Individualism and empowerment in pentecostal sermons: New evidence from nairobi, kenya

Gwyneth H. Mcclendon*, Rachel Beatty Riedl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are growing rapidly in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world. This article presents new evidence on the theologies and activities of these popular churches, based on sermon texts and interview data gathered from a random sample of churches in Nairobi, Kenya. It finds that Pentecostal churches in Nairobi are remarkably consistent in the messages they disseminate, despite great variation in church and membership characteristics across congregations. The dominant theme in sermons was a focus on cultivating believers' sense of their own potential and autonomy as individuals. Other topics commonly associated with Pentecostal churches such as getting rich quickly and social conservatism were not as central. The focus on individual autonomy also stands in stark contrast to more collectivist agendas of social change. Indeed, the individualist theme was accompanied by a relative lack of social service provision, reflecting an approach to economic development that focuses on individual mental transformation rather than material handouts or systemic reform. In contrast to literature on civil society and ethnicity, which sees religious groups as potential collective agents or as cohesive interest groups, this article suggests that Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are leading their members to prioritize the individual.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-144
Number of pages26
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number458
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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