Pentecostals--fundamentalist Christians who identify speaking in tongues and miraculous healing as divine gifts--have long been ridiculed as poor, ignorant, violent and licentious. In this remarkable study, Wacker, raised a pentecostal and now a respected historian at Duke University, devastates the standard stereotypes. But he also departs from the Edenic model of denominational historiography, which imagines, for example, that the Azusa Street mission was a model of interracial harmony before the fatal break between its black and white founders.
What emerges instead is a remarkably rich account of the inner lives of ordinary men and women who felt themselves filled with the power of the Holy Ghost. In 15 tightly organized chapters, Wacker offers a comprehensive ethnography of the first generation of pentecostalstheir faith, their social attitudes and their politics. He leads the reader through enchanted landscapes populated by angels and demons, pauses to assess reports of xenolalia (speaking in a human language allegedly unknown to the speaker) and surveys the gulfs that have divided charismatics from their detractors.
It is difficult to imagine a more judicious treatment of the subject; meticulously researched, lyrically written and continuously illuminating, Wacker's book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the origins of this influential current in American culture.