Glossolalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-Charismatic Church

In: Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity
Author: Yen-zen Tsai

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Glossolalia or speaking in tongues has been one of the prominent features that characterize Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. Some linguists, however, regard it as phonologically illogical and semantically meaningless and thus invalid as a communicative tool. Orthodox Christianity frowns on it because of its uncouth ritual manifestations or disruptive effect on the church order. Against these perspectives, I argue that glossolalia plays a very crucial role in shaping the identity of a Pentecostal-charismatic community. “Tongue sound,” acoustically jarring to the outsider but soothing and harmonious to the believer, functions to confer on the glossolalists a particular mode of existence and consolidate them as a homogeneous group. For this argument, I draw on Lawrence E. Sullivan’s interpretation of sound in contrast to language, and on Alfred Schütz’s theory about “tuning in” and “inner time.” For illustration, I take the glossolalic manifestation of the True Jesus Church as a concrete example.

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