The magical power of charisma – and why the Churches are ignoring it
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The magical power of charisma – and why the Churches are ignoring it

The subject of this week’s Holy Smoke is charisma, which you might think is one of the most hackneyed and devalued words in the language. But its popularity is no accident. ‘Charisma’ is shorthand for one of the most revolutionary – and useful – concepts in intellectual history.


The word ‘charisma’ is taken from St Paul, who employed it to describe the gifts that descended on the first Christians at Pentecost. Indeed, Paul may have invented the word. But it was the tortured polymath Weber who suggested that the sudden appearance of men and women who can apparently perform miracles, real or metaphorical, has transformed almost every human society.


My guest today is the diplomatic historian Professor John Charmley, whose unflattering biography of Winston Churchill divided opinion when it was published in 1993 – as it was intended to. Professor Charmley is now Pro-Vice Chancellor for academic strategy at St Mary's University, Twickenham, a Catholic university which he wants to root even more firmly in its faith and heritage. He’s certainly not the sort of hand-wringing academic paralysed by colonial guilt. I think you’ll enjoy this episode.

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