The gospel of self‐help

Born‐again musicians and the moral problem of dependency in Uganda

by LYDIA BOYD

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Churches in Uganda have found success promoting a message of economic self‐sufficiency—a gospel of “self‐help”—that diverges sharply from alternative frameworks of moral‐economic behavior in Uganda that emphasize reciprocity and the social value of dependency. A notable effect of self‐help has been to change what adherents consider socially productive work and who has an obligation to pay for it. As a result, gospel musicians, who make most of their money through patronage and other forms of sponsorship, struggle to make a living. Their difficulties compel us to consider how moral sentiments and religious practices give shape to the terms of market‐based inequality, in part by marking dependent recipients of economic aid and charitable “gifts” as passive, rather than agentive, subjects.

A Ugandan gospel artist at work in his studio, Kampala, Uganda, November 2006.
A Ugandan gospel artist at work in his studio, Kampala, Uganda, November 2006. (Lydia Boyd)