From Pews to Politics: Religious Sermons and Political Participation in Africa

By Gwyneth H. McClendon and Rachel Beatty Riedl


Every week, hundreds of millions of Africans listen to religious sermons about how best to live their lives. In this powerfully argued and creative book, McClendon and Riedl unpack how Christian sermons shape political life in contemporary Africa. Drawing on an impressive toolkit of modern social science methods—including surveys, randomized experiments, case studies, and the close reading of sermons themselves—the authors argue that religious messages shape their audiences’ political activity even when those messages are not explicitly political. Even if mainly about personal or family topics, sermons give parishioners analytic frameworks for understanding events in the world and how change is possible. Mainline Protestant and Catholic churches focus more on institutions and structural conditions; Pentecostals concentrate instead on individual causes and solutions. These different worldviews carry over into how their parishioners seek political change. The book is a must-read for those interested in contemporary Africa, the role of religion in politics, or the ongoing rise of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity across the developing world.