Charisma is a concept we typically use to refer to individuals who fascinate, attract, and captivate us in some way. The word’s modern usage, however, obscures its origins in Christian doctrine. In such contexts, charismatic figures were understood to have a kind of divinely ordained authority and spiritual influence.
In this podcast episode, Molly Worthen, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explores the evolution of charisma in the popular consciousness and its role in various historical epochs and movements. From St. Paul to contemporary populist politicians, analyzing the ineffable allure of charisma can help us to understand how power has been produced and wielded in both religious and secular contexts.