Abstract for 2008 Honors Colloquium

Katherine Willson

Religious Studies

"Breaking the Silence: South African Muslim Responses to HIV/AIDS and a Theology of Compassion A case study of religio-cultural approaches to HIV/AIDS "

HIV/AIDS is not merely a disease, but an illness that is shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political circumstances. A variety of approaches to prevention and treatment have been implemented throughout the world, but in many cases have failed to stop the spread of the epidemic. In Africa, religious organizations play a significant role in providing health care infrastructure as well as material and human resources. Positive Muslims is an example of a religious organization that is grounded in a clear theological framework. In contrast to Muslim responses to HIV/AIDS in South Africa and other parts of the Muslim world, Positive Muslims emphasizes compassion and non-judgment in both discourse and practice. Their theology of compassion has strongly influenced by liberation theology developed during the anti-apartheid movement. Although aspects of religion are highly variable, and may also contribute to stigmatization of those living with HIV/AIDS, religious organizations may be ideally situated to intervene against stigma. A framework that deals with these theological challenges is therefore essential to effective compassionate religious responses. This thesis is an investigation of one particular organization, Positive Muslims, as an example of such a response.