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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 2. The Resurgence of Religion


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When I studied social anthropology at the University of Oslo at the end of the 1980s, little attention was paid to religion. A few of the students had a Christian background and had also, like me, grown up overseas and had encountered religion in a Southern context, and we became interested in religion and religious faith and practice relatively independently of our curriculum and teachers. The reigning perception seemed to be that religion was a phenomenon on its way out, of less and less importance for the modern, enlightened human being, except for a few villagers in the western, southern and northern parts of Norway. Religion was included among our subjects, but usually this was in the context of anthropology’s interest in rituals, rather than tied to any existential dimension.

This was not particular to the social anthropology circle in Oslo. Academic environments, not least those in the social science sphere, have often been quite liberal and secular, without much close contact with religious life. In addition, social anthropology and sociology from the 1960s–80s gave prominence to the secularization theory, namely that the role of religion in modern society was in steady decline. This coincided with the strong influence of Marxist theory in social science and other academic fields during the same period. Marx thought of people’s religiosity as a product of unjust and← 15 | 16 → degrading social conditions, and although Marx’s critique of religion was...

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