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Sin and Sovereignty: Relations of Moral Responsibility and Human Freedom among Urban Baptists in Zimbabwe

  • Author(s): Williams Green, Leanne Judith
  • Advisor(s): Postero, Nancy
  • Robbins, Joel
  • et al.
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A group of Baptist Christians living in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, are particularly concerned with issues of moral responsibility. These urban Christians frequently raise and evaluate possible courses of action in the face of what they perceive as ethical dilemmas - about paying bribes in order to navigate bureaucracy, about fulfilling obligations to family without compromising personal moral autonomy, about individual choices like drinking alcohol or large structural issues like their culpability as citizens in the political and economic upheavals of recent decades. In these circumstances where it is difficult to know the outcome of one’s actions, Baptists in Harare believe strongly in the limits of their own capacity to act in morally good ways, and they also affirm that God controls everything in the world. If Zimbabwean Baptists affirm both of these realities- which they term “sinfulness” and “sovereignty” respectively- how do they come to make morality such a central part of their everyday lives?

Throughout this dissertation, my argument is that Baptists in Harare take themselves to be morally responsible, despite being limited in choice, and that they assess and assert a relational view of human freedom as moral autonomy. The ideas about human moral responsibility and the divine-human relation to which these Christians are committed reveal their unique view of human freedom. Notions of freedom are an important element characterizing their particular type of Baptist Christianity. But this freedom is not characterized in classically liberal terms as being about choice or the capacity to act. Instead, this freedom must be understood relative to commitments to moral responsibility that arise first for Baptists in Harare.

In recent anthropological discussions of ethics, one presumption has been that a person must be free in order to be held morally responsible. In this dissertation, I challenge the presumed relation between freedom and responsibility by presenting a view of freedom based not on agency, but rather on conceptions of the human will and the relations in which a person exists. My argument contributes to explorations of the nature of freedom diversely conceived, and its relation to responsibility and models of moral personhood.

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This item is under embargo until September 11, 2021.