Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Ann Swidler ─ Social Ecologies of Religion in Malawi: Local Institutions and Collective Goods

Thursday, October 25, 2018

3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

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Coordination among elites often facilitates development goals. Despite variation across sub-Saharan Africa, in places where neither the market nor the state can coordinate collective action, this task falls to informal leaders, among them chiefs and other traditional authorities, but also pastors and other religious leaders. In Malawi, a predominantly Christian country with a substantial Muslim minority, cross-cutting ties among congregations, their members, and their leaders create bases for wider collaborative action. These ties have both a spiritual and a practical dimension. Individuals choose (and frequently change) congregations and denominations; they attend congregations at a distance from their homes; and their clergy visit other congregations and–especially at funerals–meet with each other and with traditional authorities. These practices create a wider ecology of interconnection among churches, but also among villages, chiefs, pastors, and sometimes NGOs and politicians.

Development Seminar

​Ann Swidler is Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. She has done influential work on culture and religion, including the now-classic article, “Culture in Action,” Organization Without Authority, and Talk of Love, as well as the co-authored Habits of the Heart, The Good Society, and Inequality by Design. Her newest book (with Susan Cotts Watkins) is A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa (Princeton, 2017), which explores the intersection of global and local responses to the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in institutions that can create collective goods has led to work on chiefs, religious congregations, and NGOs, and to her current project on Social Ecologies of Religion in Malawi.