Romani Studies

Between global and local: Roma Pentecostal Church identity in Serbia

Romani Studies (2021), 31, (2), 189–209.

Abstract

Joel Robbins (2003) described Pentecostalism as both continuous, taking into account local ontologies, and discontinuous, rupturing against certain social structures or epistemologies. He refers to this as Pentecostalism’s double paradox. In this framework, Pentecostalism is local in that it often addresses the questions and issues emerging from a particular context. However, there is also a global Pentecostal identity which is reinforced through conferences, mission partnerships, shared music, and sermons.

Roma Pentecostals in Southeastern Europe are also in the process of negotiating their Pentecostal identity. On the one hand, Pentecostalism is the dominant form of Christianity spreading among the Roma in Serbia because of its flexible ecclesiology, its openness to miraculous signs and wonders, its non-hierarchical structure, and its emotive personality. On the other hand, there is a rising number of mission agencies and Western missionaries working with Roma churches. Roma leaders are often negotiating what to accept and what to reject in terms of Christian theology and praxis, teaching, and programs and activities. Thus, the Pentecostal identity of their churches is being shaped in response to their own local questions and needs but also in response to the partnership from others, both through good experiences and negative ones.

This paper will explore this church identity negotiation, looking at two case studies of Roma churches in Serbia. First, this paper will establish the wider conversation in Pentecostal studies regarding the relationship between inculturation and globalization. Next, this paper will analyse some of the factors of the decisionmaking process regarding how Roma leaders decide what to accept and what to reject in terms of outside influences. This analysis will bring to the foreground the operating cultural and religious values and how that contributes to the dialectical process of Pentecostal identity.

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WACHSMUTH, MELODY J.