Pentecostalism in a Rural Context

Dynamics of Religion and Development in Southwest Ethiopia


  • Dena Freeman London School of Economics and Political Science



Pentecostal, Development


Pentecostal Christianity originated as an urban movement in America, and as it spread to Africa it was initially taken up most enthusiastically in towns and capital cities. In Ethiopia the Pentecostal movement largely started in towns, but is increasingly being taken up by rural communities. This paper will explore why rural Ethiopian communities are attracted to Pentecostalism, and how it impacts on their social, cultural and economic practices. In particular, I consider the developmental consequences of Pentecostalism, and how Pentecostal beliefs and practices encourage or block processes of change that are generally termed “development”. As part of this I will explore the theory of development – of what constitutes “good change” – that is implicit in Pentecostal philosophy and that is generally known as “transformational development”. I will show how this notion of change is significantly different to notions of change prevalent in the secular development world in that they emphasize transformations of subjectivity and social relations first, then leading to economic transformation, rather than focusing solely on the economic, as is apparent in the work of many secular development NGOs.


Abélès, Marc. 1978. “Pouvoir et Société chez les Ochollo d’Ethiopie Meridional”. Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 18: 293–310.

Abir, Mordechai. 1970. “Southern Ethiopia”. In Richard Gray and David Birmingham (eds), Pre-Colonial African Trade: Essays on Trade in Central and Eastern Africa before 1900. London: Oxford University Press: 119–37.

—. 1975. “Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa”. In Richard Gray (ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 537–77. http://dx.doi. org/10.1017/CHOL9780521204132

Anderson, Allan. 2004. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Balisky, Paul. 2009. Wolaita Evangelists: A Study of Religious Innovation in Southern Ethiopia, 1937–75. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Bialecki, Jon, Naomi Haynes and Joel Robbins. 2008. “The Anthropology of Christianity”. Religion Compass 2.6: 1139–58.

Bureau, Jacques. 1981. Les Gamo d’Ethiopie. Paris: Société d’Ethnologie.

Demissie, Fassil. 2008. “Situated Neoliberalism and Urban Crisis in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia”. African Identities 6: 505–27.

Donham, Donald. 1985. Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia. New York: Columbia University Press.

—. 1999. Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution. Oxford: James Currey.

Fargher, Brian. 1996. Origins of the New Church Movement in Southern Ethiopia, 1927– 1944. Leiden: Brill.

Freeman, Dena. 2002a. Initiating Change in Highland Ethiopia: Causes and Consequences of Cultural Transformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi. org/10.1017/CBO9780511489525

—. 2002b. “From Warrior to Wife: Cultural Transformation in the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8: 34–44.

—. 2012a. “The Pentecostal Ethic and the Spirit of Development”. In her Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 1–40.

—. 2012b. “Development and the Rural Entrepreneur: Pentecostals, NGOs and the Market in Neoliberal Ethiopia”. In her Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 159–80.

—. 2013. “Value Chains for Development: An Ethnography of Pro-Poor Market Interventions in Ethiopia”. Anthropology of This Century 6, (accessed 25 October 2013).

Gifford, Paul. 1998. African Christianity: Its Public Role. London: Hurst.

Halperin, Rhoda and Judith Olmstead. 1976. “To Catch a Feastgiver: Redistribution among the Dorze of Ethiopia”. Africa 46: 146–66.

Hamer, Jon. 2002. “The Religious Conversion Process among the Sid?ma of North-East Africa”. Africa 72: 598–627.

Haustein, Jörg. 2011. Writing Religious History: The Historiography of Ethiopian Pentecostalism. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Hollenweger, Walter. 1997. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Lefort, Réne. 2012. “Free Market Economy, ‘Developmental State’ and Party-State Hegemony in Ethiopia: The Case of the ‘Model Farmers’”. Journal of Modern African Studies 50.4: 681–706.

Martin, David. 2002. Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish. Oxford: Blackwell.

Meyer, Birgit. 1998. “‘Make a Complete Break with the Past’: Memory and Post-Colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist Discourse”. Journal of Religion in Africa 28.3: 316–49.

Myers, Bryant. 1999. Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. New York: Orbis Books.

Robbins, Joel. 2004a. “The Globalization of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity”. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 117–43. anthro.32.061002.093421

—. 2004b. Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Tibebe Eshete. 2009. The Evangelical Movement in Ethiopia: Resistance and Resilience. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.



How to Cite

Freeman, D. (2013). Pentecostalism in a Rural Context: Dynamics of Religion and Development in Southwest Ethiopia. PentecoStudies, 12(2), 231–249.