USC funds to study Pentacostalism go to Biola prof

Brad Christerson, chair of Biola’s sociology department, is one recipient of a $6.9 million grant to research Pentecostal movements in Los Angeles.

Amy Ritter, Writer

USC recently announced Brad Christerson, chair of Biola’s sociology department, as one of the five recipients of a $6.9 million grant to research Pentecostal movements in Los Angeles.

USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture announced recipients of the $6.9 million total in grants for the completion of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative at the beginning of April. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the initiative was announced in March last year, giving researchers a year to propose their projects. The two-year project will culminate in a book detailing the team’s findings.

The initiative contains two parts, the first of which is a global effort, drawing $3.5 million of the total funding. The other $3.4 million will fund the local researchers like Christerson and the creation of a digital database.

“My part of the project is just to look at the L.A.-based movements like Vineyard Church, Calvary Chapel, Hope Chapel, Four Square to see some new trends, new movements of the Spirit,” Christerson explained.

Christerson has already begun interviewing church leaders while his four research colleagues are investigating Latino Pentecostalism, Black Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel movement in Los Angeles.

“I think we need to understand better what God’s doing so that we can embrace the good things,” remarked Christerson on the initiative’s relationship to Biola.

The university had a frigid relationship with Pentecostalism in the past, according to Christerson, but he said there is an increased openness to it because of faculty and other leaders at Biola with Pentecostal backgrounds.

“I’m just interested to learn more and see how God is using the movement, how it’s shaping our city,” said Christerson, whose interest in L.A. was sparked by his position as director of the new urban studies major at Biola.

CRCC Director Don Miller, who established PCRI, has voiced similar motivation for the project.

“We are interested in understanding why Pentecostalism is growing so rapidly, what impact it is having on society, and how it is different in various cultural settings,” Miller told USC’s magazine.

In addition to the local initiative Christerson is involved in, the global portion of the initiative launched this month. Over 500 individuals, team researchers, and research centers submitted proposals and applications for grants last year. From this group, a team of interdisciplinary scholars has chosen 16 individuals and teams, in addition to four research centers to participate.

“In addition to individual grants, we’re funding research centers around the world to create networks of research scholars,” said Timothy Sato, CRCC communications director.

The research teams will be working in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Soviet Union and the four centers are located in El Salvador, Indonesia, Nigeria and Russia, with one more location pending according to a CRCC press release.

“The vibrant growth of Pentecostal Christianity is not just in the West; it’s global,” explained Sato.

Researchers will focus on connections between the movements and the social sciences, excluding any theological study, according to Sato. The various research topics range form “Coptic Charismatic Renewal in Egypt: A Modern History” to “The Spread of the Chinese Indigenous Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement in the East Asian Chinese Community: the Case of the True Jesus Church.”

Although Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity are both distinct, their many similarities make them difficult to separate, according to Sato, who said the center decided to put the movements together for research purposes.

CRCC and the John Templeton Foundation recognized these two movements as worthy research subjects because of their size and significance.

“It’s great that scholars are recognizing that Pentecostalism globally is really changing the world, and the church is growing like crazy all over the world, and a lot of that growth is due to Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity,” Christerson said.

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