Religion and Development

Nordic Perspectives on Involvement in Africa

by Tomas Sundnes Drønen (Volume editor)
©2014 Monographs VIII, 214 Pages
Series: Bible and Theology in Africa, Volume 20


The role of religion in development work has long been a neglected issue in the Western academic tradition. Religion and Development: Nordic Perspectives on Involvement in Africa is part of a recent wave of publications trying to bring more colors into the traditional black-and-white picture of religion and development as two separate analytical entities. Through the voices of experts in a variety of fields, from theology and development studies to social anthropology and global studies, this book sheds particular light on Nordic involvement in Africa. The relationship between North and South is explored through historical approaches and recent analysis, bringing relevant fieldwork and new case studies into the discussion. Numerous and varied sub-Saharan regions are presented in the book, and all the chapters take different approaches to how the North-South relationship has affected the development of the African continent for better or for worse. The contributors all argue that in order to understand development work in an era of global change, religion has to be an important part of the discussion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Introduction: Religion and Development—Nordic Perspectives on Involvement in Africa
  • Introduction
  • Current developments in the field
  • Nordic involvement
  • Peace building and reconciliation
  • Religion, development and the economy
  • Development and Human Rights
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Poverty and Prosperity in Africa
  • Introduction
  • Religion and development: Two concepts, one objective
  • Religious change in Africa
  • Religion and economy: An African perspective
  • Poverty and prosperity: A moral question?
  • Conclusion: mobilizing religious resources
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Globalization, Religion and Development: Perspectives from Africa
  • Introduction
  • Social reconstruction: A snapshot from northern Cameroon
  • The role of religion in a globalized world
  • Defining globalization
  • Religion and development: Flow and closure
  • Globalization from an African perspective
  • The rise and fall of the structural adjustment programs
  • Globalization, religion and development: Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Four: Effects of Religious Attitudes on the Self-Determination of Small-Scale Entrepreneurs in the Slum Areas of Nairobi
  • Introduction
  • Self-determination and entrepreneurs in subsistence markets
  • Three religious attitudes towards business activity and their effects on self-determination
  • Method
  • Sample and procedure
  • Measures
  • Control variables
  • Test of hypotheses
  • Discussion
  • Theoretical implications
  • Limitations and future research
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Our Mission: Development. Comparative Perspectives on Development—David Livingstone and Finland’s Development Policy Programme 2012
  • Introduction
  • General description of the positions
  • Comparing Livingstone and the Finnish government
  • “The White Man’s Burden”
  • Good governance and civil society
  • Human rights-based approach
  • Attaching oneself to the global capitalism
  • What is new under the sun?
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Spiritual Gifts and Relations of Exchange among Congolese in Kampala, Uganda
  • Introduction
  • Context
  • Refugee churches
  • Spiritual gifts
  • An economy of spiritual gifts
  • The case of Rose B.
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Seven: Reinventing “Tradition”: Social Reconstruction and Development in Post-genocide Rwanda
  • Introduction
  • Development politics and trends after the genocide
  • Choice of indigenous culture-based models of social and economic development
  • Ubudehe and the decentralization development strategy
  • Ingando: Learning about citizenship
  • Itorero ry’igihugu: Inculcating “good cultural values” for nation-building
  • Umuganda: Voluntary community work for development, unity and reconciliation
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eight: Fragile Health Justice: Cooperation with Faith Organizations
  • The need for cooperative health justice
  • Two models of transitional health justice
  • A quest for dialogical cooperation
  • Incomplete goals and principles
  • Responding to non-ideal conditions
  • Trust-based practices with agreements
  • A diminishing role for the FBOs?
  • One Lutheran hospital’s perspective
  • Foundational insights and the question of motivation
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Nine: Transformative Masculinity: Religion, Development and Gender in an Ecumenical Context
  • Introduction
  • Religion, development and gender
  • The masculine and the feminine
  • WCC: Partnership and bible study
  • YMCA: Participation and transformation
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Ten: Transforming Masculinities: Male Care Volunteers in Tanzania
  • Introduction
  • Study context and aim of research
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Selected by their communities
  • Volunteering as a privilege
  • Male attitudes towards challenges in volunteering
  • Gender differences in volunteering
  • Transforming masculinities through care role in community
  • Conclusion: Selian “soft patriarchy” promotes reform
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Religion and Development: A Gender Perspective on the Ambiguous Role of the Churches
  • Introduction
  • Equality and complementarity
  • Experience and reflection 1
  • Experience and reflection
  • Church organizations are ambiguous as seen from a gender perspective
  • Balancing between the local and the global
  • Conclusion: Gender roles and equality
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twelve: Religion and Development: Lessons from Three Donor Countries
  • Introduction
  • Two countries: Crossing paths and unfinished business
  • The Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • Lessons learned
  • The tension between policy and research
  • FBOs and their added value
  • The struggle of individuals
  • Religious interests
  • Conservative agenda and acute rhetoric
  • The Norwegian experience
  • Main challenges
  • References
  • Notes
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| VII →



This volume is the fruit of the NOS-HS sponsored network conferences which took place in Stavanger (Norway) and Helsinki (Finland) in April and December 2012. The network conferences were successful in creating a place to meet other researchers and practitioners, to get to know each other, and to discuss a field of particular interest to us all. Several people made these rewarding encounters possible, and they all deserve to be thanked here. I would first of all like to thank Päivi Hasu from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Magne Supphellen from NHH (Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration) in Bergen for being co-applicants and co-organizers. Particular thanks to Päivi, who together with Minna Meyer made the Helsinki session a meeting to remember.

Due to the fact that Agnes Aboum from Kenya had to cancel her journey (and her keynote lecture) at the very last minute prior to the Stavanger meeting, our co-organizer Magne Supphellen stepped in to give us a thought-provoking keynote lecture on the economic aspects of micro finance development projects in Nairobi. His excellent example was followed by Gerrie ter Haar, the senior researcher on the theme of religion and development, who provided an exceptional overview of the research in the field from the last decades during the Helsinki conference. Both presentations have become valuable contributions to the present publication.

I would also like to thank all the authors who have contributed to this volume. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I have learnt much from editing your ← VII | VIII → contributions. Equal thanks go to the editor of the Peter Lang series, Professor Knut Holter, who impressed me with his efficiency and smooth cooperation. Our final gratitude goes to Nordisk samarbeidsnemnd for humanistisk og samfunnsvitenskapelig forskning (NOS-HS), which made these network meetings possible.

Stavanger, June 2013
Tomas Sundnes Drønen

| 1 →


Päivi Hasu and Tomas Sundnes Drønen


This collection of essays, analysing involvement in Africa through the lenses of Nordic researchers, represents a wide range of academic backgrounds: from theology and the study of religion to economics via peace and conflict studies, social anthropology and global studies. The outcome is an equally broad variety of themes presented in the different chapters. Rather than seeing this approach as a weakness, we consider this diversity to be a strength. It illustrates the multi-disciplinary nature of development studies and shows the strong historical relationship between religious organizations and development work. In order to gain more insights into the complex processes occurring within the field, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed. The workshops of the network have shown us how mind-enlarging these multi-disciplinary conversations and discussions can be.

Current developments in the field

It is now widely accepted that modernization has not led to secularization; rather, that religious ideas and institutions continue to play an important public role in many societies. Religious ideas are not just integral to the moral values for many ← 1 | 2 → people in the global South, but also shape the experience of poverty and decisions about personal and collective development. Besides being a significant source of values and views on human well-being, faith is crucial in basic service provision in many parts of Africa. It has been estimated that, at the beginning of the new millennium, faith groups and faith-based organizations (FBO) provided 50 per cent of all education and health services in Sub-Saharan Africa (Clarke 2006).

Several significant processes pertaining to religion and development have taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa during the past couple of decades: Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity has been growing exponentially in many countries—a phenomenon that has by now become global (Robbins 2004). This form of Christianity is now considered the fastest growing type of religiosity throughout the world, including in Latin America and parts of Asia. Furthermore, in Sub-Saharan Africa, churches have been increasingly involved in public life and political processes including service provision, democratization, peace building and reconciliation. Last but not least, during the past couple of decades, the international development aid system has witnessed the growth of NGOs and faith-based organizations in terms of both number and influence.

After some significant developments in American politics, NGOs and faith-based organizations have come to play an increasingly important role in the entire international aid system. Following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and eventually George W Bush in 2001, the US witnessed an exponential growth of the Christian Right, consisting primarily of evangelicals and Pentecostals, who became influential in the passage of legislation guiding American foreign policy and international development.1 Several legislative acts and policies culminated in the 2004 USAID ruling on Participation by Religious Orders in USAID Programs, which radically transformed the USAID policy on engagements with FBOs. Under this new ruling, USAID was not allowed to discriminate against organizations that combine development or humanitarian activities with ‘inherently religious activities’ such as worship, prayer meetings, religious instruction and proselytization (Clarke 2007: 82). This also reinforced the enormous growth of American evangelical and Pentecostal organizations working overseas (Hearn 2002; Hofer 2003).

During the 1980s, simultaneously with the American developments, major international monetary institutions such as World Bank and IMF as well as many donor countries became mistrustful of corrupt African governments. Consequently, structural adjustment policies were imposed as a precondition of loans to developing countries. This resulted in new international economic policies when major donor countries demanded political reforms such as democratization and multiparty systems, reduced government spending, privatisation and market liberalisation as a condition for development aid (Hofer 2003: 383). In this volume, Tomas Sundnes Drønen discusses how African scholars have interpreted the World Bank and IMF ← 2 | 3 → policies on the continent and how they in unison have condemned what they call the ‘neoliberal globalization policies’ of the Bretton Woods institutions. As many African governments were bankrupt and unable to provide health care and educational services for their citizens, the responsibility of providing a growing share of such services fell to the NGOs. At the same time, donors changed their aid distribution policies, which brought about a dramatic increase in NGOs that flourished as a result of economic neo-liberalism and the collapse of public services. For instance, the share of World Bank-sponsored projects involving NGOs increased from less than 10% in 1990 to more than 40% in 2001 (Hofer 2003: 384). In this service provision, faith-based organizations became ever more important actors. International donors have traditionally focused on supporting organizations associated with mainstream Christian churches. However, various types of FBOs are important in the lives of the poor in many different faith contexts. Apart from supporting FBOs through various partnership schemes, as Nikolai Hegertun discusses in this volume, donors are also engaged in some research on faith and development as well as in a dialogue with faith-based organizations concerning these issues. One such engagement was the conference Faith in Civil Society: Religious Actors as Drivers of Change, organized in 2012 in collaboration with Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), University of Uppsala, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation (Moksnes and Melin 2013).

Alongside the growing role of NGOs and FBOs in international development and the significant public and political role of the faith communities, Sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed the exponential growth of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. One of the interpretations offered for this phenomenal growth has been the failed promises of the nation-state concerning modernization and development that have opened up new avenues of religious imagination in the South (Corten and Marshall Fratani 2001). Pentecostal-charismatic faith communities have been proliferating simultaneously with the economic reforms since about the mid-1980s in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, where Pentecostalism is becoming ever more attractive to the rising urban middle class as well as the rural poor. Even if many new Pentecostal churches lack institutionalised social services, numerous volunteers are active community builders, with a particular focus on inclusion and human dignity (Drønen 2013). Several scholars have also discussed how Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity has two widespread features—namely, prosperity gospel and deliverance theology—that have implications for notions of human agency and development (Gifford 2001; Hasu 2012). Lauterbach makes a fresh contribution to these themes in her chapter. ← 3 | 4 →

Nordic involvement

Mika Vähäkangas suggests in his chapter that Nordic development cooperation has its roots in missionary efforts, a line of thought shared by several scholars, including Marianne Gullestad (2007), who describes the Norwegian situation. Today, Nordic governments engage in various partnership schemes with faith-based organizations. For instance, the Finnish government has supported NGOs since 1974 and, since 2003, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has sponsored a number of Finnish partnership organizations through a Partnership Agreement Scheme. Approximately half of Finland’s support for civil society organizations is channelled through this scheme, and five out of the ten organizations receiving this funding are faith-based. The ethical code of conduct, which is common in all the Nordic countries, prevents the faith-based organizations from using the funds for proselytizing; nor are they allowed any kind of discrimination based on religious worldviews.

What makes the Nordic situation somewhat special in Europe is the long history of a close relationship between the Lutheran churches and the Nordic states. For many years, this relationship was unproblematic in terms of development aid, but as the influence of the churches continued to decrease in the Nordic societies at large, several critical voices outside the churches were raised against the involvement of faith-based organizations in government-funded projects. This debate came to the forefront in Norway, when Minister of Development Erik Solheim claimed in a 2012 newspaper article that we had to “Take God Seriously” (Aftenposten, 11 August 2010). He claimed that, in order to succeed with development projects, religion had to be treated as an important aspect of what motivates human action. Coming from a minister representing the Socialist party with a long history of scepticism towards the close relationship between the church and state, this naturally stirred the public opinion about state-funded development work. Solheim’s response was to ask the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights to appoint a committee of scholars and practitioners in the field in order to discuss the role of religion within Norwegian development policies. Nikolai Hegertun presents in his article some of the working committee’s findings and compares the Norwegian process with similar processes in Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Peace building and reconciliation

In addition to being major service providers, churches and other faith communities have been significant actors in the public life and political arena, not least in the peace-building and reconciliation processes in countries like South Africa and ← 4 | 5 → Rwanda (Gifford 1998, 2009). Since the end of the 1980s, with the collapse of the one-party system and nascent trends towards democratization, Christian churches played a remarkable role in promoting democratic values (Gifford 1998; Bompani and Frahm-Arp 2010). Many studies of these processes deal with the role of large mainline churches. Some recent scholarship on religion and politics in the public life in Africa has, however, called into question the rigid institutional separation between the state and the church. Political power and public authority are not exercised in only formal political institutions and processes, but also by many other kinds of institutions. Moreover, ostensibly non-political situations such as development projects might be revealed to be active sites of political negotiation over the implementation of public goals or the distribution of public authority. Development operators such as faith-based organizations and churches are in a particularly significant position to make strategic translations of ideas about not only development, but also public interest, authority and the state (Lund 2006). Furthermore, politics might also be understood to encompass the ways in which politics and the political as well as religious and gender identities are expressed at the grassroots by people from below (Bompani and Frahm-Arp 2010). In this volume, Kubai makes a new contribution by discussing the traditional communal faith and the re-invention of tradition in the process of the Rwandan reconciliation.

Religion, development and the economy

In a dialogue with the religious, economic and political events are the trajectories in academic development studies and the ways in which religion has been accounted for in such scholarly debates. A few scholars have suggested that the idea of development itself has a genealogy in Western Christian religion. Gerrie ter Haar argues in her chapter that ‘development’ is a secular translation of a millenarian belief whereby the kingdom of God should be created on earth. She further suggests that such a genealogical line can be traced all the way to the Millennium Development Goals. However, the early theories of development paid little or no attention to faith and religion because they seemed irrelevant while religion was seen as an obstacle to modernization (Ter Haar and Ellis 2006).

In the early days of development studies, interest in religion was primarily influenced by Weberian ideas about the Protestant ethic and its link to economic growth. Economic growth was seen to be dependent on such variables as the valuation of material goods, work, wealth creation, invention and population growth potentially affected by religious values (Lewis 1955). For instance, if work was positively valued as a way of using God’s gifts, then religion would be conductive to economic growth (Deneulin and Bano 2009: 32). Echoing this concern about the ← 5 | 6 → relationship between religious ethos and economic activity in a new context, Supphellen discusses in his chapter the ways in which religious attitudes affect the level of self-determination among small-scale entrepreneurs in a Nairobi slum. More specifically, Weberian ideas about religious ethic and capitalism have resurfaced in the study of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity and its economic ethos (e.g., P. L. Berger 2009; Freeman 2012).

Development and Human Rights

The 1970s witnessed growing discontent with equating development with economic growth, and dependency theory and related perspectives became influential in development studies. Among these was the ‘basic needs approach’, suggesting that basic needs included a sense of purpose in life and work. Nonetheless, religion as a major component of what gives meaning and a sense of purpose to many people’s lives was seldom explicitly mentioned (Deneulin and Rakodi 2011). Eventually, in 1980, one of the first attempts towards a new research agenda was the special issue of World Development2 that explored the relationship between religion and development. It went largely unnoticed at a time when international policy defined development largely in terms of economic growth and religion was neglected in the academic field of development studies. Changes in development thinking have nevertheless made the subject of religion no longer avoidable in development studies.


VIII, 214
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
theology development studies social anthropology global studies
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. VIII, 214 pp.

Biographical notes

Tomas Sundnes Drønen (Volume editor)

Tomas Sundnes Drønen received his PhD from the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway, where he is Professor of Global Studies and Religion. He has authored many publications on globalization, intercultural communication, and religious change in Africa, including Communication and Conversion in Northern Cameroon (2009) and Pentecostalism, Globalisation, and Islam in Northern Cameroon (2013).


Title: Religion and Development