When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them….’In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’
Acts 2:1-2, 4, 17-18 (NIV)
by Luis Lugo
Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Religion, in ways both obvious and subtle, is reshaping the world’s social and political landscape. Despite predictions of religion’s demise, since the late 1970s we have been witnessing the growing power of religion in shaping people’s public identity. Talk of “secularization” and of a “post-religious” society has given way to a renewed recognition of religion’s influence in people’s social and political lives. This re-emergence of “public religion” is happening throughout the world and across religious traditions – from Islam and Hinduism to Buddhism and Judaism. Christianity, the world’s largest religion, is no exception.
Within Christianity, pentecostal and related renewalist or Spirit-filled movements are by all accounts among the fastest growing. The major strands of pentecostalism now represent at least one quarter of all Christians, according to the World Christian Database, ranking second only to Catholicism in the number of followers. In direct and indirect ways, pentecostal beliefs and practices are remaking the face of world Christianity. In Latin America, for example, pentecostals now account for approximately three-in-four Protestants.
Despite the large and growing influence of the pentecostal movement, there is relatively little research available that gauges its influence on global public life. To help gain a better understanding of the nature and dynamics of global pentecostalism and related renewalist movements, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has conducted a pathbreaking, cross-national survey of the views of pentecostal publics on a range of political, social and economic issues, as well as their religious beliefs and practices.With generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, the Forum conducted surveys in the United States and nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America with sizable renewalist populations: Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, the Philippines and South Korea. The results of the surveys begin to paint a rich portrait of the views of adherents in these renewalist movements.
Pentecostals take their name from the biblical feast of Pentecost (in Judaism, the harvest festival of Shavuot), which took place 50 days after Passover. Early followers of Jesus who had gathered for the festival, as described in the New Testament Book of Acts, were said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” and able to “speak in other tongues.” Although closely resembling evangelical Protestants in many of their doctrinal beliefs, pentecostals part ways with their evangelical cousins by strongly affirming that such practices as speaking in tongues, prophesying, divine healing and other miraculous signs of the Spirit are as valid today as they were in the early church.
This diverse and dynamic branch of Christianity is difficult for even religious scholars to describe.Most agree, however, that it includes two major groups: pentecostals and charismatics. Together, they are sometimes referred to as “renewalists” because of their common belief in the spiritually renewing gifts of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals belong either to one of the historical pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ, that have their roots in the American religious revivals of the early 20th century, or to newer, largely independent indigenous churches. These newer churches, sometimes labeled “neopentecostal” or “neo-charismatic,” number in the tens of thousands and are especially prevalent in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Charismatics share many of the experiences that are distinctive to pentecostalism but remain members of mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations. This movement, sometimes referred to as “second wave” pentecostalism, emerged in significant numbers in the 1960s as part of what its members considered to be a much-needed spiritual renewal within these older churches.
The roots of the modern pentecostal movement are in the American Midwest. In 1901, Charles Parham, the leader of a Bible school in Topeka, Kan., came to believe that the speaking in tongues that he observed there occurred as the direct result of the working of the Holy Spirit. He then spread that theological message during travels through Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. In 1905, William Seymore, an African-American preacher who heard him speak, was soon himself preaching about the baptism of the Spirit and the gift of tongues at a revival meeting on Los Angeles’ Azusa Street.
“Breathing strange utterances,” the Los Angeles Daily Times reported on its front page of April 18, 1906, “and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand, the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles.”
News of the events on Azusa Street quickly spread across the United States, then across the world. Believing that the return of Jesus was imminent, hundreds of new converts began preaching the gospel, speaking in tongues and performing healings, which they considered proof of the Holy Spirit’s workings.
Our report – prepared a century after the Azusa Street revival – does not attempt to quantify the number of renewalists worldwide. However, we have assembled religious demographic profiles for the 10 countries surveyed, including the United States. The profiles, published as an appendix to this report, include religious population estimates based on national censuses and similar surveys.
We also have prepared a companion report that provides background on the pentecostal movement in Latin America, Africa and Asia, including a chronology of the political involvement of pentecostals in the nine countries we surveyed in those regions. This report is available on our website at https://www.pewresearch.org/religion.
One of the reasons the renewalist movement has only rarely received close study in the past is because pentecostals have often been considered as being out of the mainstream, not only distinct in their religious practices but also largely apolitical in their outlook. Our survey findings suggest, however, that the widespread perception of pentecostals as basically apolitical in outlook might need rethinking. If so, then pentecostalism’s growing numbers will almost certainly guarantee that the movement will be a major force in shaping the political as well as the religious landscape of the 21st century.