Jennings, “Breaking Free to the Limit”

January 10, 2014

Jennings, Mark.  2014.  Breaking Free to the Limit: Playing with Foucault, Otto, and Pentecostal Experience.  Journal of Contemporary Religion 29(1): 33-45.

Abstract: This article explores different phenomenological approaches to understanding one of the central elements of Pentecostal spirituality: the ecstatic experience of the divine (often referred to as the ‘encounter’ of the divine). The article begins with a description, based upon participant observation, of a typical church service at ‘Breakfree’ Pentecostal church in suburban Perth, Western Australia. I then outline two phenomenological categories—one theistic, one non-theistic—which shed light on the significance of this experience. These categories are Rudolf Otto’s ‘numinous’ and Michel Foucault’s ‘limit experience’. It is demonstrated that neither of these can be prioritised, as both require an a priori position on the status of the divine. Instead of choosing one or the other, it is argued that both Otto and Foucault provide a resource for understanding and assessing the Breakfree encounter. The article concludes with the observation that a more playful methodology—one that allows the scholar to draw on theistic and non-theistic categories simultaneously—is required.

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