Theme Panel: Rethinking Religion, Democracy, and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Rethinking Religion, Democracy, and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Thu, September 3, 4:15 to 6:00pm, Hilton, Continental Parlor 2

Session Description

This panel illuminates new directions in the study of religion and politics with a focus on sub-Saharan African cases. How have different religious identities and institutions affected African state-building, socioeconomic development, and political mobilization by transnational migrant networks, such as the Congolese Combattants in South Africa? Why have members of dominant religions often suffered worse sRethinking-Religion,-Democracyocioeconomic outcomes than minority religions in African states? Under what conditions does inclusion of local faith based organizations in state-building interventions enhance or undermine developmental efforts in Congo? How have politicians and transnational religious leaders – namely, Born Again Congolese Christians – used media to support their shared political objectives, in turn provoking Congolese migrants mobilize violently against Congolese churches in their own diaspora communities (as in London and South Africa in 2014)? And conversely, how have changing political conditions affected the ability of new religious movements, such as indigenous, born again Pentecostal churches, to emerge as powerful political actors in some African countries but not others?

Papers on this panel enlist original data and a diverse array of methods to address these questions. First, Sperber draws on a larger book length project to consider how different variants of constructivist approaches to the study of identity and politics have illuminated or obscured questions about religious conversion and identity change. Drawing on recent advances in sociological theories of rational social action, this paper posits new microfoundations within which to theorize the political dimensions of religious conversion. Sperber elaborates her theoretical proposition using both state-level administrative data and in-depth focus groups across 11 religious communities in Zambia to identify political and social correlates of conversion, identifying several important general avenues for further research.