Probasco, “Prayer, Patronage, and Personal Agency in Nicaraguan Accounts of Receiving International Aid”

Probasco, LiErin. 2016. Prayer, Patronage, and Personal Agency in Nicaraguan Accounts of Receiving International Aid. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Doi: 10.1111/jssr.12263

Abstract:This article examines how religious beliefs and practices influence the reception of international relief and development aid in impoverished communities. Specifically, I explain how Nicaraguan recipients’ prayers both enhance and constrain their ability to assert themselves as “empowered” actors during aid interactions. Data come from observations and interviews over a two-year period with 81 Nicaraguans in communities that receive aid from Christian development organizations. Compared to secular constructions of aid interactions, prayers provide space for Nicaraguans to position themselves as influential actors effecting change for themselves or their families. Through prayers, recipients portray themselves as influencing the actions of more powerful parties, including God and potential donors. They also pray for donors’ well-being, thereby offering spiritual reciprocity for material gifts. However, the same prayers that empower individuals at the interpersonal level constrain their ability to envision transformation of social structures. These findings shape understandings of prayer as aligning actions, of the moral and social dimensions of receiving care from strangers, and of the complex and contradictory ways religious practices influence discourses of empowerment and development.

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