Policing and Religion in Tuvalu: Perspectives on Navigating Tensions Between Multiple Security Actors

AuthorSara N. Amin,Danielle Watson,Tanya Trussler
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(3) 330 –345
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096957
Policing and Religion in
Tuvalu: Perspectives on
Navigating Tensions
Between Multiple Security
Sara N. Amin1, Danielle Watson2,
and Tanya Trussler3
Although religious institutions are an important agent of non-state policing,
especially in the Global South, there is a limited understanding of the relationship
between religion and policing. The Pacific presents an ideal context in which to
examine the relationship between religious and policing institutions in Christian
majority postcolonial societies. Moreover, state and religious institutions in the
Pacific Island States are currently being subjected to powerful processes, including
economic liberalization, globalization, and localization/indigenization, producing both
opportunities but also contestations and conflicts. Using interviews with police
officers, religious leaders, and community leaders, this article examines how police
officers negotiate the tensions between (secular) state law, indigenous structures of
authority, and religious authorities in Tuvalu.
plural policing, religion, Tuvalu, police-community relations
1The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji
2Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
3Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Sara N. Amin, Sociology, CELT 119, School of Law and Social Sciences, The University of the South
Pacific, Suva, Central, Fiji.
Email: Sara.amin@usp.ac.fj
1096957CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096957Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeAmin et al.
Amin et al. 331
Criminology and policing studies often seem to ignore religion. This is likely, at least
in part be due to fact that researchers in these disciplines understand themselves as
secular, leading them to perceive religion as irrelevant (McFadyen & Prideaux, 2011,
2014). The ignoring of religion is likely also a result of the growth of policing studies
and criminology in primarily secular societies (cf. Spalek, 2008, in relation to policing
Al Qaeda). However, religion is not irrelevant to policing; ignoring it leaves a gap in
understanding. The current research adds to the literature on policing by examining
directly the role of religion in policing, looking specifically at the perspectives of
police of the role religion plays in their duties and lives. The link between the two is
particularly important in Oceania, where throughout the colonial period and in the
post-independence years, the church has been a major actor in the settlement of dis-
putes, interpersonal violence in the community, and other issues that often fall in the
purview of policing responsibilities in the “West.” The chiefly system of dispute reso-
lution and community justice became integrated with the dominant Christian churches
in each area during the colonial period, both reinforcing each other in their role of
maintaining order and social cohesion, as well as supporting similar value and norma-
tive systems of expected behavior (Patterson, 2003). This often happened before the
formal establishment of colonial administration, and in post-independence, plural sys-
tems of justice and policing have continued (Watson & Dinnen, 2020). Arguments for
and against these forms of plural policing have often focused on Melanesian countries
in Oceania and on the place of kastom (customary/indigenous authority and practices).
This is in part because historically, religious and indigenous authorities have been
entangled and interdependent in the Pacific since missionization.
However, in the last few decades, there have been important changes in religious
diversity, the place of indigenous authority, and the authority of the state in the Pacific.
These changes have important implications for policing in Oceania. While the rela-
tionship between religion and policing has not been a focus of research in the Pacific,
Trnka (2011) has documented the use of “the Jesus strategy” and New Methodism to
reform the Fiji Police Force in the 2006 post-coup context to gain legitimacy and dis-
cipline. Rio (2011) argues that the Vanuatu police force, increasingly associated with
the born-again Christian movement, has restructured, expanded, and represented its
practices in theological terms, while large investments by the Australian and New
Zealand governments in police capacity-building have simultaneously reconstituted
the police force as more independent from state control. These examples in Fiji and
Vanuatu speak to important ways that religion and policing are interlinked. Moreover,
the dramatic growth of Pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical Christianity in the
Pacific Island Countries (PICs) (Ernst, 2006, 2012; Robbins, 2001) and a trend toward
greater formalization of Christianisation of the state and its various arms are reconfig-
uring the relationship and boundaries between the three main pillars of governance in
the Pacific—state, church, and chiefly authorities.
Development aid and economic liberalization processes are also impacting on
the power balance between these institutions, often disrupting local

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