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Language, Charisma, and Creativity: The Ritual Life of a Religious Movement.

By Thomas J. Csordas. Berkeley: University of California, 1997. Pp. xxii + 320. $40.

The Catholic charismatic movement has been one of the more visible developments in spirituality since the late 1960s. It has come under the scrutiny of various scholars from different academic perspectives. Csordas offers an anthropological viewpoint and attempts to show that, in spite of their novel behavior, Catholic charismatics can be understood in terms of contemporary culture.

Part 1 introduces the charismatic movement in its cross-cultural and international dimensions. It provides a detailed historical sketch and describes how the movement developed in different parts of the Catholic world. Further, it attempts to place the movement in its cultural and historical contexts, stressing such issues as the charismatic's identity and the movement's transformation of space and time. C. believes that the charismatic movement can be understood by analyzing three features of postmodern culture: "the dissociation of symbols from their referents in such a way as to facilitate a free play of signifiers over the cultural landscape; the decentering of authority in meaning, discourse, and social form; and the globalization of culture associated with consumerism and informal revolution" (43).

Part 2 is an in-depth study of the Word of God/Sword of the Spirit community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. C. provides a history of this controversial charismatic community and examines the two basic processes, namely, the "radicalization of charisma and ritualization of practice" that evolved over a 20-year period, giving special attention to such key concepts as spontaneity, intimacy, and control.

Part 3 demonstrates the creativity of ritual performance, examines the ritual genre of prophecy, and gives an account of speaking in tongues and hearing prophecy. C. here reflects on such key issues as the contemporary nature of rationality, the transformation of space and time in the daily lives of charismatics, the relationship between the sexes, the overlapping of ritual and daily events in charismatic experience, the building of a sense of community through ritual participation, and the creative role of language and metaphor expressed in prophetic utterances. He concludes that charisma is a collective and not an individual process. It is a product of the rhetoric that is generated in the ritual performance.

C.'s analysis of the charismatic movement is an insightful contribution to the understanding of a contemporary Catholic phenomenon. His nonjudgmental approach and his use of ethnographic prose to describe religious ritual in the words of its performers themselves provide an opening for seeing the movement as a more complex development in Catholic spirituality. One might be disappointed at not finding any theological evaluations. But as one ploughs through this rather heavy volume one becomes aware that the charismatic movement cannot be understood and assessed simply in terms of its theological or spiritual orthodoxy.

While C.'s book is undoubtedly an important contribution to the study of the Catholic charismatic movement, and while, in conjunction with his earlier The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing, it is indispensable reading for anyone studying the movement, it is not free from controversy. When, for instance, C. concludes, toward the end of his book, that "defining the sacred is not a theological but an ethnological task" (265), one wonders whether he is eschewing all kinds of evaluation and adopting a purely relativistic reading of religious belief and practice.
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Author:Saliba, John A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:552
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