Thursday, March 20, 1997 1996-1997 The Daily Mississippian


Pentecostals sport that 'old-style religion,' scholar says

By Robert Purvis
Senior Staff Writer

Visionary experiences of early Pentecostal women were discussed at a brown-bag luncheon held Wednesday afternoon in Barnard Observatory. Assistant Professor of history and religious scholar Dan Woods gave the presentation.
 Visiting Ole Miss from Ferrum College in Virginia, Woods is currently researching a book that treats the religious experiences of Pentecostal women from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia during the first quarter of the20th century.
 Ole Miss Southern Studies Professor Charles Wilson holds Woods and his work in high regard.
  "He's doing a very sophisticated study in religious history," Wilson said. He's one of the best-read people I've ever met in history and in other areas, and it's been a pleasure to work with him."
 Woods researches the Pente-costal Revival of 1900-1920, and he focuses specifically on the Pentecostal Holiness sect. He has done extensive study of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Falcon, N.C., which had an active membership during that time frame.
  "Although it was ridiculed in the beginning, the Pentecostal religion has become a striking success story," Woods began. "People are beginning to dismiss a generation of condescending scholarship that has assumed the psychological abnormalities of Pentecostals."
 Woods believes that the high growth rate of Pentecostalism is due to the internal culture of the faith, which mandates a direct relationship with God. The religion also stresses that prayer meetings are controlled directly by the spirit, who comes forth through the individual, codified voices of the believers.
 He also suggested that Pentecostalism began to become so popular maybe because believers exhibited a spiritual excitement typical of old-style religion.
  "Perhaps the texture of Pentecostal faith and the secret of its success lie in its revitalization of Protestant enthusiasm at the dawn of an insistently secular century," Woods said.
  "Taken together, the autobiographies of first-generation Pente-costals present a God that spoke through physical sensations, mental impressions, dreams and visions, audible conversations, Bible study, and prophetic messages," Woods said. &quotDivine communication provided the narrative frame for their life-stories."
 Woods then went on to describe some of those autobiographies in more detail. Those writings were important resources for his dissertation on the subject.
 He maintains that the religion's membership was predominately female during the Pentecostal Revival, reaching the point of two women for every man in 1926. This figure is in contrast to Southern Baptist membership, for example, which was much more evenly distributed between the genders.
 Woods began his research as a fourth-generation Pentecostal who wanted to learn more about the history of his religion.
  "I didn't really have any intention of staying within the faith, but I had a kind of spiritual renewal, and then took a very exciting course from a pioneer in the study of Pentecostal history," Woods said.
  And in a way, it's a process of self-discovery," Woods said. "I want to publish a book that scholars can appreciate for its methodology, but I also want to produce a book that lay-people can find value in as well."