Introduction to Special Issue: Engaging Christianities: Negotiating HIV/AIDS, Health, and Social Relations in East and Southern Africa
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Introduction to Special Issue: Engaging Christianities:
Negotiating HIV/AIDS, Health, and Social Relations in East and Southern Africa

The purpose of this special issue1 is to explore and analyze the ways in which Christianity is becoming one of the most influential factors in the engagement of AIDS in some African countries. This special issue addresses the consequences of this rapidly expanding Christian engagement with AIDS and the questions it raises. These questions can be grouped into three main themes: first, those concerning the ways people are dealing with illness and death, treatment and care for the sick, and questions of morality, kinship, gender relations, and sexuality; second, those concerning the place of religion in the public sphere, in relation to civil society and government, development, and public health; third, those concerning transformations within Christian practices and worldviews in Africa. This special issue explores not only some diverse responses of African churches to AIDS, but also the place of Christianity in (inter)national AIDS programs and initiatives, and the Christianization of public discourse and debate about AIDS and its effects on other institutions, practices, and debates in African societies experiencing the AIDS epidemic.

This special issue thus offers recent research and timely reflections on the interrelationships of Christianity, AIDS, and society in African countries. As the studies presented here encompass East and Southern Africa (specifically, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania), this collection does not claim to present an overview of research in the whole continent, nor of the relations between Christianity and AIDS in Africa today; rather, it offers insights into the sometimes surprising relationships between AIDS and Christianity at particular moments and places over the last ten years. The topics covered here reflect current research trends: at our workshops on religion and AIDS, no one submitted a paper dealing with mainline churches, and there [End Page v] were few papers on African independent churches; in contrast, Pentecostal churches were a popular subject of research, as was the work of "faith-based organizations" in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment projects and the growing public space occupied by Pentecostal morality that researchers observed in different African countries. It is hoped that a further publication on the topic will include a wider coverage of regions and churches.

The AIDS epidemic and its social, economic, and political ramifications have spawned much social and political-science, anthropological, and historical work (for an overview, see Becker & Denis 2006). Religious engagements with AIDS have received less scholarly attention from social scientists and anthropologists.2 An exception is a recent special issue and an edited volume (Becker & Geissler 2007a, 2009), which focus on the articulation of HIV/AIDS epidemic with religious practices and social relations in Africa (see also Becker 2008; Geissler & Prince 2009). The papers, by anthropologists and one historian, are mostly based on research conducted before the advent of antiretroviral treatment (ART), in places where people were struggling with the epidemic and its effects. However, topics range from the understandings of HIV/AIDS and responses to the epidemic among Christian and Muslim communities to the articulation of HIV/AIDS programs, projects, and technologies—condoms, antiretrovirals, counselling techniques—with religious agendas and subjectivities.3

The current issue builds upon this work, but its focus is on Christian communities and the increasing prominence and weight of Christianity in responses to HIV/AIDS—in policies and programs, and at the grassroots, in daily life. Focusing particularly on the last decade, the papers in this volume explore the field of Christian-influenced engagements with HIV/AIDS, paying attention to the debates, tensions, and negotiations it has opened up and the growing influence of Christian groups in AIDS-related interventions. The papers cover topics such as the increasing prominence of Christian discourses about kinship and culture in discussions about orphan care in Botswana (Dahl); Christian born-again rhetoric and generational politics among the "Joseph generation" in Uganda (Gusman); negotiations of care, belonging, and personhood in cases of sickness and death within a "faith church" in Botswana (Klaits); messages and activities in relation to HIV/AIDS in a Pentecostal church in Kenya (Parsitau); and a discussion of the field of...