The book: Charisma has a bad rap. Mostly associated with New-Age gurus, authoritarians, and celebrities, charisma has become associated with authoritarians like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. However, figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa used charisma for democratic purposes and did a lot of good in the world. In Defense of Charisma (Columbia University Press) Vincent W. Lloyd ’03 uses lessons from politics, religion, ethics and contemporary culture to demonstrate to reflect on how charisma can be used for both good and evil.  

Lloyd argues that democratic charisma can open minds and fuel social justice movements and explores how this character trait can help us challenge and change the status quo.

The author: Vincent W. Lloyd ’03 is an associate professor of theology at Villanova University. He is also the author of Black Natural Law and Race and Secularism in America.

Opening lines: Charisma has fallen into disrepute. Scholars are suspicious of it. When the word is used in politics, it brings with it ambivalence, the sense that charisma might be a necessary evil. Celebrities may be charismatic, but such charisma has little more than entertainment value. Books about charisma are now found in the business and self-help sections of bookstores. Handbooks, websites, and workshops offer to teach charisma in order to make you a better boss, to make you a future executive, or to help you make friends. Everyone cannot become a movie star, but anyone can become charismatic — just follow these ten steps. Understood in this way, charisma appears democratic. Charisma is not a gift bestowed upon a few; it is a skill open to all who are willing to put in the work, to follow the steps. But the charisma of the corporate executive, or of the manager of a fast food franchise, seems distant from the conceptual core of charisma. Whether our paradigm is Hitler or Churchill, Gandhi or King, Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant, charisma connotes a certain nobility or greatness at odds with the world of the hamburger flipper and at odds with the world of the middle manager.”

Reviews: “What is charisma and can it be used well? In this book, Vincent Lloyd offers creative and important reflections for our networked age.” —Cathleen Kaveny, Libby Professor of Law and Theology, Boston College