Limiting Catholicism: ambivalence, scepticism and productive uncertainty in Eastern Uganda
Ravalde, Elisabeth Sarah
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As the Catholic Church continues to expand in Uganda, this thesis offers an ethnographic study of engagement with Catholicism among the laity in a relatively new, rural parish in the Teso Region of eastern Uganda. Founded in the late 1990s, the creation of a new parish in the Sub-County of Buluya has brought people into closer proximity to the Catholic Church, its priests, and its doctrines, throwing into sharp relief some of the tensions between Catholic and local moral and spiritual frameworks. Based on 17 months of ethnographic and archival fieldwork, I examine the way in which people negotiate the challenges posed by this change, as they seek to balance the need to use the tools Catholicism offers for getting on in post-colonial Uganda with desires to protect older ways of seeing the world and acting in it. My central argument is that people respond to the Church’s attempts to embed itself as an all-encompassing presence and influence in the lives of its members, by engaging in processes of limiting this presence and influence. By remoulding and realigning some of its central concepts, by resisting wholeheartedly committing to its claims to spiritual knowledge and healing potential, and by isolating its moral and behavioural directives from certain aspects of their lives, the laity in Buluya rein in the Catholic Church’s attempts to permeate and dominate all aspects of their lives. I suggest that these limits go hand in hand with the pervasive religious uncertainty that underpins people’s engagement with the Church, arguing that these limiting practices serve to maintain their religious uncertainty as doors are left open to alternative ways of engaging with their social and spiritual surroundings. In turn, the productive potential of this religious uncertainty encourages these limits to be enacted and maintained. Limiting Catholicism, in essence, enables people in Buluya to commit to it.