Adam Piore in Nautilus:
For weeks I had been researching what science has to say about the power of charisma. Why do some people so clearly have it and others don’t? Why do we fall so easily under its influence? Charismatics can make us feel charmed and great about ourselves. They can inspire us to excel. But they can also be dangerous. They use charisma for their own purposes, to enhance their power, to manipulate others. Scientists have plenty to say about charisma. Individuals with charisma tap our unfettered emotions and can shut down our rational minds. They hypnotize us. But studies show charisma is not just something a person alone possesses. It’s created by our own perceptions, particularly when we are feeling vulnerable in politically tense times. I’m going to tell you about these studies and spotlight the opinions of the neuroscientists, psychologists, and sociologists who conducted them. But first I want to tell you about a magnetic preacher who spent decades wowing audiences in churches across America with the holy words of Jesus. Then he lost his faith and now preaches about how to live happily without God. What scientists study about charisma, Bart Campolo lives.
I first read about the newly non-believing Campolo in The New York Times Magazine last December. “An extreme extrovert, he was brilliant before a crowd and also at ease in private conversations, connecting with everyone from country-club suburbanites to the destitute souls he often fed in his own house,” wrote Mark Oppenheimer. Campolo’s father is Tony Campolo, one of America’s superstar evangelists for the past 50 years, who counseled Bill Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and today continues to mobilize people into a movement for Jesus’ messages of love and redemption. Who would know more about the power of charisma to both charm and deceive than a preacher’s son gone rogue? Campolo, 53, who today volunteers counseling young people as a “humanist chaplain” at the University of Southern California, didn’t disappoint. He was wonderfully frank and engaging, energetic and insightful, just like a, well, evangelical preacher.