Individualism and Empowerment in Pentecostal Sermons: New Evidence from Nairobi, Kenya


McClendon, Gwyneth H. Forthcoming. “Individualism and Empowerment in Pentecostal Sermons: New Evidence from Nairobi, Kenya.” African Affairs. Oxford University Press. Copy at


Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are rapidly growing in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world. In this paper we present new evidence on the theologies and activities of these popular churches, having gathered sermon texts and interview data from a random sample of them in Nairobi, Kenya. We find that Pentecostal churches in Nairobi are remarkably consistent in the messages they disseminate, despite greatvariation in church and membership characteristics across congregations. We argue that the dominant theme in the sermons is a focus on cultivating believers' sense of their own potential and autonomy as individuals. Other topics commonly associated with Pentecostal churches, such as getting rich quickly and social conservatism, are not as central. The focus on individual autonomy also stands in stark contrast to more collectivist agendas of social change. Indeed, the individualist theme is accompanied by a relative lack of social service provision, reflecting an approach to economic development that focuses on individual mental transformation rather than material handouts or systemic reform.

Last updated on 08/01/2015