Open Access

Ted Jelen Best Journal Article Award 2019

Pentecostal Identity and Citizen Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Evidence from Zambia

by Elizabeth Sperber, University of Denver and Erin Hern, Syracuse University


Since the 1980s, Pentecostal and other born again Christian movements have become increasingly prominent in the public spheres of many sub-Saharan African states. A dearth of reliable survey data has constrained investigation of the potential influence of these religious movements on political attitudes and participation. This article analyzes original survey data from Zambia, a majority-Christian nation. These data, from a stratified random sample of 1,500 Zambians, indicate that Pentecostals do in fact share partisan preferences and report higher levels of political interest and participation than other Christians. They are less likely, however, to contact elected officials—a finding that accords with ethnographic accounts of Pentecostal pastors as political interlocutors for their politically mobilized congregations. We further contextualize and explore the external validity of our findings using cross-national survey data collected by the Pew Forum (2010, N = 9,500). We conclude by underscoring the value of further survey research on religion and politics in the region.