At the Top of the Bill

Billet publié le 20/12/2014

I’m very happy to see the publication in English of the article I wrote on the networks of black evangelicals in Paris.
At the Top of the Bill : A Structural Analysis of Claims to Charisma
[available on]


Here is the introduction :

Two prophets are in a boat … Do they try to push one another into the water, each believing in the exceptional nature of his own charisma ? Or do they decide that the sum of their two charismas is a collective charisma from which they could both benefit ? In short, is there anything other than conflict between bearers of charisma ? A “Key Idea” (Geertz [1986] 2012) of Weberian sociology, the concept of charisma sees the prophet, and more broadly the bearer of charisma, as an exceptional individual, or more precisely as the individual in whom those “charismatically dominated” recognize extraordinary qualities (Weber [1921-1922] 1971 : 320-9). It is the “face to face” relationship between charismatic man and his followers or adepts that is involved in the typological study. In the pure type, the charismatic man holds no institutional legitimacy—legal, bureaucratic—nor a legitimacy inherited from tradition : his charisma is personal. In this context, two prophets in the same boat would necessarily be in a situation of conflict.

But there is at least one everyday world populated by prophets, charismatic individuals in a relationship not just of competition but also, as we shall see, of collaboration. The Pentecostalist and evangelical “African” churches installed in the Paris area, of which there several hundred today, demonstrate the possible coexistence of “prophets” who have not monopolized the manipulation of charisma. These assemblies are not easy for sociologists to observe, but the advertising they use to promote some of their activities is an instructive source for investigating the actual forms of the manipulation of charisma.

Château-Rouge, in Paris (18th arrondissement), a hundred metres north of Barbès-Rochechouart metro station, is a working class “African” quarter ; a residential but especially a shopping area. The multitude of posters for “crusades,” “prophets” and “miracles,” posters featuring almost entirely black pastors, are striking for the passerby. In an area bounded by a few streets, religious advertising similar to Figure 1 cover blank walls and the barriers around building sites.


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