St. Joachim as a Model of Catholic Manhood in Times of AIDS: A Case Study on Masculinity in an African Christian Context

By van Klinken, Adriaan S. | Cross Currents, December 2011 | Go to article overview

St. Joachim as a Model of Catholic Manhood in Times of AIDS: A Case Study on Masculinity in an African Christian Context


van Klinken, Adriaan S., Cross Currents


Joachim is the model of every Catholic husband and father ... He is still a model of catholic men. Joachim is a symbol of Christian life to all men who persevere to live happy marriages.

This quotation from the constitution of the St. Joachim Catholic Men's Organization in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lusaka (Zambia) presents St. Joachim as a model of Catholic manhood. According to apocryphal Christian traditions, Joachim is the father of Mary who is the mother of Jesus. Though Joachim, compared with his wife Ann, seems to be less popular in Catholic devotion, nowadays in Zambia a Catholic men's fellowship is named after him and actively promotes him as a role model for Catholic men. This presents us with an interesting case of "embattled masculinities in the religious traditions." As I will explore in this article, the case of the Zambian Catholic men's organization of St. Joachim shows how religious traditions can be employed as a strategy to correct certain behavior and attitudes of men, to transform dominant concepts of masculinity, and to address social problems such as HIV and AIDS. Furthermore, drawing from my research in a parish in Lusaka, in this article I will look at the ways in which the devotion to St. Joachim and the participation in the men's fellowship bearing his name helps individual Catholic men to find their place in the spheres of religion and society, (re)shapes men's gendered identities, and enables men's agency.

With this article, I want to make a contribution to the emerging study of men, masculinities, and religion. While Krondorfer and Culbert-son (2005, 5864) have noted that the scholarship in this field is "heavily located within the scholarly traditions of the West, specifically Christianity and Judaism," I would add that as far as Christianity is concerned the focus has been on Western Christian contexts. It has hardly taken into account that Christianity has become a world religion, and that the rise of Christianity in non-Western contexts "has effected dramatic changes in gender attitudes" and has given rise to "new concepts of masculinity" (Jenkins 2006, 165). This article offers some insights into masculinities in world Christianity by focusing on an African Christian context. Additionally, the choice for a Catholic case is meaningful to men's studies in religion. Though it has been observed that the devotion to saints is characteristic of the Catholic men's movement (Gelfer 2008, 51), little is known about the meaning of saints and devotional practice for the construction of Catholic masculinities. In these two ways, this article broadens the scope of the current study of men and masculinities in religion. The article also provides a more fundamental contribution to this sub-discipline by raising the question how the case study is to be evaluated. Acknowledging the (pro)feminist roots and political edge of the study of men and masculinities in religion, Krondorfer has defined men's studies in religion with the term "critical" (2009, xvii). In his opinion, there must be a critical sensitivity to "gender-unjust systems," such as patriarchy in order to not slip back into the long tradition of male dominance in the sphere of religion. Though sympathizing with this stance, in this article I also problematize it. When to speak of a "gender-unjust system"? Is this always so evident? Are notions and performances of masculinity, especially in the sphere of religion, not more ambiguous? Could it be that they, even though they are "patriarchal," yet contribute to gender justice? As appears from the final section of the article, these are critical questions in light of current discussions on masculinities and religion in contemporary African contexts.

The article is based on a case study in Regiment parish in Lusaka conducted in 2008-2009 as part of a research on African Christian masculinities in the context of the HIV epidemic. I found several lay movements being actively involved in the parish, among which a women's organization named St. …

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