Causes of Revivals

The spirit of God is moving across America’s Bible Belt colleges – “he” has first clearly manifest at Asbury University in Kentucky. The the Holy Spirit’s power then lit up Lee University in Tennessee. And after this, Cedarville University in Ohio and Samford University in Alabama.

This is how Christian would describe this. Use of the word “revival” in Christianity varies a great deal but it usually has several of the below qualities:

  • emotionalism (fervency, inspirational, joy, worship)
  • signs of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 : wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirit, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues)
  • spontaneous group contagion
  • restoring commitment: (I left this out in my original post because it seemed obvious, here is a definition of “revival” from Oxford Reference: “A term applied to mass movements which are based upon intense religious excitement. Periodic religious revivals, which seek to restore commitment and attachment to the group, are a regular sociological feature of religious traditions.”

I don’t think that a spirit or a god is causing this phenomena. Instead, my head goes into a comparative analysis to make sense of these remarkable happenings. I am interested in what social settings, human temperaments and theological expectations make these phenomena occur. It seems to me that there are at least two necessary ingredients that these cross-religion phenomena share:

  • emotional theologies: Charismatic or Holiness movements in Christianity; Bhakti sects in Hinduism; Shiite imamism in Islam. That is, theologies that expect or yearn for such expressions. For this reason, revivals are less likely in non-Evangelical Episcopals, Hindu Shaivism or Islamic Wahhabism.
  • social tension / existential fears: Covid blues (social isolation, sadness, frustration, anger), social insecurities (war, poverty, lack of jobs) and lack of meaning (due to the emptiness of a materialistic, superficial culture)

Question for readers: What are your thoughts?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Causes of Revivals

  1. Ah, those are all good questions. I wonder how much that has been explicitly explored in scholarship on The Great Awakening, (or really, the various waves of Great Awakening). I’m not intending any cynicism when I suggest we see “idea contagion” moving in waves across many social phenomena – school shootings, popular music, secular politics, etc. E.g., while I don’t think “copy cat” is really the right way to describe it, there is for sure some kind of ignition. What I’m about to say next may seem far afield, it is intended to be illustrative: for the first part of the 20th century, people who were deeply schizophrenic were not necessarily paranoid and delusional. Instead, they would “go catatonic” e.g., would freeze in place, etc. At some point mid-century, there was a shift in the way schizophrenia manifested itself, and in a way, due to popularization of that profile, it pushed out catatonia as the primary presentation. There was some sort of feedback loop. My father was chief of staff of a state mental hospital, and they had rooms of elderly catatonics that had been dropped off as teenagers or in their 20’s, and abandoned by their families. But there were no “new” catatonics, even though we should be able to say that the rate of schizophrenia is no different per-capital. OK, my 2 cents.

  2. @qbit: I now work in psychiatry and would love any research links to your suspicion that the expression of schizophrenia has changed over time, like a fad. I know in Freud’s time there was contagion of a “hysteria” fad where housewives smashed dishes and house items. This fad disappear also. BTW, I see catatonic and schizophrenic patients – I am not closed to the idea of some influence of “expectations” — be it to speak in tongues or male vs female expression of depression.

  3. @sabio I knew that would catch your attention! Let me see what I can find. Going solely by my father’s experience, he said it was notable that the older generation were “mostly” catatonic, and the younger ones were mostly paranoid delusional, and he couldn’t explain why that would be. Possible of course to be a local statistical outlier not observable in the general population.

    Also, for anyone reading this, I did not mean to equate religious experience, school shootings, and psychosis. More what can we observe and know about some sort of viral transmission mechanism that might have similar roots. And what is the ignition for those, what constitutes critical mass? You laid out some good possibilities.

  4. Chris

    For religious revivals I definitely agree that emotionally based theology is necessary as these tend to attract the types of individuals primed to create a tipping point. Having spent a fair bit of time among them I can confidently say that EVERY worship service had potential to turn into revival.

    Social tension is the most interesting aspect of these revivals, and probably the area most deserving of analysis/observation. So many avenues to explore!

    It’s easy to stereotype social setting (poor, rural) but I see that more as a Confirmation Bias as there are plenty of stories of upper class and/or urban events that have striking similarities, especially if you were to broaden your analysis to non-religious events (economic, for example).

    The more modern versions of these events appear to be more a product of effective advertising than anything else, which makes them significantly less interesting. In a sense a revival was a moment “gone viral” long before we had the technological tools now taken for granted.

  5. @ Chris: agreed. Yes, now “going viral” (contagion) is easier than in the horse riding days of the early Methodists.

    @ qBit: I am finding articles on cultural influence in expressions of mental illness. Here’s one specifically mentioning prevalence of subtypes of schizophrenia. Thanks.

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