Alava & Shroff, “Unravelling Church Land”

Alava, Henni and Shroff, Catrine. (2019) “Unravelling Church Land: Transformations in the Relations between Church, State and Community in Uganda.” Development and Change. 50(5): 1288-1309.

Abstract: Christian churches control substantial areas of land in Africa. While intensifying struggles over their holdings are partly due to the increased pressure on land in general, they also reflect transformations in the relations through which churches’ claims to land are legitimized, the increased association of churches with business, and churches’ unique positioning as both institutions and communities. This article presents the trajectory of relations between church, state and community in Uganda from the missionary acquisition of land in the colonial era to the unravelling of church landholding under Museveni. Drawing on long‐term ethnographic fieldwork, the authors argue that claims to church land in contemporary Uganda draw on: 1) notions of belonging to the land; 2) views about the nature of churches as communities; 3) discontent regarding whether customary land owners gave churches user rights or ownership; and 4) assessment of the churches’ success in ensuring that the land works for the common good. The article develops a novel approach to analysing the changing meaning of the landholdings of religious institutions, thus extending ongoing discussions about land, politics, development and religion in Africa.

Ravalde, “Deceiving the spirit”

Ravalde, L. (2019). “Deceiving the spirit: engaging with the Holy Spirit in Catholic Uganda.” Africa 89(1), 147-164. 

Abstract: During ethnographic fieldwork among lay Catholics in eastern Uganda, informants occasionally turned to deception in their dealings with God and the Holy Spirit; in doing so, they appeared to reject the Christian notion of divine omnipotence and omniscience. Based on ethnography conducted in a sub-county I call Buluya, this article tries to explain how such attempts are deemed possible and plausible. My argument is made up of two main strands. First, I argue that, in an indeterminate social landscape in which no one can ever fully ‘know’ (ngeo) another person, many interpersonal relationships in Buluya are firmly grounded in practical efforts to gain better jobs, more money, education and greater security. I show how deception is a normal and morally neutral aspect of these relationships, as each party strives to protect what they have, and to improve their prospects. Second, I draw on ethnographic and historical data to suggest that the Holy Spirit has entered into the local cosmology in Buluya as a powerful yet limited being, dependent to some extent on the guidance of its human mediators. Finally, I bring these two strands together to suggest that, when the Holy Spirit is conceived of as a limited being (it, too, does not fully know people), relationships with it that take place through a human mediator can also be legitimately characterized by deception, without risking the work of the Holy Spirit.

Scherz, “Enduring the Awkward Embrace”

Scherz, China. 2017. Enduring the Awkward Embrace: Ontology and Ethical Work in a Ugandan Convent. American Anthropologist 120(1): 102-112.

The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.

Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda: Book Review

Bruner, Jason. 2017. Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)

Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading

Boyd, “Preaching Prevention: Born-Again Christianity and the Moral Politics of AIDS in Uganda”

Boyd, Lydia. 2015. Preaching prevention: born-again Christianity and the moral politics of AIDS in Uganda. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Preaching Prevention examines the controversial U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative to “abstain and be faithful” as a primary prevention strategy in Africa. This ethnography of the born-again Christians who led the new anti-AIDS push in Uganda provides insight into both what it means for foreign governments to “export” approaches to care and treatment and the ways communities respond to and repurpose such projects. By examining born-again Christians’ support of Uganda’s controversial 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the book’s final chapter explores the enduring tensions surrounding the message of personal accountability heralded by U.S. policy makers.

Preaching Prevention is the first to examine the cultural reception of PEPFAR in Africa. Lydia Boyd asks, What are the consequences when individual responsibility and autonomy are valorized in public health initiatives and those values are at odds with the existing cultural context? Her book investigates the cultures of the U.S. and Ugandan evangelical communities and how the flow of U.S.-directed monies influenced Ugandan discourses about sexuality and personal agency. It is a pioneering examination of a global health policy whose legacies are still unfolding.

Film, “God Loves Uganda”

Williams, Roger Ross. 2013. God Loves Uganda. 83 min.

Filmaker’s Description:  The feature-length documentary God Loves Uganda is a powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right.

The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.

Scherz, “Let us make God our banker”

Scherz, China. 2013. Let us make God our banker: Ethics, temporality, and agency in a Ugandan charity home. American Ethnologist 40(4): 624-636.

Abstract: Faith in divine intervention affects the ethical and temporal orientations of a community of East African nuns managing a charity home in Central Uganda and leads them to make programmatic decisions that put them at odds with mainstream approaches in development and humanitarianism. By demonstrating that their resistance to long-term planning and audit practices is not the product of material privation or ignorance but, rather, a consciously developed orientation toward time and agency, I bring together concerns from the anthropology of religion and the anthropology of development. Further, by seeking to explain how the sisters come to hold their particular beliefs, I move beyond the elucidation of doctrine to show how mundane forms of practice are central to the formation of ethical subjectivity.

Boyd, “The Problem with Freedom”

Boyd, Lydia. 2013. The Problem with Freedom: Homosexuality and Human Rights in Uganda. Anthropological Quarterly 86(3):697-724.

Abstract: The recent backlash against homosexuality in Uganda, culminating in the introduction of the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, has focused tremendous attention on the role religious activists have played in shaping Ugandan attitudes about sexuality. Drawing on long-term fieldwork among the Ugandan born-again Christians at the center of this controversy, I argue that anti-homosexual rhetoric is animated by something more than a parroting of American homophobia. Rather, it reflects a tension between two divergent frameworks for ethical personhood in Uganda, one related to the Ganda value of ekitiibwa or “respect/honor,” and the other based in a discourse of rights, autonomy, and “freedom.” The born-again rejection of a rights-based discourse is analyzed in relation to broader anxieties generated by a neoliberal emphasis on the autonomous, “empowered” individual during a period of growing inequality and economic and political dissatisfaction in Uganda.

James, “Themes in Spirit Possession in Ugandan Christianity”

James, R. 2013. Themes in Spirit Possession in Ugandan Christianity. International Journal of Modern Anthropology.

Abstract: Spirit possession and the belief in witches and their curses is common in Uganda. This paper discerns a number of common themes that run through many of these experiences. In particular, sex as a motif for deviance and evil is noted as a common feature of many of the possession stories and all contact with spirits is seen as fundamentally dangerous. There is also some commonality in the content of some stories recounted by interviewees. This paper compares the observations and interviews conducted in Uganda and their common themes with Eni’s book Saved from the Powers of Darkness, with Ugandan cultural traditions and Ugandan experiences of terrorism to probe the origins of their conceptualisations. Through these comparisons it is possible to note Nigerian influence in at least some Ugandan expressions of the experience of spirit possession. However, Ugandan, rather than Nigerian, traditions and experiences are probably more important overall. Besides the traditions that are noted as influences on the way in which spirit possessions are expressed and experienced, the possibility for the breaking of witches’ curses being a cohesive of community activity is noted, as is a connection between the casting out of spirits and the resolve (or at least desire) to live a better, morally reformed, life in accordance with what is being preached in a church. This paper notes evidence that supports Horton’s suggestion that spirit possession is the theorisation of the world in order to understand and affect it.

Freeman, “Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa”

Freeman, Dena, ed.  (2012) Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 

Publisher’s description: The practice and discipline of development was founded on the belief that religion was not important to development processes. As societies developed and modernised, it was assumed that they would also undergo a process of secularisation. However, the prominence of religion in many countries and its effects on people’s social, political and economic activities calls this assumption into question. Pentecostal Christianity has spread rapidly throughout Africa since the 1980s and has been a major force for change. This book explains why and shows how Pentecostalism articulates with local level development processes. As well as exploring the internal model of ‘development’ which drives Pentecostal organisations, contributors compare Pentecostal churches and secular NGOs as different types of contemporary development agents and discern the different ways in which they bring about change. At the heart of this book, then, is an exploration of processes of individual and social transformation, and their relevance to understandings of the successes and failures of development.