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Pöhler, Laura (July 2012): HIV and AIDS in the context of South African indigenous religious Discourse. Master of Arts, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
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This thesis explores indigenous religious discourse around witchcraft in South Africa and how it relates to the HIV crisis, as well as the social and economic realities the epidemic brings forth. The increasing popularity of witchcraft discourse amongst South Africans most affected by the HIV epidemic is often said to be the result of a lack in biomedical knowledge in the overall population. However, while public sphere discourse insists on a radical incommensurability of biomedical and religious forms of health knowledge, it has recently been suggested that despite increased access to biomedical knowledge and healthcare, many South Africans draw on a widening spectrum of health options available to them in their struggle to make AIDS meaningful. Based on this suggestion, this thesis sets out by claiming that common responses to South Africans’ choice of traditional health care instead of, or in tandem with biomedical healthcare, are not sufficient in explaining the popularity of interpretations of AIDS as witchcraft. Combining a historic-discursive analysis of South Africa’s field of health and healing with a post-colonial approach to the history of academic notions of African religion, the thesis contends that dominant accounts of witchcraft discourses as opposing biomedicine are an extension of colonial tradition vs. modernity arguments. In order to achieve an adequate understanding, the thesis then deploys recent scholarship suggesting a “modernity of witchcraft” to comprehend South African witchcraft within the frame of contemporary social concerns. Finally, suggestions are provided as to why witchcraft serves as a favored discourse to address AIDS to many South Africans.

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