More than tongues can tell: significations in Black Pentecostal thought
Williams, Eric Lewis
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The current study seeks to insert African American Pentecostal theologies as a generative subject of examination for scholars of American and African Atlantic religious history and theology. By providing close and critical readings of newly-found sources of African American Pentecostal theology by four significant African American Pentecostal theologians, this study situates African American Pentecostal thought as a distinctive theological trajectory within both African Atlantic Christianity and North American religious thought. The writings of theologians Ozro Thurston Jones, Jr., Ithiel Conrad Clemmons, James Alexander Forbes, Jr., and William Clair Turner, Jr., will be explored to expose the contours of a distinctive African American Pentecostal theology. An examination of the writings of this cohort demonstrates that African American Pentecostal thought is contextual (marked by an openness to and engagement with various Christian and philosophical traditions) and liberationist (deeply committed to a revitalization of Christian witness in the pursuit of social justice). In this comparative analysis of their respective theological programs, with a focus on recurring theological ideas, values, and themes, this study provides a phenomenology of African American Pentecostal theology. Within the field of modern black theology, there has been a call by scholars for more attention to be paid to pneumatology, which has been generally neglected; while within the field of North American Pentecostalism, a glossocentric pneumatology has been the dominant theological framework. The four theologians examined in this study resist both limitations, and in the diversity of their methods and theological perspectives, these scholars participate in a broader, more generous theological enterprise. This project seeks to both unsettle and complexify anew various reductionist readings of African American Pentecostal theologies and to create space for a deepened exchange between the broader traditions of African Atlantic Christian theologies and African American religious thought. The methodologies employed in this study include biographical criticism, phenomenological analysis, and religious ethnography. Biographical criticism underscores the critical importance of social contexts in the formation of black religious consciousness. Phenomenological analysis allows for an examination of African American Pentecostalism as its own distinctive religious phenomenon. And critical religious ethnography is employed to assess the reception and impact of each theologian’s overall theological production. Given the growth and theological maturation of Pentecostalism, and the social, cultural and ecumenical impact it has exerted worldwide, this dissertation examines what the theology of the African American Pentecostal movement has contributed to contemporary Christian thought amidst the shifting theological contours of World Christianity and North American religious thought.