Man Alive (Enhanced Edition): Transforming Your Seven Primal Needs into a Powerful Spiritual Life

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The focus is on the practice of imitation of St Joachim and its effects on masculinity as the symbolic, discursive and performative construction of embodied male gender identity.

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The article shows how a sacred text is mobilized and inspires a communal imitative practice through which men are shaped, and shape themselves, after a religious ideal of masculinity. In the organization, these men tell and retell the narrative about St Joachim who, according to an apocryphal gospel, was married to St Anne and was the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus. How would these men read this story, creatively apply it to their own context and relate it to their own lives?

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What type of manhood does Joachim represent for them? How does the participation in the organization and the imitation of St Joachim affect the moral and spiritual lives of these men, how does it shape their male bodies and gender identities? This article offers such an examination, exploring how a sacred text is mobilized and functions to shape male bodies after a religious ideal of masculinity in an African context. In the Catholic tradition, then, the lives of saints are sacred stories: saints are considered saintly precisely because they are believed to reveal a manifestation of the sacred through their lives, and hence their lives are exemplary to the faithful.

This may apply particularly to Joachim and Anne as they are believed to be sanctified by God to bring the immaculate Mother of God into the world; they are the starting point of the Christian hi story of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Through the case study it explores the intersections of religion, men and masculinity in a contemporary African context. As such it makes a contribution to various fields: the study of men and masculinities in Africa, the study of Catholicism as a lived religion, and the study of religion in Africa. Moreover, in contemporary African societies religious traditions are revitalized and present themselves assertively in the public and political domain. If masculinity is a social and discursive construction, religion is one of the factors, and possibly a major factor, in the processes in which masculinities are constantly re configured.

This gap reflects the general trend in masculinity studies in the social sciences and humanities where religion is largely neglected. In the literature on masculinities in Africa, religion is not a blind spot in the sense that it is completely ignored. In most volumes it is formally mentioned as one of the contributing factors in the construction of masculinities. However, how masculinity is shaped and reshaped in and through religious beliefs and ideologies, religious practices, religious communities and faith-based organizations, both in history and today, is hardly explored in depth.

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I will explore a distinctly Catholic trajectory to effect change in men and transform masculinity in a contemporary African context: the promotion of a male saint as a model of manhood to be imitated through a practice of religious devotion. Though there is a growing body of literature on religion and masculinities, little attention has been paid so far to masculinities in contemporary Catholic circles.

Yet he does not explore what the devotion to a male saint brings to bear on the religious construction of masculinity. On the basis of these data, in this article I give an account on the imitation of St Joachim in the organization and how this effects change in masculinity—with masculinity being understood, in this context, as a reference to the symbolic, discursive and performative construction of embodied male gender identity.

Established in the early s in the Archdiocese of Lusaka, the organization has grown in numbers and spread over Zambia and can now be found in all the Zambian dioceses. The church realizes that, as part of its response to these challenges, it needs to target men for a change. Members also are involved in practical work in the parish, such as cleaning and gardening, in catechetical activities to the youth, and they provide teaching and counselling to young men entering marriage and to couples facing marital or family problems.

Of course, in a Catholic context it is quite common to name a group after a saint. In Zambia, for example, many of the so-called Small Christian Communities scc s, geographical sections that together form a parish are named after saints. These patron saints may be chosen randomly, and I have not found a special devotion to the name-giving saints in the scc s apart from celebrating their feast days. Thus, the choice for the name of St Joachim was rather obvious.

Second, and more essential, there is a long tradition in which St Joachim and St Anne are considered as a model of conjugal life. This gospel, which largely is about the life of Mary, opens with a story about Joachim and Anne. In this story, Joachim is presented as a rich man who always brings double offerings to the temple. One day, he is disallowed to offer first because he—different from all the righteous of Israel—did not have offspring. Full of grief he retires to the desert and is fasting and praying for forty days and nights.

Meanwhile, his wife Anne starts lamenting, bewailing her childlessness and her seeming widowhood.

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Finally an angel appears to Anne, announcing that she will conceive a child who will become famous throughout the world. Anne then promises that she will offer the child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim, too, is visited by an angel with a similar message. He leaves the desert and is reunited with Anne. When the baby is born she is called Mary. At the age of three, Joachim and Anne bring her to the temple where she spends her childhood and grows up as a holy virgin, as is narrated in detail in the rest of the gospel.


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Both organizations are strongly concerned with issues of marriage and family life, and they promote their patron saints as role models for Catholic women and men respectively. From early Christianity up to today in Zambia, there is a popular devotion to St Joachim and St Anne in which these saints are considered a model of conjugal and parental life.

The process of canonization thus demands some evidence of a miracle gained through the intercession of the saint.

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Saints are held up as models of religious living since they are considered virtuosi of faith and practice. Toward saints there is, then, a combination of veneration and emulation. Interestingly, because Joachim is the father of Mary and the grandfather of Jesus Christ, he is also considered the father of the church.

Neither did members talk about him as if he—or any other saint—is actively present in their daily lives. Indeed, in their meetings they always pray a standard prayer addressed to their patron saint, in which they ask for his intercession. However, being asked if they use this prayer also privately, or otherwise pray personally to St Joachim, most members responded negatively. It is believed that St Joachim is a heavenly intercessor for them to God. We believe that all the saints are there.

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What are they doing for us? They are praying for us. If we have problems, we have to channel these to the saints. The idea of St Joachim as an ancestor or living dead illustrates how the devotion to saints is contextualized and inculturated in a local African context. We take it that he is still alive. We cannot say: He is dead and he has gone. We remember him, we carry on with the works that he did.

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This shows how crucial imitation is as part of the devotion to St Joachim. Saints are believed to represent certain virtues and therefore they are considered exemplary figures. According to the constitution, he is not a model but the exemplary model for every Catholic husband and father. I will argue below that the imitation of Joachim as an exemplary male figure is the primary means through which male bodies are shaped and masculinity is constructed.

Before exploring this, however, it is important to focus on the practice of imitation as such, as this is quite a complex process. How, one may ask, does an apocryphal saint actually become an exemplary model imitated by men in a contemporary context? Distinguishing imitation from aping, copying, duplicating, mirroring or counterfeiting, Duyndam ibid.

This indicates a certain familiarity or kinship with the exemplar: the values he or she represents are recognized. But second, these values are also alien, in the sense that they are not yet mine. Members of the organization indeed expressed to me that they are appealed by the figure of St Joachim. I should try to emulate him by looking after my family well in a religious way. Working together with my friends and neighbours in a religious way. Where there is need for help, I should help. I want to do such things. How is this saint familiar to them?

However, the studies Ekman has carried out to back up these claims have come under sustained criticism.


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Ekman has published some peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters, and is the author, co-author, or editor of some 15 books.