New Chapter: Masculinities, HIV and Religion

The recently published Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development, edited by Emma Tomalin, provides a cutting-edge survey of the state of research on religions and global development. Taking a global approach, the Handbook covers Africa, Latin America, South Asia, East and South-East Asia, and the Middle East. The section on Africa includes a chapter I have co-authored with Ezra Chitando: ‘Masculinities, HIV and Religion in Africa’. The chapter critically discusses men and masculinities in contemporary Africa at the intersections with issues of HIV and AIDS as well as of religion.


Exploring and examining the intersections of masculinities, religion and the HIV epidemic in Africa, this chapter engages various fields of study: masculinities and development, masculinities and HIV and AIDS, masculinities and religion, and religion and HIV and AIDS (cf. Haddad 2011). Within development studies gender is a central theme, but until recently discussions often narrowly focussed upon women. Only with the turn of the new millennium, as a late reception of masculinity studies, did development scholarship and practice begin to widen its scope to include ‘the other half of gender’. However, this trend is not yet reflected in studies of religion and development, where gender continues to be conceptualised predominantly as referring to issues that concern women. Cleaver (2002) identifies several arguments for the need to pay attention to men and masculinities in global development, and three of them are particularly relevant to the focus on HIV and AIDS in Africa in this chapter: arguments concerned with gendered vulnerabilities, the crisis of masculinity and strategic gender partnerships. The idea of gendered vulnerabilities means that not only women but also men can be disadvantaged by certain concepts of masculinity. This has proved to be especially true in the context of the HIV epidemic, where the virus infects and affects both men and women. The notion of ‘crises of masculinity’ refers to multiple processes of social, economic and cultural change that undermine and challenge traditional men’s roles and forms of masculinity, and it is clear that in contemporary Africa the epidemic has posed serious threats to men and masculinity. Finally, if the HIV epidemic in Africa is a gendered phenomenon, as it is now generally acknowledged, then the response to the epidemic should also be gender-based and thus involve men and address questions of masculinity. To build such a strategic partnership, men indeed have become special ‘targets for a change’ in Africa (Bujra 2002). In this chapter we explore these and other themes related to men, masculinities and HIV in Africa, critically examining their intersections with religion. Doing so our focus is on sub-Saharan Africa, and the discussion is limited to the three major religions on the continent: African Traditional Religion, Christianity and Islam, with one section looking in particular at Pentecostal strands of Christianity.
As a preliminary remark, we acknowledge the risk that ‘scholarship and policy-related research on masculinities can covertly reinforce colonial myth-making about the “essential” nature of African masculinity’ (Lewis 2011: 205). In much of the literature, including our own work, there is a tendency to problematise African male sexuality as the cause of high-risk behaviour and sexual aggression, while the discourse of transforming masculinities may implicitly reflect a project of ‘civilising’ African men. Most scholars have engaged with the social constructivist theory of masculinities as a plural (Connell 2005) to avoid essentialist and monolithic representations of masculinity, but this has not completely prevented generalising accounts that indeed echo colonial perceptions of African sexuality and black masculinity. The challenge, therefore, has been about how to continue to agitate for more responsible masculinities, without slipping into colonising discourses.

Following this introduction, the chapter continues with the following sections:

  • Gender and HIV: The Turn to Masculinities
  • Religion and HIV-Critical Masculinities
  • Religion and HIV-Constructive Masculinities
  • Pentecostal Trajectories to Transform Masculinities
  • Pressing Academic and Political Issues

Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando, ‘‘Masculinities, HIV and Religion in Africa’, in Emma Tomalin (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development, New York and London: Routledge, pp. 127-137.

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