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Lily Rice Research Proposal

PhD student at University of East Anglia and University of Copenhagen


lily.rice@uea.ac.uk +447794256101

Working Title

Religion and its discontents; tracing the roots and drawing the boundaries of humanism in Uganda

Project summary

This proposal sets out to do an ethnographic and historical study of the humanist movement in
Uganda. This is a relatively new movement which has grown in recent years, and is part of the global
humanist movement which advocates for the possibility of living a good ethical life without believing
in a deity, belonging to a religious organisation, or believing in supernatural forces. My primary
question is whether there is something distinctive about humanism in Uganda, and what is
responsible for its recent growth here? The involvement of foreign charities sets humanism in
Uganda slightly apart from comparable movements, for example humanism in Kenya, and the
rationalist movement in India, who have not cultivated these relationships as much. The humanist
movement in Uganda is idiosyncratic – this thesis hopes to also explore the question of what form
humanism is taking in Uganda, and why.

In particular, I hope to focus my study on the Western and South-western regions of the country, as
this has been a particular focus of humanist activities. People involved in the projects here also
represent a more rural, less elite and more female demographic, which is a group not usually
associated with these kinds of activist movements, which have been studied in more male and urban
contexts. I am especially interested in how the humanist movement fits into a broader cultural and
historical landscape of movements in these regions. In order to explore these questions I plan to
focus my research in Bundibugyo and Kanungu districts, as humanist schools have been established
in each of these areas. These sites have distinctive and complex histories which play into the way the
humanist movement is shaped here today, and part of my research would also be historical, to
explore how past events are informing the present and future activities of humanism here, and how
it is making sense to people.

Methods

I suggest taking the two sites (Kanungu and Bundibugyo) as my core field-sites, doing approximately
5 months of ethnographic work in each site. This may involve household surveys, life histories,
interviews, and participant observation whilst being based in the community itself. In addition, I also
plan to do some more historical work, potentially in the archives of Mountains of the Moon
university and the Makerere Africana archives, to explore the history of movements in these regions,
and also comparable movements in other parts of Uganda.

Ethics

My project will go through ethical clearance at University of East Anglia in the UK, in addition to
applying for clearance from the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology and
implementing any further ethical procedures as required by them.

I am supervised by Dr Ben Jones and Dr Karen Lauterbach, both of whom have done research in
Uganda