Religious Urbanisation and Infrastructural Lives in African Mega-Cities: Moral Economies of Development in Kinshasa and Lagos

Taking as case studies Lagos and Kinshasa, this project explores how these religious urban models engage with challenges of infrastructural development, urban social cohesion and inclusion, safety and sustainability.
Project status

Many sub-Saharan African cities have being transformed by revivalist forms of Christian religiosity that promote – often spectacular – visions of urban development. These visions often involve the creation of large self-contained spaces built on the urban periphery, in addition to providing basic infrastructure, health and education facilities. At a more personal level, these developments link moral subjectivities with middle-class aspirations such as the quest for individual autonomy and social well-being.

Bureau du Pasteur Communal, Kinshasa

Lagos and Kinshasa are the most populated and fastest-growing cities in sub-Saharan Africa. This project explores how these religious urban models engage with challenges of infrastructural development, urban social cohesion and inclusion, safety and sustainability. How are religious and spiritual visions of the ‘ideal city’ materially articulated in actual religious urban developments and how do these cohere with or challenge existing modes of planning and development? Do religious urban spaces and infrastructures ameliorate or exacerbate everyday challenges faced by residents?

To explore the impact of religious urbanisation and provide both evidence-based and practical recommendations aimed at promoting functioning civic urban culture, the project includes three dedicated research work packages and one policy work package.

Women and children in Kinshasa

The first work package is concerned with the production and use of Christian urban space in Lagos and Kinshasa, and the intersections between religious urban developments, infrastructures and the provision of utilities. The second work package investigates religious notions of the ‘ideal city’ in Lagos and Kinshasa and ways in which such notions become translated within each actually existing city. The research team will consider how models of infrastructural development mobilised by religious actors are brought into tension with existing regimes of planning. It will explore ideals of belonging and citizenship promoted by religious actors at local, national and transnational levels. The third work package explores how religion responds to the unpredictability and informality of everyday life in Lagos and Kinshasa. It is concerned with unravelling the complex moral economies deployed in the production and use of religious urban infrastructures. Of interest are the levels of trust that urban dwellers place in religious infrastructures and how this compares with trust in state institutions. To what extent do religious institutions provide symbolic and material resources to negotiate unpredictability and socio-economic uncertainties through production of urban/infrastructural space?


All three work packages draw upon a mixed methodology combining ethnography and qualitative and quantitative data collection tools. One of the project’s key objectives is to provide recommendations aimed at promoting civic urban culture in context of growing inequalities and widespread informalisation of urban life in cities where religious actors play significant infrastructural roles. 


Principal Investigator: Dr David Garbin, University of Kent

Co-Investigators: Dr Gareth Millington, University of York; Professor Simon Michael Coleman, University of Toronto

Project outcomes

Urbanisation and Development: A Policy Review

RUA Project

This policy review summarises key documents relating to urbanisation and development that focus on cities in a global sense or on cities in developing countries, in Africa in particular.

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