This article shows the importance of understanding the pluralism of moral ideas in contemporary Africa. Although the discourse on human rights is only one aspect of that pluralism, it threatens to overshadow other ways of conceiving human dignity. The impact of the ‘human rights talk’ can be observed in Christian churches, and the article contrasts elite and lay practices in Catholic and pentecostal churches in Malawi. Drawing upon rural and urban fieldwork, the article reveals variation as much within as between these two forms of Christianity. Rather than documenting a wholesale rejection of the ‘human rights talk’, the article draws attention to the situational use of different moral ideas. In this regard, public debates on politics may be enriched by the insights gained during fieldwork among Catholic and pentecostal congregations.
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