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.
Abstract: This article expands current knowledge of the impact that brief but intense religious experiences can have on routine behavior by examining the long-term effects of short-term mission travel on both volunteering and charitable giving. Existing literature addresses only the first few years after travel. Using data from the 2005 Religion and Global Issues Survey, I examine how participation in a domestic or international religious mission trip in high school influences adults’ volunteering and giving behavior. I also consider alternate explanations that may account for the relationship between high school mission-trip participation and current giving or volunteering, including demographic factors, religious beliefs and practices, and other forms of civic engagement. I find adolescent participation in a domestic short-term mission trip has a significant, positive influence on the likelihood of volunteering for either a local or an internationally focused organization as an adult. In contrast, adolescent participation in a domestic mission trip has a significant dampening effect on charitable giving to secular organizations. I find no significant associations between international high school trips and adult volunteering and giving when additional factors are taken into account. I discuss the implications of these results for the ways church leaders and scholars think about the mechanisms through which brief, transformative religious experiences influence beliefs and behavior over the course of a lifetime.