Taming the Spirit by Using Indigenous Culture: An Ethnographic Study of the True Jesus Church as Confucian-Style Pentecostalism (completed)

Ke-hsien Huang

This project was to explore how the indigenous culture of Confucianism is utilized in various ways that tame supposedly freewheeling Spirit among Chinese Pentecostal laity in order to maintain congregational order and consolidate religious leadership. Through this project, I hoped not only to highlight the understudied reality of Chinese Pentecostalism, but also to argue for the theoretical contribution of the case as Confucian-style Pentecostalism to the studies of global Pentecostalism. This project was to be based on ethnographic work particularly in North and West China in the widespread networks of the True Jesus Church, one of the oldest, largest Pentecostal groups around the world.

Despite the prevalence and prominence of various Spirit-led practices among TJC laypersons, I analyzed the performances of the practices have been controlled, the importance downplayed, and the occurrences compartmentalized. Three specific aspects of the TJC religious life were examined: (1) worship services have been shaped as Confucian-style educational venues, which emphasizes order, silence, and learning canons, (2) the base of religious legitimacy in the church has shifted from God-given spiritual capability to traditional authority passed down through apprenticeship that enhances literati-style ability of memorizing canons, and (3) spiritual practices have been assigned to female partners and compartmentalized in specific temporal-spatial areas. By demonstrating the aspects of the TJ faith that are imbued by Confucianism, I aimed to challenge the stereotyped image of Pentecostal worships filled with the abundance of emotions and spontaneity, calling for further investigations on Confucian-style Pentecostalism in East Asia.

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