Philip Jenkins

Institute for Studies of Religion

History Department

Baylor University




This book has been very well reviewed: Mark Moll calls it “the most impressive study of worldwide Christian revival to have appeared in a very long time." See also other reviews.


We have looked at a number of surveys of global Christianity, but this book focuses on a specific aspect of change and growth, namely modern revivalism.


The Book


What is Shaw’s core thesis?


What aspects of the story does he believe that he is emphasizing that earlier writers have underplayed or ignored? What other scholars is he debating or arguing against?


How would you criticize his argument? Does he present it too strongly or overplay it?


What peculiar problems does a historian face trying to use religiously committed accounts of phenomena such as revivals, and especially when these speak of miraculous doings? How far does Shaw take account of these problems?


What episodes that Shaw describes particularly grabbed your attention in representing wider trends?


On a practical note, Shaw describes revivals in very different social and historical circumstances. How much do we have to know about the setting before we can understand the particular movements, eg Korea in 1907, Uganda in the 1930s? Does Shaw supply enough relevant information and background?


Theologies of Revival


Christians of different denominations and theological traditions differ on how they view revivals and revivalism. Why and how? How does Shaw deal with these differences of approach?


What are the key areas of difference between churches and denominations on these issues?


What do we learn about Shaw’s own religious or denominational background? How might this be relevant to his argument?


What does Shaw’s book suggest about the lines that are commonly drawn between evangelicals (such as Billy Graham) and Pentecostals?


Scholars often use terms like neo-evangelical and neo-Pentecostal. Why “neo”? Reading Shaw, do you think these terms make sense?


What role does eschatology play in these revivals? Is that a constant or does it differ between societies?


What is Revival?


Shaw’s opening chapter, “Beyond the Sawdust Trail,” is rich in ideas and ambitious in its scope. How far is his argument convincing and coherent? How might a purely secular historian quarrel with it?


How far do his criteria lend themselves to objective measuring or quantifying?


How do you define a religious revival? (Not as easy as it sounds). How might historians differ over this point?


If we focus on revivalism as a key force in making global Christianity, what aspects of the story are we likely to underplay? What religious traditions?


Can we compare Shaw’s theory of revivals with secular accounts of political revolutions such as the Russian or Chinese? What parallels can we see? Is it helpful to think of revivals as “spiritual revolutions”?


How might Shaw’s theory of revivals work in other religious contexts, eg Islam? Judaism? Are there parallels in those faiths that might fit his model?




At first sight, we might expect revivalism to be heavily conditioned by local circumstances and peculiarities. How far should each event be taken as a discrete phenomenon, and how much did they have in common?


Which of the various case-studies that he offers fits his argument best? Which fits worst?


How did each of the great revivals differ in its local emphases? How far did these differences reflect underlying concerns or emphases in the particular culture?


Shaw stresses the role that conflict plays in sparking revivals. Expand on this – how, what and why? Why does the response to these circumstances take a spiritual rather than a political form? Why, in other words, do people take to the revival fields rather than riot in the streets or take up arms?


What role does race and racial discrimination play in revivals?


What do revivals teach us about the processes and the chronology of globalization?


Shaw describes common patterns that he discerns in each of the major movements that he analyzes. What are the phases in this trajectory? Can we apply this model to other places, or other eras in history?


Is Shaw’s account predictive? How might it be used by contemporary religious leaders or thinkers?


What does Shaw tell us about the emergence of indigenous leadership?




Insofar as it is possible to generalize, what are the effects of revivals on individuals and their families? How can we tell? How far were such impacts lasting?


How have the movements described by Shaw affected social, political or economic arrangements?


Have they had unexpected consequences? Have they had undesirable consequences?


I have discussed the broader and international impact of revivals.


Criticizing Revival


Through history, revival movements have never lacked harsh critics. What aspects of the movements do they usually attack? How fairly or thoroughly does Shaw take account of such critiques?


Does Shaw show evidence of abuse or corruption by revival leaders?




There are obvious analogies between classic revivals in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries, and modern-day movements in Africa or Asia. What can we learn from such parallels? What does this tell us about the audiences for such movements?


We have now read works on global Christian expansion from a number of other authors, including Lamin Sanneh and Dana Robert. How does Shaw’s account compare with theirs? What might they learn from Shaw, and vice versa? How do the different scholars differ in their emphasis?


How much did the different revivals owe to the process of inculturation? To indigenization?


Heroes and Villains?


Shaw makes heavy use of individual case-studies to tell his stories. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?


Which individuals impressed you most in the book, for good or ill?