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Lugbara religion revisited: a study of social repair in West Nile, North-West Uganda

Storer, Elizabeth (2020) Lugbara religion revisited: a study of social repair in West Nile, North-West Uganda. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004245


This thesis explores processes that have been described by scholars of transitional justice as post-war social repair. It interrogates the multifarious quests through which Lugbara people, living in the West Nile sub-region of north-west Uganda, seek to rebuild their intimate relationships and social lives, with recourse to explanations and therapies for suffering and misfortune. Scholars have recently found in such socio-cultural processes— which traverse the cosmological, social and economic landscape of everyday life— potential resources that could restore communal relations and assist post-war recovery. This thesis critically appraises this contention. Whilst scholars are invested in abstracting metaphysical meaning to map causal relationships, Lugbara people are simply seeking answers to misfortunes which continue to befall them as individuals, families, and collectives: enquiring about what issues are following them, and how addressing wrong acts may heal bodily suffering and social wounds. Since many sicknesses are regarded as a phenomenological signal of violations within families and clans— enquiring about their cases is occasion for to discuss notions of responsibility, loss and social peace. For Lugbara people, managing misfortune and past injustices are entangled. To understand the healing landscape of the present, this thesis draws on the past. A diachronic approach is deployed through re-evaluating writings on Lugbara ritual and practice described in Lugbara Religion by the mid-century anthropologist John Middleton. Like Middleton, this thesis is interested in how Lugbara people draw on logics and explanations through interconsistent and pragmatic practice. This thesis critically appraises the methodological underpinnings and gendered assumptions which produced particular knowledge about Lugbara peoples in Lugbara Religion, and which have been transposed onto subsequent studies of healing in the region. The body of this thesis presents novel ethnographic evidence which explores different faces of contemporary healing. Through a multi-sited ethnographic approach in villages across Arua and Maracha District, this enquiry explores how quests to “follow” suffering are structured amid unfolding post-war projects to revive – and resist – notions of Lugbara personhood and sociality premised on patriarchy and seniority. Concurrently, this thesis explores the fragility of these efforts in the face of ongoing loss, efforts that lead to the allocation of responsibility for illness through specific means and logics—that European scholars would term “witchcraft”. Placing the historical record in conversation post-war healing shifts, this thesis engages with how long-standing social institutions endure in relation to post-war recovery, albeit through dynamic interaction with logics of faith and law, and creative internal struggles between generations, genders and believers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Elizabeth Storer
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Allen, Tim

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