Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A troubled sojourner

Written by: on March 5, 2023

As I looked at Polanyi’s work, I saw a troubled sojourner struggling to live a life of impact in a world that is so rapidly changing. Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time is a source of great insights that can help us see more details of the complexity of unregulated markets very active in our world today. “Karl Polanyi was born in Vienna in 1886, but the family soon moved to Budapest.”[1]

Burgoon continues and explains that “Polanyi would later be kicked out of the University of Budapest and complete his degree at a different university.”[2]

There is a chance the author of the great Transformation was significantly transformed as he struggled to make sense of his changing world. Understanding Polanyi requires standing outside the streams of history which have shaped modern societies to see how our economic, political, and social theories about the world have been shaped by external forces and have evolved in time.[3]

I will look at a few points that caught my attention as I look at his work and conclude by pondering how to live faithfully for Christ in such a capitalistic milieu.

Dynamics that shape the mindset  

A significant obstacle to understanding Polanyi is that living in a market society shapes our mindsets and behaviors, making it challenging to imagine radical alternatives.[4]

Polanyi’s parents are Mihaly and Pollacsek, a Jewish family that seems to have been doing well in their time. Polanyi studied law, a profession slightly different from that of his father, a mechanical engineer. His brother Michael became a doctor and was very active in politics.

The Strike

Burgoon, in his lecture, speaks of “Strike,”[5] as seen in the image above, and describes the tensions that were going on in the Great Transformation. Workers on strike pick stones in demonstration of what might have been an industrial accident that might have killed one of the workers at work. [6]

Unrest, Anger, and inner conflict

In the painting is also a mother holding a child and one guy bending and picking up a stone which must have led to a “more violent turn of this protest.”[7]

Markets and Migration

The history of migration is not recent. Jewish immigrants must have been among the very first migrants and have paved the way for many others who would follow suit and live in Diaspora to this day. Viena to Budapest, to Toronto, Vermont, and New York, Polanyi died in Toronto after great work that spans between continents and various countries. For a period, Polanyi commuted between Toronto, Vermont, and New York for work. At the same time, his wife would not be allowed to come to the United States banned due to her previous political activities before the migration to North America.

 Overwhelmed by capitalistic forces.

Doctor Clark writes and reveals the reason for his research thesis.

I went into my research and thesis wanting to understand better something: how and why the forces of life in capitalism often overwhelm the aspirations and beliefs of Evangelical Christians for faithful living for Christ[8]

As Dr. Clark writes, sharing within his research, one would wonder how to live a life faithful to Christ contending with such powerful forces of capitalism. Our Lord Jesus was the perfect example of living right in a world going in the wrong direction. He did not promise us a world free of trouble but assured us we are overcomers in him.

Some who have critiqued Polanyi’s work say he wrote angrily and frustrated at the changes he saw becoming destabilizing on his personal, family, and societal level. There is nothing done under this capitalistic influence that will not require money; no wonder some have decided to call money the source of all evil.

Is there a hiding place for believers from all the storms of this world? The Lord Jesus did not instruct his followers to get out of this dangerous world or the sophisticated system for safety, even when everything seemed troublesome. Still, we have his assurance that he has overcome the world.[9]


[1] Isi Archive, “Michael and Karl Polanyi: Conflict and Convergence,” Intercollegiate Studies Institute (October 8, 2014), https://isi.org/intercollegiate-review/michael-and-karl-polanyi-conflict-and-convergence/.

[2] Social Science Research, AISSR Great Tinkers Series (Universty of Amstardam, 2018).

[3] Asad Zaman and Asad Zaman, “Wea Pedagogy Blog,” Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi, December 25, 2017, https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/.

[4] Asad Zaman and Asad Zaman, “Perspectives on Economics & Society.”

[5] Social Science Research.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary (June 2018), https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1131&context=gfes.

[9] John 16:33 – I have overcome the world.

About the Author


Jean de Dieu Ndahiriwe

Jean de Dieu Ndahiriwe is a Clinical Correctional Chaplain and former Child Refugee from War-torn Rwanda. A member of the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team, Jean is passionate about Servant Leadership and looks forward to seeing more leaders that inspire Lasting Peace and Justice for all, especially "the least of these".

4 responses to “A troubled sojourner”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Thank you for the sociological vantage point you provide. This actually helped me in gaining an empathetic view of the author and his life circumstances.
    I appreciated your hopeful outlook at the end. It is in Christ that we have assurance….HE has overcome the world.
    Your role as chaplain provides great insight. I hope you share more of what you are learning and how you are empathizing with those you are serving in your role, in future blogs. Are any of those who you are serving due to financial reasons specifically? I am curious how the economic impact has influenced those you are serving?
    I enjoyed reading this blog and your summary.
    Thanks Jean!

  2. Kristy,
    Thank you for your comment. The ills of our society bring different challenges, and financial difficulties are at the list as well. It is true here with the inmate community that I serve as is in the refugee communities in Uganda. Holding on to the hope we have in Jesus can be a firm foundation for a better future.

  3. Alana Hayes says:

    Jean, amazing post as usual! In a society where the forces of capitalism are so strong, how can Christians live a life that is true to Christ?

  4. Alana,
    You ask a great question. Once we focus our eyes on Christ, I am sure we can live a life that models his example.

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