Resurgence and convergence : religion and development, with a focus on social capital among Akha in North Thailand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North Campus, New Zealand
This Masters thesis research aims to contribute to the fledgling body of development industry literature that seriously considers the intersect of science, religion, and development. Religion is gaining recognition as an important aspect of development processes; previous neglect of it has been cited as one reason for the failure of many development efforts. An evolutionary framework would suggest the interaction of the large human movements of religion and the development industry would inevitably include resurgence of religion, sometimes in unfamiliar forms, along with religion's convergence with development, both among societies generally as they evolve into multiple modernities, and through interactions specific to the development industry and religion. This thesis identifies and discusses these trends and interactions with reference to improving development research and practice. Having demonstrated that religion does matter for development, I go on to show how it matters in one instance. This thesis assesses the potentials and limitations of one indigenous religion's ritual practices for creating and maintaining social capital among an indicative sample group of people who have experienced dislocation resulting from development. Fieldwork using primarily qualitative methods was among Akha hilltribe people living in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, with a focus, though not exclusively, on those living in slums. Findings indicate that among city Akha. their religious ritual has lost the primary role it previously occupied in Akha villages as a social capital generator. However, further analysis suggests Akhas' religious experience predisposes them to conversion to access the social capital evident among Christian Akha in Chiang Mai, and that through this process is occurring a negotiation of convergence between Akha religion and modernising forces which will affect all Akha. I conclude that both the identified wider trends and context-specific example of religion- development interaction demonstrate the value in development practitioners and theorists moving towards understanding and applying a non-instrumental valuing of religion.