Transience and reputation in Trinidadian Pentecostalism
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Anthropologists have long understood Caribbean societies like Trinidad as containing two distinct value systems, "reputation" or "transience" reflecting orientations of, especially, working class males, and "respectability" or "transcendence" reflecting middle and upper class values. We can understand these two systems in terms of the juxtapositions they facilitate: impulsive/disciplined, flamboyant/restrained, egalitarian/hierarchical, inside/outside and so on. Transience emphasizes freedom, choice, fun, humor, and bodily pleasure. Transcendence, in contrast, emphasizes intergenerational continuity, property, thrift, practicality and virtue (Miller 1997). Pentecostalism in Trinidad operates in a context in which these values are always in play, and this dissertation addresses the ways in which Pentecostalism serves as an arena for their expression. Contrary to ethnographers who have held that Caribbean Christianity expresses orientations in line with respectability/transcendence, Pentecostalism in Trinidad in fact works more strongly with the values of reputation/transience. Pentecostal worship expresses the concerns and anxieties of believers in relation to these value orientations. I find evidence of this in several areas, including gender and masculinity, understandings of money and wealth, eschatology, and ethnic and racial identity. I carried out field research to develop this dissertation between March 2001 and January 2002. During that time, I attended services at several churches, focusing on one primary institution: "King Street Assembly," in the East Dry River neighborhood of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. I also took part in other church-related social activities whenever possible, and conducted interviews with Pentecostals, especially church leaders. I observed church services and social events and engaged in informal conversation with people in attendance at them, writing up descriptive fieldnotes that I subsequently used to formulate this dissertation. I audiotaped services for subsequent reference. I conducted formal interviews with religious leaders and a small number of persons in the congregation. Finally, I paid attention to events in Port of Spain and Trinidad more generally, including the ways in which media---particularly the newspapers---addressed the issues above. The data gathered in these contexts form the basis for the findings of this dissertation.