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Dr Valeria Rueda Receives Grant from John Fell Fund to Support New Research Project

27th January 2017

Dr Valeria Rueda, the Rokos Career Development Fellow in Economics at Pembroke College, recently received a grant from the John Fell Fund (JFF) for her research.

The JFF is an early career grant from the University of Oxford, which will enable Dr Rueda to launch a research project that considers the consequences of early 20th century missionary activity on the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr Julia Cagé, Assistant Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics at Sciences Po, Paris. The pair are currently analysing the persisting consequences of missionary activity on development from a range of perspectives.

Over the 20th century, missionaries pioneered the development of modern medicine in sub-Saharan Africa. The amount they invested in this area is much larger than what was conducted by any other colonial power. It is for this reason that missionary activity is often associated with improved health outcomes in many regions of the world.

Dr Rueda notes that Christian missions may have impacted the HIV epidemic in another way: by changing sexual morals and behaviours of the people groups they encountered.  In sub-Saharan Africa, some Christian groups are outwardly against the use of contraception, and there is a strong stigmatization of HIV-positive individuals. These attitudes and beliefs mean that it is difficult to promote safe-sex education and screening programs. 

Dr Rueda said: ‘In this project, we will quantify the HIV prevalence today around historical locations of missionary stations and hospitals and compare it to similar regions. The goal is to quantify the, possibly conflicting, effects of missionary presence on HIV today.’

Speaking about the grant, she said, ‘the grant will help me launch a series of new archival investigations, as well as digitising and geocoding missionary investments. This is going to be particularly useful for a few sources on Catholic missionaries, which I had not investigated before.

I consider the Christian expansion in the late 19th century as a form of “spiritual imperialism” that is lesser-studied in Economics in comparison to colonisation. This grant will help me extend the database of Christian missions and investments I started constructing a few years ago. I’m eager to get started.’

Dr Valeria Rueda, Rokos Career Development Fellow in Economics, Pembroke College, Oxford
Dr Valeria Rueda, Rokos Career Development Fellow in Economics, Pembroke College, Oxford
Images from Dr Rueda’s archival research
Images from Dr Rueda’s archival research