Anselm Rink on Missionaries and Political Authority
Date: March 4th, 2018

Missionaries can often convert people to another faith, but do their efforts have other effects?  Prof. Anselm Rink, a junior professor of political economy at the University of Konstanz (Germany), joins us to discuss an interesting survey and field experiment conducted in Peru to understand the effects missionizing may have on citizen attitudes towards political authority.  We begin the conversation with a bit of Prof. Rink’s background and how he ended up studying Protestants in the Peruvian highlands, and he notes that it was part-and-parcel of his Peace Corps experience in Ecuador.  We then dive into his study by defining what “political authority” is.  Anselm notes that definitions vary quite a bit, but he focuses his attention on two dimensions borrowed from Max Weber — obedience and persuasion.  He covers some of the different perspectives on how social scientists have understood these concepts, including a brief mention of the famous Milgram study.

Prof. Rink then lays out his theoretical expectations on why missionaries should have any impact on the dimensions of political authority.  As far as obedience goes, it is possible that there are theological reasons a missionary (or other religious leader) would enhance acceptance of authority in that followers are asked to adopt an authority figure.  There is also the possibility that there is a habitual mechanism that enforces obedience through generalized rituals.  With respect to persuasion, Anselm notes that exposure to new religious ideas could create an intellectual substitution effect wherein people see things differently, or be affected by cognitive dissonance wherein messages from a religious authority may undermine a political message.  Prof. Rink then lays out the religious landscape of Peru, pointing out the growth of Protestantism of the Pentecostal and indigenous varieties.  When Tony asks whether messages from Catholic priests would have an effect on the dimensions of political authority, Anselm responds that this is possible but he focused his research efforts on Protestant missionaries because they tend to have a more “otherworldly” dimension to their spiritual message and that his theoretical expectations would be that the effects of new religious messages would be more pronounced with stricter denominations.

The conversation then gets scientific as we go over Prof. Rink’s research design, talking about the 16 villages that he chose and how this helped to enhance his field experiment design.  Within these villages, there were Adventists, Maranatha Christians, Peruana (indigenous), and churches that had mixed elements of some or all of these.  We go through the qualitative interviews he conducted with missionaries and the surveys he administered to local citizens that included an experiment about giving up coins based upon the roll of dice.  His findings from this work were rather interesting.  It turns out that while Protestant missionaries tended to make their followers more obedient, they actually were less susceptible to persuasion.  As such, the effects of missionaries run in somewhat contradictory directions.

We finish off the interview with a discussion of his work on religious radicalization in Kenya with his co-author Kunaal Sharma.  Instead of focusing on macro-political and economic explanations (such as economic crisis) for conversion to radical religious movements (both Christian and Muslim), they have been investigating the micro-level foundations for why individuals in a community setting would sign up with radicalized groups.  Anselm’s work in both Latin America, Africa, and Europe allows Tony to prompt him about his reflections on his own research.  Anselm noted that the similarities among humans in different contexts should be seen as important and has some further views on altruistic behavior.  Recorded: February 19, 2018.

Please note:  Due to an international Skype connection, the audio of Prof. Rink is a bit compressed and muted.  Nonetheless, the intellectual content is superb.



 Prof. Anselm Rink’s personal webpage and the Department of Politics at University of Konstanz.

Do Protestant Missionaries Undermine Political Authority? Evidence from Peru,” by Anselm Rink in Comparative Political Studies. (subscription required)

The Determinants of Religious Radicalization,” by Anselm Rink and Kunaal Sharma in Journal of Conflict Resolution. (subscription required)


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Christopher Hale on Religion and Protest in Mexico.

Ruth Melkonian on Latin American Protestants.

Andrew Johnson on Pentecostals in Prison in Brazil.

Sarah Dreier on Anglicans, Lutherans, and African Churches.

Proselytism, Humanitarianism, and Development: A Panel Discussion.

Religious Freedom and Political Flourishing: A Panel Discussion.

Kevin Den Dulk on Religion, Education, and Civic Engagement.

Charles North on Religion, Economic Development, and the Rule of Law.

Joel Fetzer on Confucianism and Democracy.

Alison Pond on Being a Mormon Missionary.

Religious Liberty and Violent Religious Extremism.

Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism.

Sean Everton on Dark Networks.

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