Report – Workshop 16-17 November, 2021

Organised by the Remoboko research group (Religion, Morality and Boko in West Africa: Students Training for a Good Life), a workshop on Religion in higher educational institutions in Africa and beyond: (Re)Conversion, Power and Authority from a comparative perspective took place at ZMO on 16 and 17 November 2021. In total, the workshop comprised four panels with different presentations. Participants had the opportunity to participate on site or via Zoom. About 40 people from Africa, North America and Europe participated in the workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to focus on conversion and power/authority in religious interactions. It aimed to offer insights into (re)conversion (as a social and spiritual process) and power/authority (emanating from individuals, religious leaders, or institutions) on university campuses. Prioritizing a comparative approach, its aim was to bring together various analytical and methodological approaches and disciplinary perspectives to examine the dynamics of conversion and construction of authority in higher educational institutions.

Two of the four panels took place on the first day, Tuesday, November 16th. While the first panel was chaired by Ahmadou Hamage Issa (Université Abdou Moumouni), the second panel was chaired by Ibrahim Bachir Abdoulaye (University of Bayreuth). Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye (ZMO), Adéjoké Rafiat  Adétòrò, (University of Ibadan/ZMO), Bello Adamou Mahamadou (Université Abdou Moumouni/ZMO), and Vincent Favier (Freie  Universität Berlin/ZMO), welcomed the participants with a few introductory comments. The topic of the first panel was Religiosity, identity and the dynamics of conversion in educational institutions/ Religiosité, identité et les dynamiques de la conversion dans les établissements d’enseignement. Bello Amadou Mahamadou opened the first panel with a presentation entitled Étude comparative de la transformation identitaire des étudiants à travers la conversion religieuse. During his presentation, Bello Adamou Mahamadou spoke about the factors for adopting a religious identity and asked whether a conversion from outside can be evaluated as a sign of alienation in a big city. Bello Adamou Mahamadou’s lecture was rounded off with a commentary by Dr. Gerd Spittler (University of Bayreuth) who gave an overview of the great diversity on lived Islam at the Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey, Niger, from 1984 to 2018. The second presentation was given by June Temitope Gbadamosi (University of Ibadan) on the topic of Pray for us: Passive culture of Muslim conversion to Christiantiy amongst residents of Obafemi Awolowo Hall, University of Ibadan. She explained that the Obafemi Awolo Hall is known to be the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa and that religion is considered as a knowledge system in this hall. In her ethnographic accounts, she addressed a wide variety of factors that influence this knowledge system (beliefs from home, beliefs from the holy books, prayers as powers). In the discussion that followed, the concept of African Islam was questioned. The third presentation was then given by Sekou Sala Timbely (Universite Abdou Moumouni) on the topic of Conversion religieuse des étudiants sur les campus universitaires de Point G et de Badalabougou à Bamako (Mali): entre affirmation identitaire et persuasion. The presentation dealt with the religious associations on campus, and with religious conversion and the motivation of the respective converts. In the discussion that followed, participants addressed the variety of different movements on campus and interrogated the reasons for such phenomenon. The last presentation before the lunch break was given by Dr. Guy Bucumi (Université de Shebrooke) on the topic on « L’émergence des universités confessionnelles en Afrique : De la gestion du fait religieux aux rivalités confessionnelles ». He spoke about the education of youth in religious doctrines with regard to judicial background and gave deep insights into why Islam is the religion of revelation. Furthermore, Dr. Guy Bucumi talked about confessionalization of the University and confessional rivalries and the religious role of confessional universities.

After lunch, the second panel dealt with the topic of Missionaries and educational institutions: the issue of authority / Missionnaires et établissements d’enseignement:  la question de l’autorité. The panel was introduced by Dr. Dorothea E. Schulz (University of Münster) and was opened with a presentation by Dr. Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University) on the topic of Transnational Authority, Kuwaiti Islamic Charitable Institutions, and Higher Education in East Africa. During her presentation, Dr. Mara Leichtman explained that the aim of these programs is to develop Islamic universities so as to increase the quality and quantity of well-educated Africans. Participants asked for example if there “Are any parallels with West Africa” or “What exactly contains the reaction of political authorities to these kind of universities” after Dr. Mara Leichtman’s presentation. The discussion that followed addressed questions of the impact to the Islamic University in daily life. The following presentation was given by Ameen Kasim (Islamic University College, Ghana) on the topic of Abdicating Islam for Quality Education? Experiences of Muslim Students at Wesley Girls’ Senior High School. In his presentation, he examined the issues of being Muslim student in a reputed Christian high school in Ghana, between compliance and resistance to school rules that affect Muslim students’ religiosity.  The third lecture was given by Dr. Frédérick Madore (ZMO) on the topic of Islam on University Campuses – Salafism in Cote d’Ivoire. Dr. Frédérick Madore talked about the first Muslim association in the country, the AMSCI, and the way it became a leading model for similar associations. In the discussion, he did not only address the national discourse on Salafism in Côte d’Ivoire, but also explained to what extent one can speak of a categorisation of social classes depending on religious identity. Concluding the first day, Mbaye Lo (Duke University) gave a keynote lecture on the topic of Reforming higher educational institutions in Africa: beyond religion and beyond secularism. The lecture engaged with historical developments and reforms in African education, and interrogated to what extent these reforms were shaped by Islamic institutions of higher education. Once again, the influence of colonial settlement during the colonial period on the current African higher education and development of these institutions with the background of different knowledge systems (europhone vs. arabophone) was emphasized.

On Wednesday, November 17th, the second day of the workshop started with the third panel on the topic of Religious diversity and cohabitation on university campuses / Diversité religieuse et cohabitation sur les campus universitaires chaired by Seyni Mamoudou Ibrahim (University of Bayreuth). The third panel was discussed by Dr. Elodie Apard (LAM). The second day started with a Keynote lecture from Dr. Karen Lauterbach (University of Copenhagen) on the topic of Becoming small ‘big men’ of God: Pastorship, spirituality and joining power in Ghana. Karen Lauterbach focused on pastorship as a pathway to become small “big men” (“Pastors have the ability to bring about change”) and how power is conceptualized in the context of Ghana. This was followed by a presentation from Vincent Favier on the topic of Comparison as a mode of knowledge production in academic contexts: interpreting history through the lens of religious narratives. Vincent Favier explained during this lecture, among other things, that Africa, longer than anyone else, has created his own civilization and that the colonial heritage could still be felt. He gave insights about how students at the UniversitéAbdou Moumouni in Niamey, Niger, relate to the past and how different groups combine historical narratives with religious ones, thus producing a new historical reading that serve their interests. After that, Nadir Abdulhadi Nasidi (Ahmadu Bello University) gave a presentation on the topic of One University, Two Faiths: The Nature and Dynamics of Muslim-Christian Relations in Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, 1977-2019. Nadir Abdulhadi Nasidi talked about the history of conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Northern Nigeria, and gave some insights into the internal and external factors that shape the relationship between Muslims and Christians in all higher institutions in Nigeria. His lecture focused on questions like why Muslims of Northern Nigeria refused to put their children into westernized educational institutions and to what extend the fear of conversion influenced the history of rivalry. The following presentation was then given by Youssoufou Bakayoko (Universite Alassane Ouat tara) on the topic of Vivre sa foi Tabligh au sein des campus universitaires de Côte d’Ivoire: Ethnographie du cheminement de la religiosité des étudiants. Youssoufou Bakayoko talked about the reasons why students join the Tabligh movement in an ideologically plural context and what are the actions that mark their presence on campus. Furthermore, he gave deep insights on how students define themselves in relation to other Islamic entities. The final comments of the third panel were given by Dr. Elodie Apard. She highlighted to what extent contributions to the third panel provided the participants with a wide range of political insights. In addition, she concluded that diversity means not only competition but is also a manipulation of the past.

After lunch, everyone started the last part of the two-day workshop invigorated. of the fourth panel entitled Controlling the campus: rise and power of socio-religious groups/ Contrôler le campus: montée et pouvoir des roups socio-religieux, waschaired by Hamissou Rhissa Achaffert (University of Bayreuth) and discussed by Dr. Frédérick Madore (ZMO) and Dr. Benedikt Pontzen (ZMO). Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò gave a presentation on Power Politics and Othering in religious communities at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò focused on questions of authority and power on campus as well as on tensions between Sunna and Shia at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Furthermore, she gave deep insights into the question to what extent one can assume that the university is a reflection of society and not a place with its own dynamics. The following presentation was given by Abdoulbaki Djibo (Universite Abdou Moumouni) on the topic Occupation de l’espace du campus universitaire: dynamiques, enjeux et construction de l’autorité de l’AEMN/UAM. He gave an account on the social – religious, political and economic context of Niger and the launch of Abdou Moumouni University. Abdoulbaki Djibo spoke not only about the major social and political change processes in Niger and at the UAM, but also about the main factors affecting daily life on campus such as the occupation of space and the confrontation between different types of structures (e.g. coexistence of different actors in the same space). The third presentation on the topic of Pentecostalism on campus in Zimbabwe was given by Dr. Simbarashe Gukurume (Sol Plaatje University). During his presentation, Dr. Simbarashe Gukurume gave insights into the growing influence of Pentecostalism on the campus, how the university and Pentecostal groups are a form of governmentality and explained how power is contested within this particular space. Amongst other things, he focused on the the way university students try to navigate the epistemological differences and how these become contested between these different groups. The last presentation of the fourth panel and of the day was given by Dr. Mamadou Yéro Baldé (Universite Cheikh Anta Diop) on the topic of Religion, jeux de pouvoir et d’influence au sein du campus universitaire de Dakar. Dr. Mamadou Yéro Baldé gave insights into the difficult concept of religion and its different meanings or definitions. He also spoke about the context and emergence of religious student associations in Dakar. Furthermore, he spoke about identity, influence and power in this context. The concluding remarks were then given by Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye and Dr. Frédérick Madore. They focused especially on the mission ofuniversities as institutions of state constructions and what people are trained for on campus.

After two days with a total of four different panels in which valuable research and new knowledge were shared, exchanged, and discussed, the workshop came to an end. It ended with an informal dinner in Berlin before everyone headed home.

Written by Anna Schenkenberger

Anna Schenkenberger is a Master’s Student at Christian – Albrechts – University of Kiel and an intern at ZMO in the “Contested Religion” research unit. She is writing her Master’s thesis about the challenges for EU cooperation with non – EU countries in the field of Migration. She studied International Politics and International Law in Kiel and Istanbul, as well as Social Sciences and Law in Erfurt. Her research interests focus on Migration, Islam and Religion and the Middle East.