The debate over glossolalia between Conservative Evangelicals and Charismatics: A question of semiotic style
Contributor(s)Robert Yelle, Courtney Handman, Christopher Lehrich
Keywordssemiotics, interpretation, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Bible, glossolalia, tongues, Conservative Evangelicals
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AbstractThe thesis informing this paper is that religious linguistic (or pseudo-linguistic) phenomena like glossolalia are part of a broader process of meaning making that defines the semiotic identity of religious groups and that involves a plurality of factors, such as doctrinal and theological presuppositions, interpretative styles, non-linguistic practices, and argumentative and rhetoric styles. This paper studies therefore Christians’ glossolalia in the context of a broader semiotic style. To this aim, it does not tackle the practice of glossolalia from an ethnographic, anthropological, or linguistic perspective, as numerous studies have done, but it rather centers on the discourse about glossolalia, and especially on the role that the interpretation of some key biblical verses has played in the definition and in the evaluation of this practice. The analysis focuses in particular on the controversy raised over glossolalia between two religious groups characterized by semiotic styles that are antithetic under many aspects: Charismatics and Conservative Evangelicals. A sample of American and European apologetic texts from both sides will be compared in order to show how the condemnation or the justification of the practice of glossolalia implies broader semiotic issues, and especially different ways to interpret the same biblical verses.