding a subspeciality known as the sociology of emotions. While tending to stress the social component of emotions over the biological (c.f. Reynolds 1990; Denzin 1984), sociologists of emotion finally have begun to build on early symbolic interactionist theory.

It may be said that there are four significant ways in which social scientists have dealt with (or failed to deal with) the topic of emotions. The most common approach has been a benign indifference, an approach that still has a strong hold on much of sociology of religion which favors cognitive and structural theoretical models over social psychological ones. With the rise of sociobiology, a few scholars began insisting on the importance of biology for understanding social behavior, including religious behavior (Wenegrat 1990), but old fears of misguided social Darwinism and biological reductionism caused many sociologists to dismiss attempts to link sociology and biology. Social psychologists, particularly those interested in self identity and formation, were more likely to take a third road, namely that of downplaying the biological while placing emphasis on the social factors of learning and expressing emotions (e.g., Reynolds 1990; Denzin 1992; Johnson 1992). What is seen in Turner’s model is a fourth approach that seeks a synthesis between body and emotions as well as between genetic and social factors in emotional expression.

The genetic roots of human emotions are seated in the "second brain" of Turner’s model--the "old mammalian" or emotional brain. In the emotional brain are found "the most important components of which are the limbic system, including the hypothalamus (which contains centers controlling homeostatic mechanisms associated with heat, thirst, satiety, sex, pain and pleasure, and emotions of rage and fear), and the pituitary gland (which controls and integrates the activities of all the endocrine glands in the body)" (Turner 1993:84). While the older reptilian brain has been defined as a "stream of movement," the newer mammalian level has been called the "stream of feeling." For most social scientists, however, emotions, however, are more than biological responses; they are, in the words of Norman Denzin (1992), "lived experiences" with the human self at the core. The following account can be used to remind the reader of the interplay between bodily manifestations, emotions, and social interactions (including the believer’s interaction with God):

Then I saw a picture of Jesus weeping and weeping. It hit me that I was blaming God for all the "bad stuff: in my life. I began to weep too, as I never purposely desired to blame God. I loved God with all my heart. I repented and asked for His forgiveness. Almost immediately my entire body started rocking and shaking. I felt like something was coming up from my belly. I grabbed a pillow as I felt like something was coming out of my mouth. Then this strange language ("tongues" as I understand it) came forth with uncontrollable sobbing. I cried and talked in this strange language forever it seemed. Then all of a sudden it changed to laughter. I laughed and laughed. I couldn’t understand how I could be sobbing and then laughing. This went on for 1½ hours. I could think in English, but I couldn’t speak in English. I opened my eyes, thinking it would go away, but it didn’t. I took a drink, and it was still there. I was getting very exhausted, but I could tell it was toning down--and I felt more peaceful than I had ever felt in all my life. The first words in English that finally came out were ‘Thank you, Lord. I love you, Lord. There really is a Spirit of God. He is alive!" I was ecstatic.

"But you know, the most wonderful thing is that for the first time in my Christian walk, I feel victorious--not defeated. I am joy-filled, no longer negative. I have a desire to share the love of God with everyone and anyone. That was two years ago. And it has never died. I am alive in Christ." (Case #264)

The Cognitive or Neo-Mammalian Brain

The cognitive or neo-mammalian brain "achieves its culmination in the complex of mental functions of the human brain" (Turner 1993:85). It is responsible for cognition and sophisticated perceptual processes as opposed to instinctive or affective behavior. Its functioning can be demonstrated in the quotation directly above as the respondent not only can "name" her actions and reactions, but can "reflect" on them and provide meaning and interpretation for them.

The cognitive brain is further "split" into two hemispheres. Turner (1993:87) uses the succinct distinction provided by Barbara Lex’s overview of the literature to describe the functioning of the respective spheres:

In most human beings, the left cerebral hemispheric functions in the production of speech, as well as in linear, analytic though, and also assesses the duration of temporal units, processing information sequentially. In contrast, the specializations of the right hemisphere comprise spatial and tonal perception, recognition of patterns--including those constituting emotion and other states in the internal milieu--and holistic, synthetic thought, but its linguistic capacity is believed absent. Specific acts involved complementary shifts between the functions of the two hemispheres.

Turner (1993:91) describes the paradox religious myth often embedded in ritual in terms of the two hemispheres, where the left-hemispheric level works to describe the "ecstatic state and sense of union" which the right- hemispheric level recognizes is literally beyond verbal expression. Religious myth and ritual are more akin to the "serious work of the brain" performed by the left hemisphere than the "play" that characterizes the right hemisphere, although both play and work may be in evidence. "Play," as described by Turner, as "a kind of dialectical dancing partner of ritual," has had a prominent place in TACF ritual, as may be gleaned through the left-brain accounts of the religious experiences described by respondents. These playful experiences, however, seem to cry for interpretation, and I have described at length elsewhere (Poloma, 1996) how intellectual "order" is being made out of the playful "disorder" caused by some of the manifestations. The following account of an attempt to "make sense" of the manifestations experienced by a middle-aged British male respondent provides one demonstration of the process: From roughly that time onward (a particularly intense experience at a renewal service which included a range of manifestations), I began noticing the manifestation of "bowing forward" continued even outside the service. I had viewed it with curiosity in others, but had never experienced it in 23 years of Spirit-filled life. I manifested this again most of the day, and to a lesser degree in my own church after we flew home. I do not yet understand exactly the significance of this manifestation, but I find it subtly unexpected, and nearly without a sense of my own muscles making the muscular contraction. All bowing has been in "slow motion" by my sense, meaning that it is not a "jerking" or sudden extreme motion, but a quiet, slow bow, much like the British might do if they were to bow to the king or Queen. The bowing does not necessarily seem to coincide with specific words, spoken or words sung, but I have noticed that the name of Jesus, the words "wonderful" and "glory," seem to cause me to manifest more than not." (Case #741)

The "Triune Brain" and the Prophetic

Prophecy is regarded as one of the charisms or gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit by those in the p/c movement, reflecting the long and diverse history of prophecy in Christianity (Robeck 1987). Many, but not all, p/c Christians emphasize spontaneity (the "work of the Holy Spirit") rather than reflective thought as characterizing prophesy, whether it is a word of "foretelling" (prediction) or "forthtelling" (a message of divine exhortation or comfort without a predictive element). In renewal-type ritual, prophetic words may be accompanied with bodily actions (including jerking, violent shaking and even animal sounds), but it is more likely to be delivered in a less dramatic style. Prophecy is regarded as a "gift" that any Spirit-filled Christian believer is believed to be able to use, but it believed to be unequally distributed and subject to social learning. One minister from England who is regarded to have a "prophetic ministry" expressed it as follows:

Knowing that all spirit-filled Christians can prophesy does not make everyone who does a prophet. There are various levels and stages of prophetic anointing, beginning with the shallow end of basic prophecy, encouragement, edification, and comfort. However, moving through levels of prophetic ministry to the office of the prophet requires considerable training, experience, and development over a great many years. On average it takes approximately fifteen to twenty years to make a prophet, depending upon the training, discipling and mentoring one has received in that time (Cooke 1994:16).

Prophecy entails hearing from God and being able to speak for him. This may be done to convey a word to the larger church or to individuals. It may originate in a sense to speak out (without knowing exactly what one will say) as well as in dreams and visions (e.g., Cooke 1994; Ryle 1995). Although prayer team members are counseled against "mating or dating" kinds of prophecies (being encouraged rather to turn their prophetic senses into prayers for the person), a number of respondents indicated that prophetic words given through leaders and prayer team members had a significant impact on their lives. One such example of such a prophetic word demonstrating a kind of check-and-balance encouraged for interpreting private prophecy is provided by the account of a young German man who visited TACF:

A few weeks before I went to Toronto, I visited a worship service in Germany. A young man I didn’t know before had a vision for me. It was a vision for full-time ministry and a call for evangelism. After he told me this, he prayed prophetically for me. When I went to TACF I asked the Lord for confirmation of his call on my life. One evening a lady from the ministry team prayed for me. She prayed prophetically and exactly with the same words the young man used in Germany--but only in English. This was the confirmation for my call. Now my life changes and we move. Next year I will go to bible college. (Case #178)

Such "divine coincidences" are characteristic of many prophetic words. A person is quietly seeking God for direction when another (often unknown) person approaches with a seeming answer.

Although my first sources of data for presentation are those received through surveys and interviews with personal insights from participant observation being kept in the background, it may be helpful for me to recount one of many experiences I have had with prophecy to demonstrate the interplay of the "triune brain." I have selected one very recent example from series of visits to a home renewal meeting near Akron, Ohio where one of the leaders (who knew of me but had never met or talked with me before praying) spoke prophetically. It can be used to demonstrate the importance of a ritual context, reflections of the reptilian brain (reflexive bodily motions), the emotional brain, as well as the cognitive brain (with its left and right compartments).

The scene for the prayer meeting is the living room of a small house where some 20 to 50 people gather each Thursday night. Usually the music is already playing when people arrive and make their way into the living room to sit quietly, often assuming a meditative stance. One of the young men will eventually turn down the music, welcome those who have gathered, refer to the one-page handout which describes the minimal form of the gathering, and then briefly share about the on-going renewal. Often one or two people gathered will give a testimony about something that has happened to them as a result of the Thursday-night prayer time. The is once again turned up on the music and people once again assume a more meditative or worshipful stance. Some may stand; most sit; a few kneel. As the time together continues (the "service" begins at 8 p.m. and on occasion the last person leaves in the early morning; most exit one by one around 10:30), designated pray-ers make their way around to pray for those gathered.

It was within this simple context that Rick, one of the young leaders, came up to me and began to pray quietly. I had already been sensing a deep peace, which seemed to go even deeper as he prayed. When I entered the room that night, Rick (who had just returned from the renewal meetings in Toronto) was lying on the floor, laughing, and shaking. While praying for me, however, any manifestations were minimal. Occasionally he would cry out and jerk suddenly, as if an electric current had just gone through his body. The deep peace continued to mount within me.

Then Rick began to speak simple phrases, repeating them again and again. With each one I easily "free associated," sensing I knew exactly what "God meant" by giving Rick these words to speak. I knew from past experience that if I would have stopped Rick, asking him to elaborate further, he probably would not have been able to do so. In fact when I did try to do so on my third visit, he asked me not to say anything. (In talking with me Rick might not have been able to distinguish what was his response to what I was saying and what God might want to say to me through him.)

This "free association" was not asked for by Rick; it seemed to be an involuntary response of the cognitive "right brain" what was being said, often based on earlier left-brain assessments of a real situation. I was given over a dozen simple words or phrases by Rick during the first few weeks I began attending the gatherings, and in each one I felt Rick "read my mail." Much of it is too personal to share in this context, but I can give an illustration of a word that I "free associated" with my struggle in being a participant observers in this renewal.

One of the words given to me that first night was "lighten up," which immediately recalled to mind counsel I had received (but never really accepted) from a therapist about two and a half years earlier. She told me that I was very serious and had probably been that way all of my life--that I really did not know how to play. I could hear her saying, "You will feel like you are going to an extreme when you "lighten up," but you will actually be on a middle course." Rick kept repeating the phrase "lighten up"--probably four or five times. Then there was more silent prayer, followed by "Little Margaret, come to the party." This too he repeated slowly several times and I immediately (without any seeming effort on the part of my reasoning skills) related it to the position I hold as a researcher of the renewal. Those who observe me may think I am "entering in" (i.e. I can sing with enthusiasm, dance, laugh, weep and assume meditative stances), but I know that I have not experienced what many others have related to me.

What is significant, as I reflected on this prophetic moment, is that Rick could not have generated any of the meaningful "free associations" using his cognitive reasoning skills. Those who give prophetic words be they "foretelling" or "forthtelling" insist they are unable to perform on command. Rick claimed that he had been very hesitant to come over to pray with me (given my known position as a researcher in the renewal) and especially to speak the particular phrases he felt led to speak. Nor could Rick do anything to elicit an emotional response from me--particularly the deep peace that has come to be a "sign" of God’s presence in my life. That peace began as soon as I walked into the room and intensified as the evening went on. The words that were spoken and the "free association" that occurred through the workings of the "right brain" deepened the peace I had already been experiencing. On occasion, I felt an unexplainable warmth in my hands and then a sensation of energy--a kind of prickling sensation throughout my torso--that seemed to generate some involuntary twitching in my shoulders and upper back. Although I was aware of the movement, I was not interested in stopping it or increasing it. It seemed as normal as breathing. While physical responses during prophecy seem to vary greatly, the overwhelming sense of peace and love of God that I felt during such times of prayer seem to be emotions shared by others. [When survey respondents were asked to identify the emotions they experienced during the "physical manifestation that left the greatest impact on them," the two most often cited were peace (82%) and love of God (83%).]

What has been demonstrated through this discussion of prophecy is how even a very simple unstructured ritual held during a living room prayer meeting can provide a social context in which the "whole" brain is stimulated, including reflex responses, emotions, intuition, and rational cognition. The brain is the physical medium through which the unobservable Spirit and spirit seem to be in a dance between work and at play. The process described here reflects a "mystical consciousness"--one that "involves a different perspective on time, causality, and self--a different reality, considered from our ordinary point of view" (Deikman 1982:21). It often includes an "intuitive knowing, a type of perception that bypasses the usual sensory channels and rational intellect." What is of particular significance for our discussion here is the impact such mystical experiences can have on self identity. Using the data provided by letters, diaries, tapes, and other qualitative responses accompanying the survey, we will continue to demonstrate the effects of p/c religious experience on self and self-identity.

Identity Formation: Holiness, Healing, and Wholeness

To try to define self--much less a healthy and whole self -- to the satisfaction of all scholars is impossible. Definitional differences among disciplines have erected a tower of Babel that is not likely to fall with this paper. As a sociologist, I chose to approach the study of self in a manner acceptable to my chosen field. Sociologists, particularly those of the symbolic interactionist approach, do have a definition of self that is fairly well agreed upon. Simply put, "self is an object that the actor acts toward" (Charon 1995:67). In other words, "self is anchored in our social situations"; it "arises in the first place in interactions with others"; and it "continues to be defined and redefined in interaction" (1995:68). As Stryker (1959:116) describes the process:

. . .the human organism as an object takes on meaning through the behavior of those who respond to the organism. We come to know what we are through others’ responses to us. Others supply us with a name, and they provide the meaning attached to the symbol. They categorize us in particular ways--as an infant, as a boy, et cetera. On the basis of such categorization they expect particular behaviors from us; on the basis of these expectations, they act toward us. The manner in which they act toward us defines our "self," we come to categorize ourselves as they categorize us, and we act in ways appropriate to their expectations.

The term self, as used by social psychologists, thus denotes an object that arises in interaction with others and is modified in interaction with others. As such, the self is commonly treated as an object arising out of interaction rather than the subject or some pre-existing metaphysical entity. It is important to note, however, that the self not only arises in interaction with others but that the self is reflexive. It can interact with itself by taking its own actions into account, judging its own reactions (along with those of others) to these actions and by reacting to these perceptions about itself (Charon 1995; Reynolds 1990). It is from this symbolic interactionist perspective that two of the interrelationships involved in the process of p/c healing will be discussed. These include two sets of interrelated interactions which appear to play a role in the restoration of wholeness for the p/c Christian: (1) spiritual healing or relationship with the divine and (2) emotional or inner healing affecting change in self-perception and self-esteem. It should be noted that while both seem personal in scope, both do entail social dimensions. Spiritual healing often happens in ritual context through the dynamics of corporate worship, the encouragement of a preacher, the aid of a prayer team and the general support of fellow pilgrims. Spiritual healing appears to have a direct relationship to changes in self that we are calling inner or emotional healing (r=.47; see Poloma and Hoelter 1996). Perceived changes in inner healing also have a similar social dimension and are often reinforced by reported observations from the larger community long after pilgrims have left the renewal service/site.

Spiritual Self in Interaction with the Divine

According to the p/c worldview, a right relationship with God is the center of the healing process. It begins with "being saved" or "being born again" when the person "accepts Jesus Christ as his/her personal savior," believed to be the beginning of a personal and intimate relationship with God. For p/c Christians, God is someone who walks and talks with them, who guides and directs them, who speaks through ordinary circumstances as well as through prophetic voices. As with any human relationship, interaction with the divine is ongoing. It may include experiencing a fresh sense of God’s forgiveness (and sometimes an ability to "forgive God"), deliverance from forces that inhibit a growth in the divine-human interaction, a deeper awareness of God’s love, and a sense of nothingness in the presence of the Creator.

Case #264 (cited earlier under the section on the emotional brain) can be used to illustrate a need to be reconciled with God where the respondent sought forgiveness after "blaming God for all the ‘bad stuff’ in my life." Although followers emphasize that God does not need their forgiveness, they may note how they became aware of "blaming God" and how they found it necessary to ask for forgiveness and to surrender to the omnipotence of the Creator.

Perhaps even more common in the spiritual reconciliation with the deity are reports of knowing (cognitively) that sin is forgiven when a person seeks forgiveness but the cognition fails to register a corresponding affect. In the words of one enthusiastic testimony:

One of the most outstanding experiences for me has been finally receiving His forgiveness--realizing that God is merciful, full of mercy, even for me. Understanding that means to live in God’s grace and translating that understanding to mean others live in God’s grace also. There is no longer a need to fear condemnation or to condemn others. I am rejoicing that His wisdom is greater than all! (Case #009).

According to the survey results, 78 percent of the respondents said they experienced their sinful condition in a new way, while 81 percent agreed with the statement "I received a fresh sense of God’s forgiveness." Recognizing what William James calls the "sick soul" was seemingly coupled with a deeper awareness of God’s love as may be illustrated through this retired-military man’s account:

Certain besetting sins of lust of the eyes and imagination and fits of anger were being dredged up like garbage and being disposed of. Then I understood--just by passively receiving--that God has a relentless, unending love for me personally and for every other person in the universe. When I "came to" [after resting in the spirit for some time] after one of these sessions on the floor, I said to Jim: ‘The reason Israel knew the face of God would kill them wasn’t his righteous holiness and justice; it is because His total unfiltered love would burn you to a cinder." (Case #745).

Although deliverance from evil spirits is not a particular focus at TACF, its leaders preferring to focus on the love and forgiveness of God, demons are a part of the p/c worldview. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the survey respondents acknowledged they had experienced some kind of deliverance as a result of their visit to TACF. One woman described her experience as follows:

My life has been totally changed since my first visit to the TACF. I have experienced lots of deliverance. Many of the demonic spirits had entered following sexual molestation as a 6 and 7 year old by my grandfather and after being raped at 11 years by two 16-year-old boys. Masturbation became a besetting sin. The pastor of the church I was attending prayed for deliverance and then took the church to the TACF in January, 1994. I have had no problems with masturbation since this time. (Case #1399)

Deliverance from shame and fear--whether or not these emotions were described as being demonic in origin--seemed to be a common experience as a result of prayer. One middle-aged man who had been sexually assaulted at age 11 by a group of homosexuals, reported fearing that he might be homosexual and "carried a shame and fear of intimacy toward God." This fear of intimacy with the divine caused him to react negatively to the metaphor of being the "bride of Christ," a term commonly used in song and prayer at many p/c churches. As he reports what happened:

I struggled with the concept of being the bride of Christ and Jesus as the bridegroom. I have told many people that it was a ‘macho’ thing, when it really wasn’t. It was shame and fear of intimacy with God. Thursday night, during worship, I had what I believed was a vision. I found myself in the King’s chamber. I was the bride; He was my husband. In this vision I sensed myself dancing with him. There was nothing sensual or fleshly about this. At that moment, all the shame and fear left. I had been set free from the past. The following day, I actually danced and swayed during worship. Again I was taken to this chamber and saw myself in a flowing robe of silk, dancing a dance of worship in my spirit, even as I danced in the physical. It was a dance of love and joy, such as I have never experienced before in my life. I have never felt more pure than during these times of worship. Since coming home, the experience has not left me. There seems to be a tenderness that has come from this experience that I have not had before. Opening my heart to Him is much easier and the concept of the Bride is now a blessing. The sense of shame and fear is gone. (Case #800)

Some would contend that the renewal/refreshing at TACF is all about knowing God’s love in a new way, whether it involves a first-time conversion, the return of a prodigal, release from demonic oppression, or a deeper sense of intimacy with the divine. I would like to end this section with two accounts, the first of a 50-year-old airline pilot and the second of a young homemaker, to further illustrate this often-neglected dynamic of interaction with the divine by social scientists.

We came into the first service later. The atmosphere was charged with excitement and expectation. The Lord’s presence was awesome! I don’t remember who the speaker was, but the Lord began speaking to me soon after we entered the service. We had missed worship, and through the speaker I heard the Lord say to me that I didn’t realize it but that I was pitiful, poor, blind and naked. It was as if at this point I knew why I was there. My relationship with the Lord had grown routine, and (honestly) somewhat boring. Of course, the problem was my heart which was so weighted down with the cares of this world. In that instant I knew that all I wanted--the only thing that was real in my life--was my relationship with the Lord. As I purposed to lay down everything in my life that separated me from him, I began to cry out to Him to forgive me, to change me, to deliver me. I wanted to be consumed by him! (Case #586)

According to some, the feelings of divine love are palpable--a kind of liquid that permeates every part of the being. The following account comes from a woman who missed the entire formal service, arriving just in time for individual prayer:

We arrived late and missed the call for prayer. In spite of this, a woman came up to me and directed me to close my eyes and open my hands to receive from the Lord. As she prayed, the presence of the Lord came more intensely over my entire being. The more she prayed, the more intense it became. As I felt myself swaying, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could yield to what Jesus was doing by falling to the floor or I could resist. What happened next felt like falling into a swimming pool of God’s love. For the next hour, I remained motionless on the floor engulfed in a cocoon of the Father’s love. . ." (Case #280)

Changes in Self-Perception and Self-Esteem

Encounters with the divine are expected by p/c Christians--encounters that have reportedly taken place with regularity and intensity during the renewal rituals. As may be gleaned through many of the respondents’ quotations cited throughout this paper, reconciliation with God and a deeper awareness of God’s love has often been said to alter self-perception and to enhance self-esteem.

Self-concept may be defined as the "totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings with reference to himself [or herself] as an object" (Charon 1995:76). Particularly in the quotations used to illustrate spiritual healing, it is apparent that many respondents thought and felt differently about themselves as a result of the divine encounters reported during their visit to TACF. There is no particular pattern to the methods employed--each story seems somewhat unique--but there is evidence of widespread changes in self-concept.

One woman tells the account of going up to one renewal leader known for his "passion for Jesus," intending to ask him to pray that she might have the same passion. As she reports the initial encounter

But before I had a chance to say anything, he looked at me and said, ‘Cathy, you have a great face.’ I said ‘thanks’ (but thought if only he knew how ugly I feel). He didn’t know, but the Lord did. Those words spoken to me by him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit healed me of that feeling. I have not felt ugly since then, my self-confidence has increased, and my gratitude to my Father Creator for His creating me has brought me more and more love toward him." (Case #244)

Accounts of changes in self-concept are many and varied. Some indicated that the changes of a broad scope happened quickly, while others reported the visit to TACF was the catalyst for slower more incremental changes. While the case reported above is relatively one-dimensional, other cases like the following one reported by a male teacher are far more encompassing:

I experienced instant delivery from drugs, depression, and sexual sin. It was a transformation so radical that friends, colleagues, and scores of my high-school students started making inquiries about what happened to so change me. I was healed of sleeplessness (which had led me to addiction for illegally-obtained sleeping tablets)--even a change in my life style, driving attitudes, language (gutter, marine-type tongue), deliverance from high anxiety and stress for which I was well-known. The profound sense of total forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation with God. And now I have a love for the Lord so deep that sometimes it literally aches, a passion for the souls of my school students and others who don’t know Christ; a sense of praise and worship that has me singing songs of adoration as I wake up in the morning. It is incredible! (Case #574)

In both cases there is a positive self-judgment or self-esteem reflecting what the respondent believes he or she has experienced. Cathy no longer feels "ugly"; the teacher is no longer a depressed addict. It is particularly noteworthy that the last account brings out the fact that this alteration of self-judgment is shared by others. Seventy percent (70%) of the survey respondents indicated that friends and family members had commented about changes they could observe since the respondent returned from TACF.

These changes in self-perception did not appear to be a result of cognitive skills, but rather an ability to "let go"--to allow play rather than work to dominate the moment. As one respondent described it: "The peace I felt while ‘out’ in the Spirit and the overwhelming sense of God’s presence cannot be mistaken for anything else than God is moving, bringing changes about in his body, causing his people to relinquish control--all control--to Him." (Case #056) This "letting go" often brings an enhanced sense of personal freedom as noted by the following respondent:

I have experienced new boldness, creativity, and freedom from rejection, co-dependency, judgment, criticism (or at least an ongoing change in these behaviors and attitudes). I have a great desire to serve others, but with a new freedom from the "need to be needed." I am greatly aware of my own tendencies toward fear, pride, and ‘people pleasing"--and my need for God’s grace to be strong where I am weak. (Case #265).

The most common changes reported in this study of the TACF renewal/revival are those involving spiritual healing and some type of emotional healing (78%). A small but significant group of respondents also reported receiving healing from clinically diagnosed mental health problems (6%) and a somewhat larger group reported receiving a physical healing (21%). Both statistical modeling (see Poloma and Hoelter 1996) and an assessment of qualitative responses suggest that all of these forms of healing are interrelated, with spiritual healing or the relationship with the divine being the linchpin.

One respondent shared a physical healing that she received through a teaching on forgiveness that empowered her to forgive her deceased father:

I returned to the TACF at the end of January, 1995 and I was most blessed. That day I received the most significant touch from God that I have received in my four visits to the TACF. During Mary Audrey’s teaching on forgiveness, the Holy Spirit showed me the root of my high blood pressure. It was about my (deceased) father’s intense hatred for me. I was able to forgive him, and I knew the blood pressure had returned to normal. It was confirmed on the next visit to the doctor. (Case #050)

Another woman suffering from bulimia for 20 years went to the TACF "desperate to end this horrible compulsion." She shared how God had spoken to her during a TACF service and convicted her of a need to take care of her body; two months later she was healed:

Although I did not receive prayer that night (it was too crowded), I stood for a long time just waiting on God for something and asking him why he didn’t heal me of my eating disorder. Finally He said to me, "If you love me, why don’t you obey me?" I didn’t actually hear his voice, but the thought was strong and clear in my head. Then He gave me a spirit of obedience, together with the realization in my heart that my body was really His and I could no longer treat it badly. In mid October, 1994, I was at the TACF again and was delivered from boulimia. I have been free of that eating compulsion for over a year. (Case #233)

Another respondent distinguished between the coping she was able to do with the help of counseling and the healing she received:

I spent eight months hospitalized for clinical depression with suicidal tendencies. I got better through counseling, but I was only coping. Since I have experienced this move of the Spirit, I am healed of all pain of my past. It is gone! What counseling could never do, God did in a matter of minutes on the floor. (Case #1501).

The model of person suggested by both the survey data and the qualitative attachments is a holistic and triune one of mind, body, and spirit. As discussed at some length elsewhere (Poloma and Hoelter 1996) it is a model that takes into account the ritual context, bodily responses, emotions, and cognition. The final point I would like to explore is whether a kind of holistic healing extends beyond the individual person to somehow impact the larger community.

The Collective Overbrain and Revival Experiences

It seems to me that religion may be partly the product of humanity’s intuitions of its dual interiority and the fruitful creative Spirit generated by the interplay of the gene pool, as the Ancient of Days, and the upper brain as Logos, to use the intuitive language of one historical religion, Christianity. The Filioque principle (the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son), Western Christians might say! Since culture is in once sense, to paraphrase Wilhelm Dilthey, objectivated and crystallized mentality (Geist), it may well be that some cultures reinforce one or another semiautonomous cerebral system at the expense of others through education and other modes of conditioning. This results in conflict between them or repression of one by another, instead of free interplay and mutual support--what is sometimes called love (Turner 1993:104; italics in original.)

In the closing pages of this article, I would like to return to Victor Turner’s exploratory dialogue between neurology and culturology. In it Turner treats ritual, in the words of one commentator, as "a special kind of performance in the cultural arena where the reptilian and old- mammalian brain meet the neocortex " (Schechner 1986:13). We have explored in this analysis the role that p/c rituals may play in changes in self-identity and self-esteem. Following anthropologist Victor Turner’s provocative model, neurology has been coupled with culturology to frame a description of what may be occurring in the brain without losing sight of the meaning and thick description of the experiences provided by the participants. Turner (1993:104) had no intention of "reducing ritual to cerebral neurology" nor was claiming that "ritual is nothing but the structure and functioning of the brain writ large." He regarded the human brain and nervous system as being represented by various strata--going so far as to suggest the possibility of a Jungian-inspired "collective overbrain." The collective overbrain was said to be a "global population of brains [. . .] whose members are incessantly communicating with one another through every physical and mental instrumentality." It can be reflected in both ritual and communitas.

My use of Turner’s model throughout this paper has been perhaps more play than work. It does not "prove" the model--a model that has been described as "seeking a synthesis not mainly between two scientific viewpoints but between science and faith" (Schechner 1993:18). It simply has been a heuristic device to depict changes in identity formation and self-esteem in TACF revival-like rituals. It is in this playful mode that I continue with a brief discussion of how the "collective brain" is reflected in renewal/revival rituals and how it has the potential to impact the world.

Worship--through song and dance, with other physical manifestations waxing and waning--appears to a main vehicle through which a greater unity among people is experienced as well as prayed for. This "breaking of dividing walls" (also the name of a popular renewal song) is often described in terms of healing--healing is sought in broken personal relationships, among different racial groups, between the sexes, among religious denominations, and among nations and nationalities. The following from a young Chinese American who described an emotional healing (that reflects a deeper chasm) after praying with a Chinese missionary during a renewal meeting:

I felt a separation from other Chinese people because, as a first generation Chinese, I am not accepted by people born in China since I do not speak Chinese. I am also separate from Americans because I am Chinese in their eyes. I am a minority in a never-never-land. Anna (the missionary) immediately accepted me. I knew this--and it was important for me to experience this kind of acceptance. It was a real demonstration of God’s power to break dividing walls. (Case #752)

Other "healings" reflected divisions within geographic areas that have experienced centuries or mistrust and warfare. One British man expressed a common feeling--one of being moved by the many nationalities and cultures commonly found at TACF services:

On top of other burdens, I am particularly envisioned for reconciliation around the world, and especially in Europe this year as we "celebrate" (horrible word) the victory over the Nazis 50 years ago, on May 8. I was moved many times in Toronto by our fellowship at breakfast amongst Brits, Germans, French, and Dutch. As a European languages teacher, the delight in sharing our unity was very significant to me. So I pray that the blessing will be known literally at national levels as people return to Europe from Toronto with love and reconciliation in their hearts. . . The Lord gave me a vision in the hotel room in Canada--a clear stream of thousands of individual lights and fire, like burning torches, combined and united, forming a huge bridge or arch of flame across the Atlantic, and then diversifying throughout Europe. It was healing the hates and conflicts of the past and restoring His love to these nations which were the first to spread His light across the world. (Case #584)

Testimonies of this type--some hopes and visions; others reflecting personal examples of "healings" between men and women, blacks and whites, English and Irish, Koreans and Japanese--are commonplace at TACF-like renewal conferences that are held around the globe. Cultures (often in the name of religion) have been known to reinforce hatred among different groups, but cultural change can come out of alterations in self-identity brought about through religious experience. Experiences described in this paper appear to be personally empowering, enabling people to "let go" of past hurts and past hatreds and to love as they have experienced divine love.

Social scientists are reluctant to speak of love, preferring more antiseptic terms like "positive cathexis." It is love--experiences of divine love that affect human love--that is at the heart of the renewal. The problem here--as in the past--is that a movement’s charismatic moment is often all too fleeting, often petrifying into a new group or groups that can add to the problem of divisiveness and destruction. The history of the p/c movement during this century is no exception. Yet the fragile luminal and playful moment of this latest outpouring of charisma offers renewed hope as we approach the new millennium. As selves are renewed and made whole, perhaps the foundations can be laid for healthy interpersonal relationships that will actually bring about changes in the larger world. At present the thought of the p/c movement being an instrument facilitating peace and harmony seems impossible. There are all-too-many signs of pettiness and sectarianism in the movement to warrant such a vision. Yet maybe--just maybe--it can be a catalyst for the "free interplay and mutual support--that we sometimes call love" spoken of by Victor Turner. Certainly a personal foundation has been laid in the lives of many who have participated in my research on the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Whether or not the visions of revival prophets and revival intercessors who foretell and pray for unity and harmony will bear fruit in collectivities as it has in individual lives is something that remains to be seen.


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