The Malawi Religion Project (MRP)

The Malawi Religion Project (MRP) is a sister project to the former Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP), now the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH). Following the 2001 Born Again Interviews (see below), the MRP was fielded during the summer of 2005 to collect data on religious organizations in the region.

Born Again Interviews

In 2001, exploratory qualitative interviews on religious conversations were carried out with a small sample of MDICP-2 respondents in Balaka district.

The 2001 MDICP household survey (MDICP-2) included more questions on religion than in the 1998 round. Respondents were first asked their denomination (Muslim, Catholic, Revivalist, Protestant). In addition, Christian respondents were asked to specify the church (i.e. not simply “Protestant” or “Revivalist”, but a more specific denomination such as Evangelical Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist).  Then all Protestant and Catholic respondents were asked whether they had become Born Again, and, if so, when. During interviewer training in Balaka district, which is predominantly Muslim, we learned that Muslims may undergo a conversion experience that appeared to be somewhat similar to becoming Born Again for Christians. We thus added a question for Muslims: whether they had “made Tauba”, and if so, when.  Subsequently, all respondents were asked how often, during specified time periods, they had gone to 1) church or mosque for services; 2) meetings for prayer; and 3) meetings for Bible or Koran study.

A small number of respondents in the 2001 household survey in Balaka were asked further questions at the end of the interview in order to provide more insight into their religious behavior.  In particular, we wanted to get a sense of why some people decide to become more religiously committed by becoming Born Again or making Tauba, and to learn more about the involvement of other members of their social networks in this new commitment.

Four experienced interviewers were selected for this project from those who were conducting the household survey, and were given a brief training and a list of questions to guide them. The interviewers were asked to pay attention to the survey question on whether the respondent had become Born Again or made Tauba.  If the respondent had made such a commitment, after the household survey interview the interviewer was asked to conduct an informal qualitative interview; a separate set of questions were to be asked to those who had not become Born Again or made Tauba (see the questionnaire guide). We did not insist that each respondent be asked all the questions, unlike the household survey instructions: rather, the interview was to be informal, and the interviewer could use his or her judgement.  Because the interviewers were also carrying out the household survey, these qualitative interviews wer brief. In addition, the interviews were not taped; rather, the interviewers wrote a summary of the responses on the back of the household survey questionnaire, e.g. “He said he became Born Again in 1992", rather than providing a verbatim account.  Nonetheless, it is likely that the summaries are close to verbatim: the interviewers had all worked as ethnographers in our larger and more formal ethnographic project in 1999 (the 'Let's Chat' interviews), where great emphasis had been placed on the exact translation of the interviews (recorded in ChiChewa or ChiYao) into English. Transcripts can be downloaded here.

The main findings of the 'Born again' interviews are summarized in: Watkins, Susan C. and Chiweni Chimbwete, 2004, “Repentence and Hope Among Christians and Muslims in Rural Malawi,” Religion in Malawi 11: 1-13.