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The Making of Meaning: Churches, Development Projects and Violence in Eastern Uganda

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Abstract Churches and development projects are a shared feature of the landscape of much of rural Africa. In this article I look at these two very different sorts of institution in a village in the Teso region of eastern Uganda, exploring the ways in which people do, or do not, make meaning through their participation in churches and development projects. In this context recently-formed Pentecostal churches have become a significant part of the local landscape, while the community structures built up by NGOs struggle to keep going once the funding ends. In explaining this difference I make an argument about how institutions are made sense of by people living in a particular place. The Teso region experienced a violent insurgency in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the idea of becoming born again has had particular resonance against this history. By contrast the work of NGOs is at a distance from what matters to people. This is evidenced not only in the rusted road signs that mark the failure of past projects, or in the new aluminium-roofed village churches, but also in the way people talk about churches and NGOs. Discussions about NGOs were dry and matter-of-fact, whereas conversations on new churches were rich and wide-ranging linking to other aspects of village life. It can be argued that development projects and Pentecostal churches are interpreted differently, and this differential explains the durability of churches and the brief after-lives of development interventions.

Affiliations: 1: University of East Anglia, School of International Development, University of East Anglia Norwich NR4 7TJ United Kingdom


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