Professor Gastón Espinosa, one of the world’s foremost scholars on global Pentecostalism, announced the publication of a new book on the subject, through a biography and documentary history of William J. Seymour (1870-1922), an African-American religious founder and leader of enormous global influence who lived in Los Angeles, California in the early twentieth century. The Claremont McKenna College scholar provides unprecedented insights, using primary sources, in this new work.
"This masterpiece of historical scholarship makes a compelling case for the unparalleled importance of William Seymour and the Azusa Street revival to the foundational period of U.S. and global Pentecostalism,” said Dr. Candy Gunther Brown, professor of religious studies at Indiana University. “The book is revisionist history in the very best sense of the term—restoring Seymour to his deserved place as the single most important leader in Pentecostal origins. It is sufficiently concise and accessibly, indeed beautifully, written to serve as an ideal introduction to those new to Pentecostalism, while also challenging specialists to rethink interpretations that have become accepted doctrines. This book is essential for understanding Pentecostalism.”
Espinosa pays particular attention to race relations and theories on global Pentecostal origins. He argues that Seymour created a transgressive social and racial space at his Azusa Street Revival (1906-09) in Los Angeles wherein people cross otherwise socially, racially, and denominationally prohibited and/or stigmatized practices in Jim Crow America. His “fragmentation thesis” for global Pentecostal origins and expansion argues that the Pentecostal tendency to invoke direct unmediated revelatory experiences with the Holy Spirit, allowed ordinary people to break free from existing denominations to start their own movements. This helps to explain why its one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world today, numbering an estimated 614 million people.
"This book marks a watershed in scholarship about the origins and early spread of Pentecostal faith and fire around the world. Espinosa's illuminating historical portrait of the one-eyed preacher and spiritual giant, William Seymour, is joined to an invaluable documentary history of theological topics and the drama of the Azusa Street revival movement,” said Dr. Davíd Carrasco, professor of Latin American religions at Harvard Divinity School. “Espinosa has presented a truly multicultural portrait with early testimonies from Mexican-American, African-American, U.S. and European voices. Not by might, but by Espinosa’s deep historical work and balanced insights, will readers come to grasp the fuller human story of this twentieth century reformation story."
The book includes 104 primary sources, including all of Seymour’s extant writings in full and without alteration, including those by his critics. To recapture the revival’s diversity and global interest, the book also includes testimonies from black, Latino, Swedish, and Irish communities, along with first-hand accounts from the missionaries and leaders who spread Seymour’s vision of Pentecostalism globally. The publication of the book was supported by a grant from the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies.
Dr. Gastón Espinosa specializes in American religious history and Latino religions and politics. He is the author of Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and Politics in Action (Harvard University Press, June 2014) and is the recipient of the National Humanities Fellowship, the Northwestern University Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Dartmouth College César Chávez Fellowship. He is the Arthur V. Stoughton Associate Professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
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