Christianity and Climate Change Adaption: Sea-level Rise and Ritualising Village Relocation in Fiji

Thomas Arthur John White


Development studies are ambivalent about the relationship between climate change adaption and Pacific Christianity. Biblical belief about Noah’s covenant and the End Times are understood to undermine risk perception, while church membership is seen to threaten cross-denominational cooperation, hampering adaptive capacity. Yet the communicative reach and charismatic authority of Pacific churches remains the envy of development specialists working on climate change. This focus on belief and institutional reach, however, neglects how Christian ritual practice can orientate and stabilise faith communities. Drawing on fieldwork in rural Fiji investigating village migration due to coastal flooding from sea-level rise, this paper shows how ritual practice strengthens community resilience when responding to climate change. In Vunidogoloa, villagers employed the Old Testament myth of Exodus to (re)create ritual responses to vent the emotional/spiritual trauma of leaving their ancestral home. Whereas in the nearby village Vunisavisavi, such ritual responses have been lacking and village relocation remained problematic.


Christianity, development, Fiji, climate change, migration

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