Nets of Social Motion: Black Christianity in South African History

Monday, 5 June, 2023 - 16:00

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This is partly a paper about Christianity and its influence on black family life in the first half of the twentieth century, but more centrally about the conceptualization of social change in South African history. Migrant labor and the differences between city and country life dominate discussions of black social change in South African history. While the impact of migrant labor was a powerful vector in shifts in family life, the changes wrought by a Christian sexual modernity were at least as consequential. Pointing to the importance of faith in African lives is not new, but considerations of why often lack critical theorization. It only needs a moment’s attention to the texture of current African life to understand the power and influence of the space of the church. However, the church as a space in people's lives is not separate from everything else that happened in them; it is not a separate field of social inquiry. In this paper I focus especially on how church life provided people with the tools and a shared repertoire of experience to behave in ways legible to public life in the early twentieth century, ensuring that ideas about gender, tradition, custom, and modern political life were imbricated in the constitution of black social life.

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