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Restoring Dignity in Rural and Urban Madagascar

On How Religion Creates New Life-stories


Marianne Skjortnes

Christian churches across the world such as the Lutheran church in Madagascar have long been engaged in what we would today term «development». The church has been deeply involved in humanitarian assistance and development work, especially in the areas of education and health. Restoring Dignity in Rural and Urban Madagascar analyzes this phenomenon and presents stories of human dignity in the lives of the people in this society, a society that survives in a context of vulnerability, both social and economic. The stories show how everyday life is lived despite unfulfilled needs and when decent living conditions are but a dream. The book is primarily concerned with a commitment to Christianity in a changing society and focuses on church members’ experiences of the development work of the Lutheran church in their everyday lives. Christian faith and Christian values such as human dignity, ethics, and belonging represent added values to these people and express value systems that are tied to ethical reflection and moral action. For those who choose to participate in the church’s development work and spiritual activity, therefore, new ethical standards and norms are created. This approach challenges the traditional emphasis on cultural continuity thinking to explain the sudden change in values that people say that they have experienced.
The book will be essential assigned reading in university courses in development studies, anthropology, and missiology.
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Chapter 1. Introduction – A Life-Long Relationship


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The background for writing this book is in many ways that Madagascar, in different capacities, and with different perspectives, has always been a part of my life. What I do in this book is to present elements of my own personal and professional life journey. I grew up in Madagascar, and as a grown-up I have studied social anthropology or social science and its relation to development and cultural and social processes of change on the one hand, and I have been involved in the wide themes of Christian religion on the other. My relationship with Madagascar has been a challenging and sometimes troublesome one, but at the same time it has been an immensely rewarding journey to make. This book in a way sums up some of the themes and projects that I have been working on and relating to.

I lived most of my childhood and part of my adult life in Madagascar. My parents were Norwegian missionaries who worked in the Lutheran church on the island. As a child I lived in small towns on the southeast coast of the island, and grew up bilingual – and I am still bilingual, as Malagasy is almost as much a mother tongue to me as Norwegian. I spent more time with my Malagasy friends and in their houses and villages than I did in my parents’ house. In spite of this I was brought up as a...

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