(D2-3) Marginal prophets and sacred sites. Translocality of religious concepts in Uganda

In extension of the project D-11 ‘Violence and Christianity in East Africa – The Lord’s Resistance Army’ this project focuses on the interconnectedness of local Christian churches with concepts, practices and actors of established Christian and Islamic religions exemplified by the ‘New Jerusalem Tabernacle Ministries’ in Gulu. The project looks into the ways Prophet Severino, his Apostle Prof. Ojok and other actors establish their church which, not unknown to Ugandans, has a history as religiously motivated rebel group, the ‘Holy Spirit’s Movement’. By tracing their mission within and outside Uganda the project will address questions as to how these actors acquire social acceptance.

The interconnectedness of religious and political discourse, actors and actions that shape the current post-conflict situation in Northern Uganda call for an approach which looks at social phenomena as results of translocality and transculturality rather than to seek to identify origins and genesis. The allegedly deeply rooted concept of spirits, e.g. is particularly susceptible to social innovations and change, expressed in the idiom of ‘foreign’ spirits. At the same time the established ‘book religions’ incorporate elements from myths and rituals, thus creating hybrid and highly efficacious religious codes and symbols. New Christian churches with a specific blend of Christianity, Islam and traditional concepts are moving out of the area establishing branches in other parts of the country and abroad and forming networks of followers. Here, again, they take on different appearances and are received in different manners than in localities in Northern Uganda.
The need of spiritual renewal and ‘purification’ of seemingly decadent religious and moral western style practice is being propagated not only by Pentecostal priests, prophets and laymen but also by established catholic and Anglican churches. This notion is widespread in present-day Ugandan society but has different connotations in view of the post-war Acholi situation.

Translocality of religious concepts shall be studied via the polysemic status of holy sites in Northern Uganda. Shrines, holy places on mountains tops, river sides and sacred groves have been fought over and been destroyed, neglected, restored and revived in different phases of the conflict and by different interest groups who seek legitimacy by ascribing their meaning to these places. Chiefs, rebels, churches, NGOs and clans claim authority by attaching themselves to these localities in different and sometimes competing ways.

War-related neglect of farm-land and an increased interest in commercial farming has led to a multitude of conflicts over land-rights in northern Uganda. The land which is traditionally owned by clans has become the object of economic interest by strangers and locals with clan elders struggling to prove their claims. The project seeks to trace some of these conflicts, asking if and how legal struggle tap into cosmological aspects. Are graves and other sacred sites granted special treatment in this regard? What is done about places where there massive blood-shed has taken place? How are these sites treated under the condition of increased and commercial demand for land?

The Project is part of interconnecting platform F Transcultural Entanglements  and G Religion, Politics, and Gender Relations  and coordinated project group Legitimation and de-legitimation of violence with reference to text and tradition.