The last decades have seen a remarkable increase in Evangelical proselytism. In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 12 percent of individuals are now members of Evangelical churches (Meyer 2004). Many influential politicians, like Burundi’s president Nkurunziza, are born-again Christians and have set out to shape their countries along Evangelical lines. Empirical evidence on the effects of Evangelical missionaries on local communities is sparse. Unpacking the causal ties between missionaries and local communities, however, is crucial to understand democratization patterns (Weber, 2002). Two questions are particularly under-explored: First, to what extent do missionaries affect community cohesion? Second, do missionaries propel democratic values?
In my dissertation I approach these questions using a field experiment from eastern South Sudan (an area unaffected by the current civil war) whereby local missionaries randomize the geographic route of their proselytism. South Sudan provides an excellent case study because parts of its population have never been proselytized. I partner with a local Evangelical mission, Salt and Light Missionaries, which has decided to randomize the roll-out of its proselytism among the Toposa tribe. Since conversion processes take time, I couple the field experiment with quasi-experimental data from villages already proselytized by Evangelical missionaries using a geographic regression discontinuity design.
Relying on prior qualitative interviews with missionaries in the region, I hypothesize that missionaries weaken local networks, while at the same time propelling democratic values such as equality and tolerance. Taken together, my dissertation argues that Protestant missionaries affect democratization in traditional societies via two mechanisms. They positively affect democratic preferences such as equality and tolerance. However, Protestant missionaries also weaken the technology necessary to develop a functioning democratic polity by polarizing and weakening social networks. Baseline data collection has started in September 2016, endline data collection is scheduled for March 2017.