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Becoming Christian: Personhood and Moral Cosmology in Acholi South Sudan

O'Byrne, RJ; (2017) Becoming Christian: Personhood and Moral Cosmology in Acholi South Sudan. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis examines contemporary entanglements between two cosmo-ontological systems within one African community. The first system is the indigenous cosmology of the Acholi community of Pajok, South Sudan; the other is the world religion of evangelical Protestantism. Christianity has been in the region around 100 years, and although the current religious field represents a significant shift from earlier compositions, the continuing effects of colonial and early missionary encounters have had significant impact. This thesis seeks to understand the cosmological transformations involved in all these encounters. This thesis provides the first in-depth account of South Sudanese Acholi – a group almost entirely absent from the ethnographic record. However, its largest contributions come through wider theoretical and ethnographic insights gained in attending to local Acholi cosmological, ontological, and experiential orientations. These contributions are: firstly, the connection of Melanesian ideas of agency and personhood to Africa, demonstrating not only the relational nature of Acholi personhood but an understanding of agency acknowledging nonhuman actors; secondly, a demonstration of the primarily relational nature of local personhood whereby Acholi and evangelical persons and relations are similarly structured; and thirdly, an argument that, in South Sudan, both systems are ultimately about how people organise the moral fabric of their society. This thesis comprises three parts. Part One provides a general overview of Pajok and the relevant literature. Part Two introduces the fundamental cosmologies of the two systems, highlighting similarities in issues of morality, personhood and relationality. Part Three provides ethnographic illustrations of morally ambiguous witchcraft-like experiences. The specifics of agency, morality, personhood and power involved highlight my conclusion that, although these systems are based upon different ideas about and orientations toward morality, each addresses complementary aspects of experience: Christianity speaks to moral issues of the global and the infinite while customary cosmologies speak about moral issues of the present and the local.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Becoming Christian: Personhood and Moral Cosmology in Acholi South Sudan
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1545145
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