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Death in a Church of Life

Death in a Church of Life: Moral Passion during Botswana’s Time of AIDS

Frederick Klaits
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Death in a Church of Life
    Book Description:

    This deeply insightful ethnography explores the healing power of caring and intimacy in a small, closely bonded Apostolic congregation during Botswana's HIV/AIDS pandemic.Death in a Church of Lifepaints a vivid picture of how members of the Baitshepi Church make strenuous efforts to sustain loving relationships amid widespread illness and death. Over the course of long-term fieldwork, Frederick Klaits discovered Baitshepi's distinctly maternal ethos and the "spiritual" kinship embodied in the church's nurturing fellowship practice. Klaits shows that for Baitshepi members, Christian faith is a form of moral passion that counters practices of divination and witchcraft with redemptive hymn singing, prayer, and the use of therapeutic substances. An online audio annex makes available examples of the church members' preaching and song.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94584-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Moral Passion in Suffering and Faith
    (pp. 1-36)

    A girl named one tshukudu had been living well, as they say in Botswana. “I had all the good things in life,” she told a reporter from a local newspaper in 1998.¹ An only child, One (pronounced OH-nay) had “loving parents and a caring aunt, who stayed with the family” in the village of Kanye. Then in 1995, when One was ten years old, her father died, followed two months later by her mother. “When I came back from school, I saw my mother in bed. I tried to wake her up but she could not answer. My aunt came...

  7. ONE Whose Child?
    (pp. 37-81)

    In june 1995, I was chatting with a senior woman member of the Baitshepi Church about the ubiquitous public health messages on billboards and the radio warning people about the spread of AIDS. At the time, a common slogan was “AIDS—It is Your Problem Too—Use a Condom.” During the period 1997–2000, such messages stressed sexual abstinence and monogamy as well: “Avoiding AIDS is as Easy as Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise.” By 2005, prevention slogans had disappeared from most billboards, replaced by exhortations to “Know Your Status.” The church member said to me in 1995, “I don’t understand...

  8. TWO “Go with Me to Babylon”: The Domestication of Inequality
    (pp. 82-121)

    During the year 2000, MmaMaipelo’s only son was having a large house built for her and for himself in a village west of Gaborone. MmaMaipelo and her son had long been eager to move away from Old Naledi, but for different reasons. Both of them had bemoaned the fact that their house in Old Naledi was cramped, and that the yard flooded when it rained. For Maipelo, who had recently earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Botswana and found a well-paying government job, however, the new house was a sign of his status and a means of...

  9. THREE “Cleansing the Spirit”: The Bodiliness of Sentiment and Faith
    (pp. 122-162)

    One of the more painful episodes of my fieldwork occurred in the peri-urban village of Tlokweng when I thoughtlessly intruded, together with my wife Laura, who was three months pregnant, into the house of a woman named Poifo in confinement with her three-week-old son. I should have remembered from my reading of Isaac Schapera (1941:217, 234) and A. M. Merriweather (1992:66) that women in the early months of pregnancy are considered to have “hot blood” (madi a mogote). If such women enter a house of confinement, the infant inside the house may contract an illness known askhujwana,in which...

  10. FOUR “Spirit, Follow the Voice!”: Voice and the Making of Intersubjectivities
    (pp. 163-212)

    In a number of my initial encounters with church leaders in Old Naledi, I was evangelized through instruction about the transformative power of the voice. When I first met MmaMaipelo, she forcefully stated the beginning of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning,” the verybeginning,she stressed, “the Word was continually present, and the Word was with God, and the Word was himself/herself God,”¹ and was not satisfied until I could repeat the words in Setswana. In reply to my question, “What is the word?” she told me that the word (lefoko) is the voice (lentswe) or spirit (moya)...

  11. FIVE “It Is All Right as Long as We Feel Sorrow”: Care for and by the Dying
    (pp. 213-245)

    Each year on september 29, Baitshepi members spend all night in church, observing the anniversary of MmaMaipelo’s walk to her family’s fields during her calling. At this “church conference,” leaders recall the founding of the church, promote members from one rank to another, announce the financial state of the burial society and the general church fund, and describe growth or decline in participation over the past year. It is a time for assessing the state of the church and occasionally airing grievances, for example about the use of funds.

    Toward the end of the 1997 conference, when dawn was breaking,...

  12. SIX “You Must Not Look Back”: Civility in the Place of Death
    (pp. 246-278)

    As the coffin is lowered, and as men shovel soil into the grave, the people around the burial site sing hymns in unison. A church minister or senior woman calls out each line, and the assembly responds. The hymns most often sung on such occasions express resignation to death and trust in eternal life. “We are only passing through this world,” people sing, “how can we love it?” “You tell me to look up and trust in heaven,” goes another hymn. “A traveler does not become weary, he is carried by God. / Indeed this is so, since you have...

  13. CONCLUSION: Putting Love into Words
    (pp. 279-288)

    I was never much good at consoling the bereaved. At night vigils, I would try to put together a few words in imitation of church members, but I am sure that I never gave a convincing impression of having “consoled myself” over, for instance, the death of yet another AIDS victim. At the funerals of people I had not known, I probably appeared to be reciting platitudes. I was even worse, I fear, at the funerals of friends, when my grief would sometimes get the better of me. This happened to me at thirteen-year-old Maggie’s funeral, when I rose during...

  14. Appendix One
    (pp. 289-296)
  15. Appendix Two
    (pp. 297-304)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 305-324)
    (pp. 325-342)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 343-352)