Miracle Making and the Preservation of Charisma

Miracle making and the preservation of charisma

Together with Paolo Parigi from Stanford University, this research project reexamines Max Weber’s theory of routinization of Charisma. We focus on the strange but historically important case of miracle making in Early Modern Europe and explore the relationships between cults of charismatic miracle workers and the Catholic Church. We show that the preservation of charisma was related to the ability of a miracle worker’s acolytes to gain recognition from the Church. In order to stabilize their nascent structure of authority, acolytes of miracle workers appealed to Rome for the recognition of their leader as a saint. The Church, in turn, introduced a procedure of canonization that was biased toward those miracle workers whose acolytes formed densely connected networks capable of harnessing local support. Rather than being inimical to each other, charismatic authorities formed symbiotic relationship with existing institutional structures. Preservation of charisma, from this perspective, also depends on the ability to secure from existing institutions the resources needed to stabilize the relationships between leader and her staff.

Research Projects