Almost at Home in South Sudan: International Christian Humanitarians and the Theopolitics of Recognition
AbstractIn this study, we examine the experience of international Christian humanitarian aid workers and who work in South Sudan. From interviews with thirty people in east Africa and north America, we derive a relationship between Christianity as our participants understand it, and their modalities of encountering “the other” – the people of South Sudan, who may seem different and unfamiliar, yet who must be met as part of religiously motivated life and work. In terrain of South Sudan, we argue that our participants enact a theopolitics of recognition, in which their emotional and practical connections to the people they serve are triangulated through God. This theopolitics operates almost entirely at the individual level, as personal encounters and work are mediated by the assumption of a shared relationship to God. The people of South Sudan are recognized as both familiar and strange, because they share a posited connection to the divine with humanitarians from the global north. We argue that this recognition is different from other ways of encountering the other found in literature ranging from feminist theory to international development. This study thus adds to scholarly knowledge of faith-based organizations and global humanitarianism. We also argue that while the theopolitical modality makes possible certain kinds of ethical action, it may close off other forms of action based in broader political critiques of global relations of power.
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