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‘Sexuality, AIDS and religion: transnational dynamics in Africa’ - call for papers

May 10, 2011

‘Sexuality, AIDS and religion: transnational dynamics in Africa’, School of Anthropology, University of Oxford, 28–30 September 2011.

Call for abstracts: 1st July 2011

Organised by Nadine Beckmann (Oxford), Catrine Christiansen (Copenhagen), Alessandro Gusman (Riga) and hosted by the Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group (FRSG) and the International Research Network on Religion and AIDS in Africa. Speakers include Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (Harvard), Suzette Heald (LSE), Robert Thornton (Wits), Reverend Ijeoma Ajibade (Mayor’s Office, GLA). Discussants: Rijk van Dijk (Leiden), Hansjörg Dilger (Berlin).

This conference aims to bring together scholars and practitioners to analyse the ways in which transnational relations influence the interrelations between religion, sexuality and AIDS in Africa. During the last twenty-five years, AIDS has profoundly impacted the African continent, not only at the epidemiological level, but also in the social, political and economic realm. Not least, it has changed the way people look at sexuality. In this process, HIV prevention campaigns located sex at the centre of the AIDS pandemic, and early risk group categorisations, combined with the voices of religious leaders and local networks of rumour and gossip, lent the pandemic strong moral connotations at global as well as at local levels. Hence, popular understandings of the disease and risk of infection frequently refer to an interpretative grid that draws on a religious moral framework, and in many parts of Africa (and the world at large) AIDS is represented as “God’s punishment” for social corruption and moral decay.

Religious institutions, such as churches and mosques, and faith-based development organisations, have been active in promoting sexual education and HIV prevention programs and are at the forefront of providing care for the sick. However, these organisations have been criticised for increasing the stigmatisation of people living with the disease and for promoting ineffective ways of prevention, for example through over-emphasising abstinence and faithfulness while condemning condom use.

While scholars have pointed to the important roles religion plays in the moralisation of sexuality throughout the African continent, the roles of transnational relations in shaping local discourses on HIV/AIDS seem less clear. Most religious institutions and faith-based organisations work together with partners in, as well as outside the continent, but although these relations are known to be crucial for the flows of ideas and resources in relation to HIV/AIDS, there is very limited knowledge on the transnational dynamics of views on sexuality in relation to HIV/AIDS and religion in Africa.

Potential themes to explore include:
• The politics of HIV prevention – social decay and the moralisation of sex: how and to what extent are new questions around the role of religion in directing sexual choices and behaviour put into practice by people in their everyday lives, and how do flows of ideas and money from the global to the local level influence moralising attitudes and the creation of ‘good religious individuals’?
• The control of sexuality: religion, power, intergenerational conflict: how are local and global forces driving and influencing intergenerational and gender relations, and how are religious organizations actively directing young people away from ‘traditional’ modes of teaching and regulating sexual orders? To what extent are young people consciously utilising AIDS and sexuality as a means to question established hierarchies and traditions?
• Negotiating policies on sexuality within faith-based organisations: how do organisations formulate policies on sexuality; who is involved in the process, and who has the power to make the decisions? What feedback loops are there for reconciling organisational policies with local realities and under what circumstances can spaces for debate and transformation open up within different organisations?
• Sexual networks: which factors influence the shape of the sexual network in a specific location? What role do political, economic and religious considerations at the local, national and global levels play in the shaping of sexual networks? How can we apply systems-theoretical approaches and what methodologies can we use to study the larger structures of sexual networks, taking into account the social nature of sexual relationships?
• Views from PLHA: negotiating sexual life with the virus: how do HIV-positive people negotiate sexual and reproductive life with the virus? Who is responsible for curbing the spread of HIV? And how do transnational advocacy networks play a role in the local shaping of the disease?

Please email abstracts (max. 500 words) to Catrine Christiansen:, Nadine Beckmann:, or Alessandro Gusman: by 1st July.

The organisers will inform about the abstracts selected for the conference by 15th July.

The deadline for conference papers (5,000–7,000 words) is 1st September 2011. Participants who will not present papers are invited to register by 1st September. Conference registration is £25 (£15 for students), payable in cash or cheque upon arrival. This fee includes lunches and coffee/tea.