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B21 Transcultural Dynamics of Pentecostalism

Junior Research Group: Transcultural Dynamics of Pentecostalism: Pentecostal Christianity between Globalisation and Localised Spheres in Singapore and the Straits

Coordination: Katja Rakow


Over the last decades, Pentecostal Christianity has increasingly developed into a global phenomenon with a strong ability to adapt to different cultural contexts.

Since the 1980s, a sustained growth of Pentecostal churches in the multi-ethnic and multireligious, but secular state of Singapore is observable. The Singaporean state prescribes a strict separation of the political and the religious sphere and sanctions any violation of the separation by law. State control necessitates ongoing negotiations and transformations of religious discourses, practices and identities that produce new localised forms of Singaporean Pentecostalism and simultaneously generate new forms of a global identification with Pentecostal Christianity.

The Junior Research Group “Transcultural Dynamics of Pentecostalism” focused on the transformation of late-modern Pentecostal moral codes and modes of subjectivation, questions of identity, and the negotiation of boundaries in the nexus of globalising processes and localised public spheres in contemporary Singapore. Local processes of negotiation, adaptation, and transformations of religious discourses and practices in a global context were at the centre of the analysis. Here, the focus was on the production of new forms of localisation of Pentecostal Christianity and how these are re-injected into larger circuits of exchange.

The JRG explored the transcultural dynamics of Pentecostalism in Singapore via three interlinked sub-projects. Each subproject focussed on different aspects of Pentecostal Christianity in Singapore in order to analyse transcultural processes from various angles: 1. transnational media networks, 2. lived religion in a transnational network of independent megachurches and 3. missionary activities within and outside of Singapore.


"Making the Global Network Tangible: Anglophone Christianity Beyond North America"

Dr. Katja Rakow

Dr. Katja Rakow was leader of the Junior Research Group. Herresearch project "Making the Global Network Tangible” was a fieldwork-based case study on televangelists and megachurch pastors in the USA and Singapore. The analysis focuses on the global distribution of media products and the network of religious actors and key figures as cultural mediators between different local and global spheres.

The project sought to make tangible the dynamic and multifaceted global network of Anglophone Faith preachers, churches and ministries while critically scrutinizing the notion that this network simply represents a global expansion of North American evangelical and neo-Pentecostal Christianity. Further, the project aimed to conceptually develop the rather descriptive notion of contemporary Pentecostalism as a global network that is prevalent in a number of academic studies on Pentecostal Christianity by applying an inter-organisational analytical frame to a specific segment of contemporary Pentecostal Christianity, referred to as the Faith Movement. Case studies of two different key actors, their related church organisations and media ministries located in North America and Singapore as well as their various connections to one another and various other nodal points of the network in South Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia formed the empirical base and point of departure for developing a multidimensional description and analysis of the global multi-centred network.


"Lived Religiosity in Modern Times: A religious studies perspective on a contemporary neocharismatic megachurch in Singapore (working title)"

Esther Berg, MA

In my dissertation, I investigated the lived religiosity among small group members within a neocharismatic cell megachurch in Singapore. Such cell churches (mega and otherwise) are organized as networks of small groups which constitute central sites for the performance and experience of lived religiosity within the church. Over the late 20th century, cell churches have become a salient feature of the contemporay Christian landscape in Asia and the global city of Singapore in particular.
Based on several months of field research in and around the megachurch, this dissertation pursued two objectives: (1) On a descriptive level, it sought to provide a nuanced account of lived religiosity in a contemporary neocharismatic megachurch in Singapore. (2) On an analytical level it sought to answer the question of how said religious discourses and practices are shaped by (and in turn also shape) a “modern condition” in general and the modern condition of contemporary Singaporean society in particular. Both the global city of Singapore and the institution of the megachurch are in this dissertation considered as particular “materializations” of modernity and thus ideal heuristic spaces to explore the relationship between religious practices and discourses on the one hand and what could be conceptualized as the contemporary condition of “global modernity” on the other hand. Since Asian Christianities in general and megachurches in Asia in particular as well as contemporary Christian small group practices within such megachurches are so far underrepresented in current research, this dissertation seeks to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of these contemporary religious phenomena.

"Building the 'Antioch of Asia': Christian Heterotopias and the State in Singapore" (working title)

Matthias Deininger, MA

This thesis examines the imbrications of secularism and religious pluralism in Singapore by focusing on evangelical Christians and their commitment to fulfill the biblical mission imperative “to go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Over the past few decades Singapore has developed into a culturally-significant hub for evangelical Christianity in Asia and, today serves as an important base for both international and homegrown missionary organizations, training institutes, Bible schools, and mass media outlets (DeBernardi 2008; R.Goh 2009). The self-understanding of most evangelical churches to be structured towards mission is commonly framed in a broader prophetic narrative of a unique God-given destiny for Singapore to become the “Antioch of Asia”, an epicenter for mission outreach and world evangelism. Fulfilling Singapore’s prophetic destiny, however, is not only understood in terms of saving “the unreached” in and outside Singapore but also positions the Antioch call as a mandate for public engagement within the differentiated secular spheres of society. In its nation-based apologetic reading, it is a call for transforming the nation itself; a nation understood to be under siege by the “corrupting influence of sin, evil, and immorality.”

Against this background it is argued that the “Antioch” narrative has become a powerful force within the contemporary Evangelical imaginary, creating alternative symbolic territorialities and temporalities which seek to resignify the spiritual telos and developmental ethos of the postcolonial state (D.Goh 2010). At the same time, the realization of these alternate spatiotemporal orderings contest the very ideas of the urban public sphere and state-set boundaries between the secular and the religious. In an environment, where the government exercises strong legal and bureaucratic control over all religious matters Evangelicals are thus forced to develop flexible strategies to negotiate and translate their positions as Christian citizens both in regard to Singapore’s inherent ethnoreligious diversity and in relation to the secular self-understanding of the state.

Taking the “Antioch” narrative as a starting point this thesis therefore aims to understand how evangelical Christians realize their utopic idea of a Christian "Antioch” and locate themselves within the nation as rooted aspect of the Singaporean polity without losing their evangelical and outward-oriented character. To this end, two lines of inquiry are followed. In a first step, I anchor my analysis within the specific socio-political and historical context, thus helping to understand the conditions that enabled the growth of Evangelicalism in Singapore and the concomitant emergence of the “Antioch” narrative. On a second level, I am concerned with the question of how the Antioch call is actualized within the contemporary Evangelical landscape. Drawing from empirical data gathered during field research between 2013 and 2015, I examine both mission practices and strategies as well as Evangelical public engagements on recent discourses of sexual morality and family values. In doing so, this thesis hopes to contribute to current discussions on urban Christanities and secularism within the anthropology of Christanity and sociology of religion. 





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JRG members

f.l.t.r. Katja Rakow, Matthias Deininger, Esther Berg

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