Publication by DPDF 2009 Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow Nicolette D. Manglos.
Religious leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa do not just deal with the spiritual needs of members but are also heavily engaged in dealing with social problems and material needs. Although true elsewhere, the realities of limited state infrastructure and an increasingly diverse religious landscape make it crucial for religious entrepreneurs to deal with material problems if they hope to gain adherents. This article applies the concepts of problem solving and brokerage (Burt, 2005;Knoke, 1990) to a case study of religious leaders in Balaka, a small town of rural Malawi. I argue that religious leaders solve problems in three major areas—material infrastructure, activities and organization, and healthcare—and that they are able to do so at least partly because of their connections to various overlapping secular and religious networks. I focus both on the provision of material resources and the facilitation of effervescent experiences in order to advance a fuller understanding of the experience of poverty and the ways leaders in poor communities work to solve problems.