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“Holy Rollers”—with this epithet most people dismiss members of the Pentecostal sect as wild religious fanatics. In this new study, folklorist Elaine Lawless draws on fieldwork among Pentecostal congregations in the limestone region of southern Indiana to offer a sympathetic view of the Pentecostals as a special group distinguished by their own folk traditions and religious expression.
From her findings she describes the members’ codes of dress and behavior, their attitudes toward themselves and others, their special use of words, and their distinctive religious practices. Focusing on the activity of a particular church, she then analyzes the structure of the service and shows how its elements—singing, praying, testifying, preaching, and speaking in tongues—exhibit, not a formless display of fervor, but rather an ordered and traditional sequence that creates a unique religious expression.
Important to the study is the attention given the role of women. Although the Pentecostal interpretation of Biblical teachings accords men dominance, women occasionally preach in the church and during the testifying part of the service they are often able to exercise control and religious authority. Many of the women have relatives in the dangerous work of the limestone quarries, and for these women the personal experience and close relationship fostered by the Pentecostal church, Lawless finds, offers welcome emotional support.
This readable study affords a new understanding of one Pentecostal sect and an appreciation of the role of women in fundamentalist religious practices.
Elaine J. Lawless is assistant professor of English and folklore at the University of Missouri.
Using her skills as a folklorist, Lawless presents a sensitive picture of the status of white women in rural Pentecostal churches in Southern Indiana. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Indiana, Pentecostal church, Pentecostal women, Pentecostal tradition
Christian Denominations and Sects
Lawless, Elaine J., "God's Peculiar People" (1988). Christian Denominations and Sects. Book 2.