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By Richard Quebedeaux

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Extra info for By What Authority? The Rise of Personality Cults in American Christianity.

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T. Barnum of religion, but she was much more than that. Her flamboyant style was a strange mixture of sentimentalism, temper, and courage that was right at home with the Hollywood show business industry she probably could have joined had she wished to do so. But Sister Aimee always used her visibility, her "status" in the media, to reach the common man and woman with the gospel, her moral shortcomings-fabricated or true-notwithstand­ ing. Women have always been more visibly present in popular Ameri- Celebrity Leaders in American Christianity: 1 86s-1 9 6o 33 can religion than men, but Sister Aimee demonstrated tangibly and convincingly that a woman, however uneducated and unpopular with a critical press, could lead the church just as well as a man .

Personality-centered religion is nothing new in Protestantism; its origins can be traced all the way back to the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation, which emphasized the preaching of the word of God in contrast to the administration of the sacraments that was central in Catholicism . In the U nited States, the tradition of celebrity leaders in Protestant Christianity began during the nineteenth century with the pulpit and the revival meeting. There arose, especially after the Civil War, a generation of appealing pul­ piteers and evangelists who spread the word effectively to the public through the popular media of the time.

At the same time, however, the men and women of the religion of mass culture live remarkably free from and unaffected by institutional realities related to social, political, and economic structures. U ntil recently, anyway, they have assumed that the social institutions of corporate life will change when enough indi­ viduals change. And now, with the popular surge of born-again Chris­ tianity and of the charismatic movement-with its enthusiasm and ecstasy expressed in speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy-sub­ jective religious experience (above dogma, in fact) is most often seen as the key ingredient in effecting such change.

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