Subproject 2: Interreligious ritualisation, social transformation and the invention of protective space

Principal investigators in this subproject is Jone Salomonsen and Sidsel Roalkvam, University of Oslo.

Mpophomeni township, KwaZulu-Natal

In meeting the challenges of HIV/AIDS, gendered violence, changed patterns of marriage, family and inheritance, and the persistent hegemony of traditional gender models, women are continuously moulding new understanding, knowledge and practise with traditional knowledge and practises. Sometimes they find themselves trapped between individual strategies, which can support life, and community rules, which in the time of the pandemic often make women vulnerable under traditional gender models, exposed to gendered violence. Yet, when doing this religious-social transformative work, they are not having an interreligious dialogue. They are not representing fixed bodies of belief and practice, virtuously trying to converse with the “other” in order to find a common moral ground. Rather, they are ready to transgress religious boundaries and bend ritual bodies and take risks in creating something new from a ground already given: a desperate need to shield and shelter life itself.

To shield and shelter life is to construct and re-constitute what we name “protective spaces” and “shielding” and “ballasting” of the inner person by means of ritualising and community building. Protective space and a properly ballasted body are spaces laboured into being in order that they shall shield and shelter its members. In their labour to create such spaces and bodies people need to draw on something, a cultural choreography that makes these spaces recognised for what they attempt to be (James 2003). Recognition is sought in an elaborate and creative use of ritual activities, drawing upon the “old” Zulu cultural tradition, integrated and made new and powerful in the present (Roalkvam 2006).

Rituals are performed to build inner shields, personal boundaries and communal interdependence. In such cases, different media of communication (possession and sacrifice) are represented, including clashing notions of kin, lineage, gender and agency. With the intertwining of plural ritual bodies women find the means to claim subjectivity and agency for themselves as well as other women (Salomonsen 2006; 2007a).

Published Mar. 9, 2010 7:13 PM - Last modified Mar. 18, 2010 10:17 AM