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Religious Urbanisation and Infrastructural Lives in African Mega-Cities: Moral Economies of Development in Kinshasa and Lagos

Religious Urbanisation and Infrastructural Lives in African Mega-Cities: Moral Economies of Development in Kinshasa and Lagos

Principal Investigator: Dr David Garbin, University of Kent

Co-Investigators: Dr Gareth Millington, University of York; Professor Simon Michael Coleman, University of Toronto

Urbanization and development are usually conceptualized through secular frameworks.  However, in recent years, the economic and social impact of urban religious actors and faith-based groups have been significant, in particular in developing countries. For instance many sub-Saharan African cities have being transformed by revivalist forms of Christian religiosity that promote - often spectacular - visions of urban development. These visions often involve the creation of large self-contained spaces built on the urban periphery, in addition to providing basic infrastructure, health and education facilities. At a more personal level these developments link moral subjectivities with middle-class aspirations such as the quest for individual autonomy and social well-being.

Taking as case studies Lagos and Kinshasa—the most populated and fastest growing cities in Sub Saharan Africa— our project explores how these religious urban models engage with challenges of infrastructural development, urban social cohesion and inclusion, safety and sustainability. How are religious and spiritual visions of the ‘ideal city’ materially articulated in actual religious urban developments and how do these cohere with or challenge existing modes of planning and development? Do religious urban spaces and infrastructures ameliorate or exacerbate everyday challenges faced by residents?

To explore the impact of religious urbanization and provide both an evidence-base and practical recommendations aimed at promoting functioning civic urban culture our project includes three dedicated research work packages and one policy work package.

The first Work Package is concerned with the production and use of Christian urban space in Lagos and Kinshasa, and the intersections between religious urban developments, infrastructures and the provision of utilities. The second Work Package investigates religious notions of the ‘ideal city’ in Lagos and Kinshasa and ways in which such notions become translated within each actually existing city. We consider how models of infrastructural development mobilized by religious actors are brought into tension with existing regimes of planning. We consider ideals of belonging and citizenship promoted by religious actors at local, national and transnational levels. The third Work Package explores how religion responds to the unpredictability and informality of everyday life in Lagos and Kinshasa. It is concerned with unravelling the complex moral economies deployed in the production and use of religious urban infrastructures. Of interest are the levels of trust that urban dwellers place in religious infrastructures and how this compares with trust in state institutions. To what extent do religious institutions provide symbolic and material resources to negotiate unpredictability and socio-economic uncertainties through production of urban/infrastructural space?

All three Work Packages draw upon a mixed methodology combing ethnography and qualitative and quantitative data collection tools One the project’s key objectives is to provide recommendations aimed at promoting civic urban culture in context of growing inequalities and widespread informalization of urban life in cities where religious actors play significant infrastructural roles. 

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