Small Business Incubators and the Global Politics of Illicit Religion

Summer School Lecture

After the shattering blow of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis, the South Korean government pursued strategies for curbing the dominance of large, multi-national conglomerates in the national economy. One of them was small business incubators. Designed to foster innovation and agility, these workspaces attracted seed investments and encouraged entry into developing markets overseas. In the 2000s, many also seized on opportunities for steep growth in the newly opened markets of Vietnam, Russia, China, and North Korea.

In this lecture, Professor Angie Heo (University of Chicago Divinity School) will examine how Korean evangelicals then and today embrace business incubators with the covert aim of carrying religion into post-socialist and communist countries. These mission-minded entrepreneurs promote small enterprises and start-ups as covers for planting “underground churches” and the “seeds of Christianity” in societies perceived to be hostile to evangelism and proselytization. By situating their spiritual strategies within broader contexts of anticommunism worldwide, Heo will engage questions that touch on the global politics of illicit religion.  How did business incubators become the vehicle for promoting religion and what kind of religion? What work do they do that cannot be achieved by “official” institutions of religion like churches, charities, and schools?  And how are the contents and forms of religion, theology, and spirituality transformed as a result?  To explore these lines of inquiry, this lecture will also discuss broader methodological assumptions at play in scholarship on religion, mobility, and politics, with special attention to the Cold War and post-Cold War periods.

This online lecture is part of the UCSIA Summer School program on ‘Religion, Mobility and Politics’. From 23 to 27 August 2021, the online UCSIA Summer School brings together a multidisciplinary and international group of 16 PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the fields of theology, humanities and social sciences. The programme offers them the opportunity to attend classes taught by field experts Jayeel Cornelio (Ateneo de Manila University), David Henig (Utrecht University) and Angie Heo (University of Chicago Divinity School), to present their own work and to discuss their ideas in a relaxed and open atmosphere. Learn more about the annual summer course via

Date & Time

Thursday 26 August 2021
4.00 – 5.30 p.m. UTC+2
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Online via Zoom.
How does it work?


Free entrance.
Please register online in advance.


4.00 p.m.

Welcome by Stijn Latré, director UCSIA

4.05 p.m.

Small Business Incubators and the Global Politics of Illicit Religion

Angie Heo, Assistant Professor Anthropology and Sociology of Religion, University of Chicago Divinity School

4.50 p.m.

Response by David Henig, Associate Professor Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University

5.05 p.m.


5.30 p.m.




Angie Heo is assistant professor of anthropology and sociology of religion at University of Chicago Divinity School. She is an anthropologist of religion, media, and economy and is broadly interested in minority politics, critical mission history, postcolonial nationalism, and global religious movements. Heo’s first book The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt (University of California Press, 2018) offers a form-sensitive account of Coptic Orthodoxy and Christian-Muslim relations from before the Arab uprisings to their post-revolutionary aftermath. Heo’s second book (in progress) turns to various sites of religious freedom, transnational capitalism, and Cold War empire in the Korean peninsula.



David Henig is associate professor of cultural anthropology at Utrecht University. Before coming to Utrecht, he held appointments at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the University of Kent. Over the past decade, he has carried out extensive fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he studied the transformation of political economy and reconfiguration of religious institutions and practices in the face of ruptures caused by the political violence and cultural and economic dispossession ensuing from the violent disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992 and its aftermaths. This research resulted in numerous articles, one monograph, Remaking Muslim Lives: Everyday Islam in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina (University of Illinois Press, 2020); and a co-edited volume with Nicolette Makovicky, Economies of Favour after Socialism (Oxford University Press, 2017). 

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