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Glossolalia and the Problem of Language$
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Nicholas Harkness

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226749389

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226749556.001.0001

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(p.121) 5 Revelations
Glossolalia and the Problem of Language

Nicholas Harkness

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 5 investigates the value of glossolalia as a medium of intimacy, privacy, and secrecy for South Korean Christians. Informants often described glossolalia as a secret language with God or speech that allows the prayerful to share secrets with God. By speaking in tongues, Christians can confess and repent publicly without being heard—by friends and family, by strangers, or by the devil. The combination of socio-spiritual contact and verbal concealment afforded by glossolalia sits at the intersection of two competing models of semiotic circulation in the church. One, the gospel, fuses propositional truth with ideal social relations across contexts of action and interaction. The other, gossip, competes with the gospel by traveling through different routes of circulation, forging different kinds of social relations, and producing alternative truths. As a moral system of secrecy, glossolalia regulates not merely what is or should be a secret, but also who may have access to it, how this access is achieved, the mechanisms by which access is controlled, and the routes and extent of circulation. In these highly determined complexes of secrecy, semiotic underdeterminacy is the very arena in which the capacity and privilege to speak privately to the deity is unevenly distributed.

Keywords:   Gospel, Gossip, Underdeterminacy, Scandal

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