Anselm Hager (Humboldt University of Berlin)
14 November 2019 @ 14:00 - 15:30
“Protestant Missionaries and Social Capital: Experimental Evidence from South Sudan”
Abstract: A growing number of studies have linked Protestant missionaries to increases in social capital. Others point out that missionaries divide communities along religious lines. To this date, rigorous empirical evidence is scarce. This paper presents evidence from a pre-registered field experiment implemented in cooperation with a missionary group in South Sudan. A local Protestant mission randomly assigned 60 local villages to a two-week intensive evangelism intervention. Using survey and experimental evidence gathered after the missionaries leave, I find no differences in a pre-registered aggregate social capital index across treated and control villages. However, I document that group- level indicators of social capital are lower, while individual-level indicators of social capital are higher in treated villages. The findings imply that missionaries are akin to a network interruption. They undermine structural determinants of social capital, but increase individual-level pro-social behavior. Pronounced negative treatment effects on attitudes toward local cultural traditions and beliefs underline the network interruption narrative.