Leslie Dawn Caliahan

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20032004 Forum on Belief

Leslie Dawn Caliahan

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies

Wonderworking Power: Violence, Racial Difference and the Development of Pentecostal Religious Culture

How did a desire for power shape the religious and racial identities of early black Pentecostals prior to World War II? Callahan will study the development of the Black Pentecostal belief in empowerment through the Holy Spirit, which emerged against a backdrop of intense social, psychological, and physical violence, and may be read as a reflection of how many black Pentecostals dealt with their constant awareness of racial terror after Reconstruction.

While at the Forum, Callahan will focus on a study of the devotional life and ministry of Elizabeth J. Dabney in Philadelphia during the 1930s and 1940s. When Mother Dabney's husband began pastoral expansion into a "wicked" North Philadelphia neighborhood, she initiated an intensive three-year prayer ministry that would culminate in her success in "praying through," reaching the pinnacle of mystical contact with God. With this newfound entrée into God's glory, Mother Dabney translated her belief in God into the personal power to accomplish both spiritual and temporal goals, becoming a nationally recognized and financially prosperous evangelist. As Callahan proceeds with her research, she will trace how Mother Dabney's understanding of the threat of urban violence informed the development of this evangelical work.