Jessie Fredlund

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York, Graduate Center, City U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9488

Approve Date

April 27, 2017

Project Title

Fredlund, Jessie A., City U. of New York, Graduate Center, New York, NY - To aid research on 'Rainmaking, Religious Change and the Politics of Land and Environment in Uluguru, Tanzania,' supervised by Dr. Gary Wilder

Preliminary abstract: This project examines spirit-based healing practices and religious change in the context of the dual crises of land grabbing and global climate change. Focusing on the Uluguru Mountains in eastern Tanzania, I ask how discourses and practices around religion, spirits and healing are used to make political critiques, stake claims to land and resources and legitimate or challenge structures of authority and control. In the centuries before European colonization, political power here was tied to leaders’ ability to ensure social reproduction through rainmaking. These practices enlisted the help of ancestor spirits residing in a sacred landscape. Today, in the face of increasing competition over land and water, discourses about spirits and rainmaking have found renewed significance. However, these discourses are also being contested in new ways, exemplified in the conflicts between traditionalists and Pentecostal Christians. Both of these groups believe that proper relationships to spirits can bring rain and ensure social reproduction and both are engaged in vocal retellings of the history of Uluguru’s past rainmakers. However, their spirit-based healing practices and their discourses about the mountains’ past suggest vastly different ideas about the correct relationship between communities, political power, environment and the land. Matters of religion and spirits are rarely considered in relation to conflicts over ecological management and land tenure. Yet the urgent debates over spirits and rainmaking in places like Uluguru suggest that these phenomena are deeply intertwined. This project examines this nexus as a vital site of political struggle for rural communities today.