Since I first went to the village of Uchira in Tanzania in 1996 I was struck by the building of an enormous Catholic church on the roadside. On that first visit it was just a foundation but by 2007 was a cathedral decorated with stained glass. By that time I was married into a family from Uchira and my daughter was baptised in that church. However, my response to this building was annoyance- why was this structure being built here amidst visible hunger and when the government medical dispensary was in such bad shape? How much has it cost and where did this money come from? The answer to this was a mixture of funds some from the UK and much from local contributions. So why did people prefer to contribute to this project rather than to the completion of the local government health facility?
Now I know this is a controversial topic but this question continues to puzzle me. Perhaps people also wondered this in Europe as the powerful religious bureaucracies built their Cathedrals hundreds of years ago. This led me to think about all the ways in which religious organisations and religion play a role in reducing poverty or exclusion- either through the delivery of public services or in shaping the identity, behaviour and beliefs of individuals. The public services provided by religious organisations in Uchira charge a fee to their customers and so seem to be behaving as social enterprises. Starting your own church or becoming a pastor also appears to be a good way to improve your own livelihood- we can see an extreme examples of this in Nigeria.
The second JEFCAS working paper explores the connections between religion and development using Uchira as an exploratory case study. It is a paper written to ask more questions than it answers.