In Our Time: S24/26 Charisma (March 17 2022)


Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber’s idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

With Linda Woodhead, The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College London

David Bell, The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

Tom Wright, Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

Producer: Simon Tillotson


David Bell, Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution (Macmillan, 2020)

Daniel Mark Epstein, Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson (Mariner Books, 1994)

Marion S. Goldman, Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult (University of Michigan Press, 2021)

Allan Heaton Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Charles Lindholm, Charisma (Blackwell, 1990)

Vincent W. Lloyd, In Defense of Charisma (Columbia University Press, 2018)

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John Potts, A History of Charisma (Palgrave MacMillan, 2009)

Philip Rieff, Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us (Random House, 2008)

Jane Shaw, Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers (Yale University Press, 2011)

Max Weber (trans. Damion Searls), Charisma and Disenchantment: The Vocation Lectures (New York Review of Books, 2020)

Ruth Ann Wilner, The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership (Yale University Press, 1984)

Molly Worthen, Charismatic Leaders Who Remade America (, 2020)

Tom F. Wright, ‘Orenda and the Indigenous Roots of Charisma’ (Symbiosis journal, 2021)

Jose Pedro Zuquete (ed.), Routledge International Handbook of Charisma (Routledge, May 2022), especially ‘Charisma and Democratic Discourse’ by Tom F. Wright


‘Charisma and seduction’ by Vincent Lloyd – The Immanent Frame

Charisma – Wikipedia


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