Shaye Dillon

Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Dr. Jack Kay


This study investigated, through ethnographic methodology, the individual and group experiences of glossolalia within a Pentecostal church. The study examined the discursive interactions and rhetorical impact of how this Pentecostal church gave meaning to the experience of glossolalia or speaking in tongues and the individual and group manifestations of those meanings. In addition to being the approach for gathering discourse and interview data, ethnographic methodology also helped reveal the socially constructed realities of Pentecostal believers. The study focused on the situated and accountable descriptions of Pentecostal believer's social world as it involved glossolalia; not to contest or predict that world, but to better understand its creation and place in their lives. In the case of this particular Pentecostal church, glossolalia is a learned ability created by mastering the structures of discourse endemic to that church culture. The positions taken up in the discourse place individuals in a predisposed reaction to the meanings derived from that discourse. Glossolalia is rhetorical in that it serves as a symbolic act that reinforces shared beliefs and is learned through participation in church. As a rhetorical act within church services, the discourses are institutionalized to explain and account for glossolalia episodes as an acceptable and encouraged practice; a rite of passage; a seal of approval from God; a commitment to the culture; and a tool for manifesting appropriate gendered church behavior which means empowerment and transcendence for men and purification and subjugation for women. Societal implications, based on these findings, are also discussed, as well as ideas for further research.