Religion and globalization: Evangelical Christianity and development in Africa

Research summary

This research focuses on FBOs (World Vision, Fida International and Free Pentecostal Church of Tanzania) and their development projects by employing the capability approach and examining how the faith base influences assessments of valued functionings as aspects of good life, capabilities, and freedoms. Research is based on fieldwork in several regions in Tanzania.


This research investigates the nature of development brought about by global evangelical Christianity in Africa by taking Tanzania as the case country. It concentrates on Pentecostal-Charismatic forms of evangelical Christianity and examines faith based institutions (FBI) and their adherent communities in relation to three core areas of development questions: 1) poverty and human development and 2) economic reforms, and 3) international aid system.

Research is based on the observations of 1) the exponential growth of global Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in Africa 2) the major public role of FBIs in African societies and 3) the considerable economic reforms in Tanzania including its significant status as recipient in the international as well as Finnish aid systems.

The objective is to study evangelical and Pentecostal-charismatic FBIs, their adherent communities and human development at the grassroots. It will be explored whether and how religious world views construct the dimensions of development and good life, and motivate actions of both individuals and FBIs towards perceived wellbeing. The working assumption is first, that economic reforms and the global economy shape the form and content of religious ethos and that the religious ethos in turn fosters particular kinds of economic and development actions. Second, this research considers FBIs and development in Tanzania in the context of globalization as well as the international and Finnish aid systems.

Research brings together the general Weberian approach to the relationship between religious ideas and economic activity, and the human development and capability approach as pioneered by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha Nussbaum. The capability approach is a shift away from a narrowly economic paradigm of development, and provides a value-based way of thinking about the multidimensional nature of human development and wellbeing. The study attempts to be groundbreaking in a number of ways both empirically and theoretically; it employs the approach in a novel way to religion and development in a study that is ethnographic by nature. This research is continuation to the applicant’s previous research on PC Christianity, forms of gospel and poverty in Tanzania.

The working model of capability approach to religion and human development designed for this research examines how faith affects the following aspects:

1) Capabilities - the valued / desired dimensions of good life
2) Income generation and the vital resources necessary for materialization of human development
3) Positive and negative freedoms that either empower or constrain people, and that have personal, social and transcendent dimensions
4) Functioning as the actual achievements of people
5) Wellbeing as the meanings people give to the actual achievements
Operationalization of this working model takes place through the concrete research tasks:
• How do faith based institutions construct their world view, and motivate and institute their activities in relation to development and human capabilities as in the model?
• How do individuals and their communities perceive good life and human capabilities, and are able to act towards development and wellbeing in the light of their religious world view as in the model?

Cases are selected along the religious, organizational, strategic, and service dimensions by considering a range of FBIs. Human development is a hybrid concept with objective and subjective aspects, and both quantitative and qualitative methods are needed. Household and income surveys are used to assess income generation and the factual material resources. Participant observation, various types of interviews and textual materials of the FBIs are used to examine faith, values and the other aspects of the working model. Analytical methods include ethnographic content analysis, cultural domain analysis and narrative analysis. For research of high standard, a fieldwork of total 13 months will be conducted in Swahili language.

Apart from the potential theoretical and methodological innovations and new empirical findings, this research is expected to result in an edited volume of symposium papers and 2-3 international articles annually on different components of the working model: 1) critical, localized readings of Nussbaum’s list of capabilities 2) analyses of forms of Protestant ethos in perceptions of material resources and of income generating activities 3) analyses of the three dimensions of faith in notions of agency, empowerment and constraints and 4) analyses of the ways cultural categories and religious ideas are used in creating understandings and representations of functioning and wellbeing. Besides the academia, the outcomes can benefit the national and international policy makers as well as the FBIs.

Research info

Research title
Religion and globalization: Evangelical Christianity and development in Africa

Research timeline
1.9.2011 - 1.8.2016

capability approach development Evangelicalism FBO Pentecostalism religion World Vision


Finland, Tanzania, United Republic Of

University of Helsinki
Dpt of Political and Economic Studies

Funding instrument
Academy of Finland

Project budget
200,000 - 500,000 euros

Head of research
Päivi Hasu

Contact information
Päivi Hasu

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