CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

The Italian Pentecostal Movement: between heterogeneity and social emancipation

by Ivan D’ALESSANDRO (University of “LUISS – Guido Carli”, Rome)

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


The Italian Pentecostal Movement does not reject, instead proudly affirms the humble origins of its history. The movement was begun by simple Italian emigrant agricultural workers in the USA who, at the beginning of the 1900, returned back to their native country to share their newly found faith with their friends and families. At this point it is important to highlight that the origins of the movement reside in people from a very low educational background who, however, led by the Spirit and a profound knowledge of the Bible, were able to establish the basis for what later on became the largest religious movement of Christian spiritual awakening of the century. Like the vast majority of the Italian population at the beginning of the 1900, the emigrant farmers who had become pioneers of the Pentecostal movement were part of that situation of general infrastructural analphabetism also. The Giolittian’s statutes, those regarding the solution to the plague of illiteracy in Italy, were being approved approximately around about the same time as the birth of the Pentecostal movement, denoting that about 90% of the Italian population was illiterate.  Therefore, one can assess that although the origins of Italian Pentecostalism reside in underprivileged and illiterate backgrounds, this condition was common to the best part of the Italian population at the beginning of the 1900. Throughout the one hundred year of Pentecostalism in Italy it has been shown that, without denying the humble origins of the movement, there are numerous churches whose members can no longer be exclusively identified with metropolitan proletariat. 
Recent surveys demonstrate that the chronological development of the movement coincides with parallel rising in the social status of the new generations of Italian Pentecostals: on the academic front, the vast majority of the young Pentecostals, such as the third and forth generations, succeeds in achieving university degrees and, with regards to occupational levels, they position themselves within the highest social ranks both in the free professions and at a managerial and entrepreneurial middle class.  Hence, it would be incorrect to talk about homogeneity with regards to the social composition of the contemporary Italian Pentecostal Church. On the contrary, as a matter of facts, the movement has witnessed to a great deal of emancipation since the Post-War World II years which supported, within three generations of believers, to the constitution of a rather heterogeneous social layout of the Pentecostal Church in Italy.  

At this point, it is crucial to mention Max Weber extensive research work on the role of religious movements as emancipation tools. In the beginning of the 1900, Max Weber became famous for his groundbreaking theories on the relation between Calvinism and European Capitalism. His most famous work is his essay “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” where he argues that the attitude of the Calvinists to live modestly and to manage their finances wisely produced sufficient funds to commence the first phase of industrialization process in Europe. In other words, Weber theorized that the saving of the Protestant population of the sixteen, seventeen and eighteen hundreds constituted the prime nucleus of capital for the Industrial Revolution.  

Even though the Italian context cannot be specularly compared to the economical cycle assessed by Weber (as he mostly considered the situation of Germany and central Europe), the Italian Pentecostal also, contrarily to what is often believed, has been a tool of social emancipation within its national borders. Nevertheless, Weber’s over-secularized view of religion might be considered in disagreement with the Pentecostal faith which founds itself primarily of scriptural precepts more than what he described as the “soul of profit”.
In the book of Proverbs at chapter 16 verse 3 it is written, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (NIV)
Therefore, to make the Lord the essence of a believer’s conduct is the most defining characteristic of both the spiritual and secular life of a Pentecostal. This is because the nature of Christianity is Redemption. The spiritual redemption causes transformation, renewing of the mind and the spirit which, consequently, brings about significant sociological changes.  Hence, it can be affirmed that Christianity is emancipation.  Emancipation, however, does not imply automatic financial wealth, but it is a consequence of one’s spiritual discipline of consecration, longing for self-improvement. After Simon had encountered the glorified Christ, he became Peter, Apostle of the Christian faith in the world. Throughout his evangelistic work, initially only a number of mere slaves and plebes discovered the Christian faith. By the third century A.D., however, evidence has been found that the Faith was being discovered even amongst higher social classes such as important Patrician families and Equestrian bourgeoisie.
In the context of faith as a tool of historical sociological emancipation, one may also consider the life of Martin Luther who went from being an understated Augustinian monk to the becoming one of the greatest religious reformers of all times. Furthermore, even from an institutional point of view, the Pentecostal movement was groundbreaking in Italy for being the first non-Roman-Catholic religious confession to become an official religion recognized by the State.  The first sign of emancipation in this area was the 1928 first National Congress of Pentecostal Churches where the various churches begun to organize themselves into regional committees. Soon after,  the second step was made in 1945 when the Pentecostal Churches realized an ulterior convention in Sicily, where for before the time, was decided the realization of an organizational structure of Presbyterian type, with the name of Christian Churches Evangeliche Pentecostali (CCEP) that subsequently it assumed the name of Assemblies of God in Italy (ADI), whose representation was entrusted to the figure of a president. The ADI, with the Federation of the Pentecostal Churches in Italy (FCP), another association of Evangelical churches, represent today, the two most represented organizations on the national territory. The picture then is completed with one group of non-affiliated independent churches to some organizations, which, but not entirely, concur with the doctrine of the Pentecostal Movement. As a result of their birth, these organizations have engaged for the creation of institutions times to improve the acquaintance of the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, just in order to answer to the requirement to deepen the study of the Word of God, to one called divine to the Christian ministries and for giving a greater training in sight of a service, in 1954 the ADI they founded Italian Biblical Institute (IBI), which it carries out the own activity through a precise scholastic program that it includes, beyond to the study of the Christian disciplines, various activities of spiritual nature. In more recent times the FCP fuse the Pentecostal Faculty of Religious Sciences, an academic institution of the Charisma Foundation that is placed like mission that one to answer to the needs and the expectations of the Pentecostal world in formation matter. The Pentecostal Faculty of Religious Sciences is the first formative structure of academic level in the Italian Pentecostal/Evangelical world. The foundation of the Faculty is due to the necessity of more and more giving one answer adapted to the question coming from urgent from the young generations of one theological formation of advanced level. It I found myself on the acknowledgment of the importance to supply an academic base to the theological formation and a good pedagogical formulation to the formation of men and women for the multiple tasks associates you to the Christian movement. Having realized such an associate-institutional structure, today, in the occasion of the celebrations of the first centennial one, the Italian Pentecostal movement, with its numerous members pertaining to the various organizations, is shaped like one between the many instruments of social and cultural emancipation of the nation.


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