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Investigating the impact of religion on cooperation and inequality in Fiji

Pictured from (top row) left to right: Maia Muana, Vererti Muana, John Shaver, Tiko Muana, (bottom row) Sake Vunisea, Peni Madigi, Jope Vunisea, Vuso Muana. Image: Rupeni Madigi

Dr John Shaver from the University of Otago will be investigating the effects religion has on power structures in Fiji


Published on 5 November 2019  

The pervasiveness of religion implies it is useful, but who benefits, and how? The questions of how religion affects people and how it shapes social relationships are fundamental to the study of human societies. Some see religion as a social glue that supports fair cooperation between people; others view it as a mechanism for social control and exploitation. Understanding the dynamic relationships between religion, cooperation and disparity is of special importance in globalising contexts such as Fiji, where inequality is on the rise. Throughout the South Pacific, people are rapidly leaving established religions for newer Pentecostal and revivalist movements. Pentecostal movements, in particular, often vilify membership in “traditional” religious groups which may work to undermine traditional authority, hierarchy and cooperation, which have facilitated high levels of food, labour, and other resource sharing. These same social conditions often also entail the emergence of secularism and the increased movement of individuals from villages to urban settings.

Research photo Photo by John Shaver

Samisoni Madigi and Salote Madigi, image: John Shaver

Dr John Shaver from the University of Otago has been awarded a Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden Fast-Start grant to explore the dynamic relationships between religion, cooperation and social inequality in Fiji. He will collect data over three years from individuals living in Fijian villages and squatter settlements that are undergoing intense social change. By doing so, he will create the Pacific’s first longitudinal ethnographic study of religion and society. More broadly, he hopes to clarify religion’s effects on social relationships and material circumstances.