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Restoring Dignity in Rural and Urban Madagascar

On How Religion Creates New Life-stories

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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 3. The Setting

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THE SETTING

In this chapter I shall first discuss in a general way the concept of religion. Although I have used it many times, here I shall give an anthropological sense of religion in Madagascar. Secondly, I will present the two dominant religions in Madagascar, the ancestral Malagasy religion and Christianity. A particular focus will be put on the Malagasy Lutheran Church and how this church is engaged in development work. I will also give a presentation of Fifohazana, a local Christian initiative within this church.

Religion and religious rituals occupy a central place when anthropologists study groups and societies. However, it has been a challenge for anthropologists to translate religious phenomena in a non-ethnocentric and comparatively useful way. This is because religious concepts have a particular meaning in the anthropologist’s own society and professional terminology, and do not correspond to concepts used by those who are being studied. Etic,13 comparative concepts are therefore never completely unproblematic (Eriksen 2010, 207).

The problem of translation is relevant when trying to define the phenomenon of religion, and the concept has long been under debate in ← 29 | 30 → the social sciences. Religion belongs to that group of concepts which are unproblematic to understand until one tries to define them, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman is reported to have said (Bauman 1998). In a historical perspective, this saying is very telling. Religion has been defined in various ways and in attempts to cover...

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