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Religious Feelings and Intimacy in the Central African Copperbelt, 1930-1995

This research project investigates the cultivation of emotional regimes by Christian institutions in the Central African Copperbelt in the twentieth century, as well as individuals’ reception of and reaction to it. I am interested in what representatives of Zambian churches have historically expected and continue to expect individuals to feel, and if and how individuals react or conform to this emotional regime. The feelings analyzed in the project are connected to various aspects of intimacy: intimacy and the body in Catholicism, such as attempts to discipline women’s bodies or novices’ bodies; racism and intimacy; intimacy and spiritual healing; contestations of mainline Christian ideas about intimacy and the body in African initiated churches, such as the Mutima church; and intimate relations between church and state. The study aims to transcend the dichotomies between "civilized" and "wild" emotions and "Western individualist modernity" and African "backward" communal life, both of which have long shaped the way historical actors and scholars both past and present have thought about emotions in Africa. Both discourses can be traced back to racialized assumptions about how Africans express emotions, assumptions upon which colonial rule was predicated.
Such a critical perspective will enable a more sensitive evaluation of the historical entanglement of mission churches with the colonial civilizing mission and the history of racism in the region. The copper-rich mining towns of Central Africa have long served as hubs of migration for miners and others from Eastern and Southern Africa, Europe and Australia. Since the 1920s, the towns have become the home of many European churches and mission societies as well as of African initiated churches. In one way or another, all of these religious institutions were engaged in efforts to "uplift" African mining communities during colonial rule. Unsurprisingly, the colonial legacy of the Christian mission was still being felt in the second half of the twentieth century; one example of this are debates on celibacy and formation in the Zambian Catholic Church. Although such tensions still linger, mainline churches—and the Catholic Church in particular—are powerful actors in post-colonial Zambia. The Catholic Church has, since the 1970s, become one of the few outspoken critics of state authoritarianism.
Against this backdrop, I aim to study (religious) emotions through both bodily practices and through "emotions talk." Discussions of feelings are a common feature of Christian publications and oral narratives. The types of feelings discussed range from feelings of love for a spouse or Jesus Christ to feelings of anxiety and fear in the face of rapid social change and economic hardship. Emotions also play an important role in vocation stories in which religious share well-crafted and much rehearsed stories about their calling to the service of God. These sources often also bear evidence of particular bodily practices. They contain descriptions of practices developed to discipline Christian bodies , such as how a "good girl" should love, dress and behave in order to become a respectable Christian wife, how an intimate relationship between the divine and a novice should be, and how spiritual healing should or should not involve the body. I analyze the emotions that writers or story-tellers attempt to invoke in their audience or readership and the bodily responses to them, which include both incorporation and the refusal to conform.
The project draws on diverse sources, such as mission archives in Britain and Zambia; local Christian publications, including so-called "Christian novels" and the Catholic youth magazine Speak Out!; communications between mining companies, government and churches; and narrative interviews.