Publication by DPDF 2009 “Revitalizing Development Studies” Fellow Nicolette D. Manglos.
Pentecostal membership and born-again conversion have been growing in popularity across Africa. Yet despite the many explanations posited for their growth, few studies have attended to the local meanings attached to the born-again identity specifically. In this study, I compare narratives of born-again conversion among a sample of Pentecostal and Catholic young people in Malawi, in order to better understand its meaning and appeal as a religious identity. I argue that the born-again identity is highly salient for those who claim it; and that although its roots are in Pentecostalism, it has diffused widely into other denominations. I also argue that for these young people, it is described not primarily as a conversion of belief but as a conversion to a new moral lifestyle; and that the major difference between Pentecostals and Catholics is in their expressed sense of the attainability of this conversion, not of its desirability. The connection between the born-again lifestyle and the impact of modernity in the development context is also explored.