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Gwendolyn Heaner

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Location: Boston, MA USA

Institution: SOAS, University of London; Harvard University

Contact: Homepage E-Mail

In June 2011 I was awarded a PhD in the Study of Religions with a focus on Pentecostalism and social change in Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, under the supervision of Professor Paul Gifford. I presently reside in Boston where I completed a Graduate Fellowship in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. For the past five years I have also worked as a freelance consultant for various corporations, INGOs, domestic nonprofits and academic institutions on matters pertaining to research methodology, social change, religion and culture, gender, and international development.

My principal research interests are in popular religious movements and sociopolitical change. My PhD research examined contemporary Christianity in Liberia, and was based on one year of self-designed and implemented ethnographic fieldwork. In my dissertation, I focused on the ‘spiritual idiom’ employed within all of these churches, and by their members, through which many contemporary social and political issues were addressed, and with which community and national identities were constructed.  I was especially interested in the way the discourses and rituals of these churches enabled people to articulate and deal with events they experienced during and since the war, versus the relative failure of other secular entities that tried to achieve the same goals.  This topic required a comprehensive understanding of many fields, including international social and economic development, sociology, anthropology, economics, gender studies, public health, conflict resolution, transitional justice mechanisms and psychology.  

My research interests have expanded greatly as a result of my work as a freelance consultant. For example, at the World Bank I was the Liberia field team leader for a rapid qualitative assessment on gender and poverty designed to inform the 2012 World Development Report on Gender and the 2011 Liberia Poverty Assessment. I also served as World Bank field team trainer for WDR teams in Tanzania, South Africa, Fiji, Burkina Faso and Papua New Guinea. Early in 2012 I worked with Oxfam GB on the Liberia evaluation of Raising Her Voice, a women’s rights advocacy project that promotes sensitization and application of the African Union Protocol on Human Rights. Most recently, I worked as a cultural anthropologist for the URS Phase 2 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of iron mine-affected communities in Northern Liberia. In this position I was responsible for identifying and explaining the religious and cultural heritage within the mine-affected communities, liaising with community leaders, and providing recommendations to the company to help mitigate any possible damage as a result of the company’s work.