Faith in the Time of AIDS
Religion, Biopolitics and Modernity in South Africa
by Marian Burchardt
For a long time, Christians have remained at the margins of social projects around development, humanitarianism and HIV/AIDS in Africa. Drawing on ethnographic explorations in South Africa, this book tells the story of how Christian practices and narratives have become central for civil society responses to the epidemic. Marian Burchardt shows how Christians have employed globally circulating templates around ‘behavioural change’ in fields such as sexuality and biomedicine, but also how these templates are subverted when they are adapted to people’s needs. Through activism and spiritual notions of life, Christians have not only affected the way people think about relationships and health; by envisioning and promoting activist notions of personhood, unwittingly Christians have also pushed the frontiers of modernity. Taking his inspirations from Foucault and the sociology of knowledge, the author argues that Christian responses to AIDS reveal the dialectics of discipline and liberation inherent in the modern Christian project.
This wonderful book uses rich, emotionally-resonant ethnography to explore fundamental aspects of African modernity. It offers a brilliant, paradoxical picture of Christian – especially Pentecostal – and NGO responses to AIDS, as South Africans learn new techniques for transforming the self, and as life, sex, and death are given new meanings.’ -Ann Swidler, University of California-Berkely, USA
‘If there is one book to read about how social science can help us understand the global impact of the HIV epidemic, it is Faith in the Time of Aids. Burchardt masterfully weaves together ethnography from his work with affected communities and churches in South Africa, empirical evidence from around the world, and social theory. He overturns received wisdom about Africa, about the epidemic and about religion in the modern world. Strongly recommended to students of globalization, health and social theory.’ -Vinh-Kim Nguyen, École de Santé publique de l’Université de Montréal and Collège d’études mondiales, Canada and France
‘A critical, eloquent account of an insuperably complex situation, the unfair distribution of privilege/risk, and the imperative for bold political action. With theoretical and methodological dexterity, Burchardt infuses his analysis with respect for the persons whose lives this book narrates, explicates, and represents.’ -Robin Root, City University of New York, USA