University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

China Scherz

Associate Professor, Anthropology


“Not Me: Addiction, Release, and Response in Central Uganda"

Higher Powers: Alcohol and After in Uganda’s Capital City is a collaborative monograph (co-authored by George Mpanga and Sarah Namirembe) that draws on four years of fieldwork carried out with Ugandans working to reconstruct their lives after attempting to leave problematic forms of alcohol use behind.  Given the relatively recent introduction of Western ideas of alcoholism and addiction in Uganda, most of these people have used other therapeutic resources including herbal emetic therapies, engagements with lubaale spirits, and forms of deliverance and spiritual warfare practiced in Pentecostal churches.  Entailed in each of these therapeutic forms are understandings of the self that have profound consequences for the forms of life and sociality that can follow an effort to stop drinking. While these therapeutic forms differ from one another in substantial ways, they all present challenges to the prevailing biomedical model of addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease.  In so doing, Higher Powers moves towards a reconceptualization of addiction and recovery that may prove relevant well beyond Uganda.  Further, in attending to these vernacular therapeutic forms, Higher Powers points to the need to attend more carefully to the place of spiritual experiences in processes of personal transformation and argues for the importance of giving renewed attention to forms of indigenous medical and spiritual practice in the medical anthropology of Africa. 


China Scherz is an Associate Professor in the department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. She specializes in medical anthropology, the anthropology of ethics, and the anthropology of religion. Through a diverse range of projects in Ireland, the United States, and Uganda, she has explored: how people decide whom they should care for and how, how these values are instilled, and how they change over time.  Her first book, Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda (University of Chicago Press, 2014), makes an ethnographically grounded critique of sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and community participation in international development by contrasting these more dominant paradigms with increasingly marginal forms of Catholic charity. China Scherz is currently working on two NSF funded projects on addiction and projects of personal transformation, one in Uganda and another in Southwest Virginia.