Dissertation - completed

Inappropriate Spirits - Religious Tastes and Styles among Middle Class Pentecostals in Argentina

The research project was dedicated to the study of middle class Pentecostalism in Argentina. It started in 2007 and was academically embedded in the Center for the Interdisciplinary Research on Religion and Society (CIRRuS) and the Centre d'Etudes Interdisciplinaires des Faits Religieux (CEIFR). Both research institutes, focusing with their research on topics such as religion and social class, Bourdieuan theory, sects, and Pentecostalism, provided a highly enriching research environment for the project. Moreover, experienced specialists from the two institutes, Heinrich Schäfer (University of Bielefeld) and Nathalie Luca (Ecole Des Hautes Etudes En Sciences Sociales), inspired and supported the project by their supervision. Financially the project was supported by the German National Academic Foundation, the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology, and the Franco-German University.

This study explores middle class Pentecostalism in Argentina. A religious movement that has spread predominantly within Latin America's lower classes, Pentecostalism has so far been studied mainly as a lower class religion, whereas its relationship to the middle class has been barely investigated. Endeavoring to fill this void, this study poses the following questions: How does Argentina's middle class relate to Pentecostalism? What form of Pentecostalism do middle class Pentecostals create? This dissertation addresses these questions based on empirical research on the Pentecostal movement in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina. The research entailed observations in numerous Pentecostal churches - lower and middle class churches - as well as in-depth interviews with pastors and lay members of the movement. In a dialogue between sociological theory and the empirical results, a theoretical approach to middle class Pentecostalism in Argentina is developed here. This approach suggests that Pentecostalism stands to some degree in tension with the social representations of the Argentinean middle class. The middle class, imagined as European, modern, rational, and civilized, draws symbolic boundaries in opposition to the lower class and its culture, often perceived as superstitious, emotional, and uncivilized. Considered a lower class movement showing "inappropriate" characteristics such as speaking in tongues, Pentecostalism does not fit well with the representations of the middle class. It appears as an inappropriate religious practice. When affiliated with this movement, middle class actors overstep to some degree the symbolic boundaries of the middle class and may, in consequence, suffer social tensions with their peers. This raises the question of how these individuals deal with the inappropriateness of their religious belonging. Argentinean middle class Pentecostals employ symbolic boundary work to negotiate the (in-)appropriateness of their religious belonging. By displaying distinctive tastes and styles of Pentecostalism, they draw symbolic boundaries in opposition to the "inappropriate" attributes of Pentecostalism. This boundary work helps lessen and disguise this inappropriateness, and leads to a milder and socially more acceptable form of Pentecostalism.