Historicizing Piety: Changing Modes of Islamic Religiosity in West Africa

By Prof. Robert Launay, 26 June 2023, 2-4 pm


Piety has been the subject of recent debates in the study of Islam throughout the world. The hijab is often (though not always) at the center of these debates: what it means or does not mean to those who wear it, what kind of religious project it entails, the extent to which such piety informs all aspects of everyday life. Perceptive analyses sometimes point out that these practices reflect relatively recent changes in modes of religiosity, dating to the 1990s. Even so, such analyses rarely if ever explain why, all of a sudden, prior practices ceased to make sense to a new generation of believers.  Such an explanation requires an account of the logic of such past practices and the values they embodied. Based on my field experiences in northern Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970s and 1980s, I will attempt to supply such an account, situating piety in terms of hierarchies ranking seniors over juniors, men over women, people of free over people of slave status, among other distinctions. Nor were these forms of piety an embodiment of some timeless “tradition”, but rather reflected prior changes in modes of religiosity dating to the aftermath of the Second World War. I will attempt to analyze the significance of these shifts and the ways they reflect broader changes in society, especially in terms of the nature of authority.

Training for good life or a good society? Religious students’ individual and collective aspirations in public universities in sub-Saharan Africa


Friday, June 2, 9:00-10:45

Vincent Favier (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)
Koudbi Kabore (Joseph Ki-Zerbo University Burkina Faso)

Koudbi Kabore (Joseph Ki-Zerbo University Burkina Faso)

Vincent Favier (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)



Manifestations of religiosity have increasingly pervaded public universities in sub-Saharan Africa during the past decades and shaped social interactions within these spaces. This panel discusses the ways in which students engage with academic training and religious practice at the university, and how religiosity may affect higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. The panel focuses on Pentecostal and Salafi discourses and practices as these groups have recently gained a strong foothold in public universities across the continent. The objective is to understand the motivations of these actors and the influence they may have on the educational landscape. They are not only “reformers” within their respective religion, but also social leaders who try to shape students towards academic excellence, professional success, and religious practice. In other words, a sense of moral accountability and decolonization drives their social and political agendas. University campuses become a privileged ground for religious training and a competition arena between religious elites. How does this competition materialise on campus? What do religious leaders preach to students and how does their audience react? How do religious discourses affect the academia as a site of knowledge production? How do religious leaders, students and lecturers define the mission of institutions of higher education for their society? Taking into account the religious movements’ social and historical trajectories in their contexts, the panel interrogates the aspirations of an educated and religious youth as it envisions the future individually and collectively. The convenors welcome contributions that address these topics from different perspectives and disciplines.

Religiosity and Knowledge in Muslim Context in West Africa: Reconfiguring the Relationship between Boko and Adini

Abdoulaye Sounaye

Lecture — LUCIS Keynote

Thursday 11 May 2023; 15:30-17:00, University of Leiden

This lecture discusses contemporary Islamic dynamics in West Africa, especially the wide appeal of Islamic learning (ilimi, in Hausa) and religiosity (adini, in Hausa) in the ways in which they reconfigure the relationship between boko and adini, and inspire Muslim intellectual culture across the region. Taking examples from Niger and Nigeria, the lecture will show how, in a major shift, wedding boko and adini has produced the socio-Intellectual model of Sheik-Doctor and became even more crucial for achieving individual life goals and responding to the imperatives of social life. This process, I argue, illustrates the dialogical and overlapping nature of epistemologies. The production of a dialogical concept of life and being such as Sheik-Doctor, I will further argue, makes a case for a reexamination of current challenges and models of decolonization, especially in Muslim context.

Religiosity and Knowledge in Muslim Context in West Africa: Reconfiguring the Relationship between Boko and Adini – Leiden University (universiteitleiden.nl)

Ethnofictions. Das Kino von Jean Rouch

Moderation: Abdoulaye Sounaye

During the film series “Ethnofictions. Das Kino von Jean Rouch” Abdoulaye Sounaye moderated the session on Feb. 9 “Pétit à petit” (1971)

“Petit à petit” (1971) 96 min


Ein Film, der parodistische Elemente einer inversen Ethnografie enthält. Rouchs langjährige Freunde und Filmpartner Damouré Zika und Lam Ibrahim reisen in fiktiven Rollen nach Paris, um dort zu erforschen, wie die Franzosen in ‚mehrstöckigen Häusern‘ leben. Denn Damouré, Inhaber eines Bauunternehmens im Niger, will in Niamey das erste Hochhaus bauen. Als er in Paris ankommt, wo später auch sein Freund Lam zu ihm stößt „widmet sich der Möchtegern-Unternehmer einem ätzenden Porträt der französischen Gesellschaft in Form einer Erkundung, die ihn dazu führt, in Begleitung zweier Sekretärinnen und eines Clochards in die Heimat zurückzukehren“ (Nicola Brarda)

Filmreihe: Ethnofictions. Das Kino von Jean Rouch | FB 07 – Institut fuer Ethnologie und Afrikastudien (uni-mainz.de)

Ƙaramin Sani Kukumi Nèe / Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Film screening

On March 15th, 2023, Vincent Favier was invited by Dr. Lorenzo Ferrarini to screen a rough cut of his film at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology, University of Manchester, UK. Entitled “Ƙaramin Sani Kukumi Nèe / Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing”, the film portrays life on campus at the Université Abdou Moumouni of Niamey, Niger.

“Camarade Engagé” : un étudiant salafi à la tête de l’Union des Étudiants Nigériens à l’Université de Niamey

Bello Adamou Mahamadou presented his paper “Camarade Engagé”: un étudiant salafi à la tête de l’Union des Étudiants Nigériens à l’Université de Niamey” during Colloque virtuel. jeunes chercheurs-es. Dynamiques religieuses et spirituelles en Afriques et dans ses diasporas.

Report of the Workshop “Religions on Campus: Coexisting Traditions, Reformulating the Secular and Life Projects”

The workshop, organized in cooperation between the REMOBOKO research group and the Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherche sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le Développement Local (LASDEL) in Niamey (Niger), took place from October 31 to November 5, 2022 at the LASDEL, Niamey. Titled “Religions on Campus: Coexisting Traditions, Reformulating the Secular and Life Projects”, the workshop focused on Islam, Christianity and traditional African religions and their different representations on university campuses.

Besides the main theme of the workshop, the week also offered methodological training for young researchers in the afternoons. For this purpose, Thomas Veret, Dr. Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Dr. Frédérick Madore and Dr. Katrin Bromber presented different aspects of scientific writing, research, publications and field research. This dual focus allowed the participants to present and discuss their own research in the morning and to learn new aspects of methodological work in the afternoon, but also to gain insight into the scientific experience of more established scientists.

A total of 17 participants attended the workshop. In addition to researchers from Niger, Nigeria, Benin and Mali, scientists from France, Canada and Germany also participated. As the countries of origin of the participants were very diverse, the workshop was conducted in both French and English. This diversity enabled the access and view from different perspectives and different approaches, as well as bridging the gap between the Anglophone and Francophone scientific production. In addition, the workshop was open to Université Abdou Moumouni (UAM) students, who were able to actively participate in the discussions and benefit from their exchange with more experienced scientists.

On Monday, October 31, the participants were first welcomed by the scientific director of LASDEL and the Director of UAM. They emphasized the need to consider the university as a social space, confronted with conflicts of values and the importance of the REMOBOKO project and the cooperation between REMOBOKO and LASDEL. After the formal welcome, the workshop started with the first presentations. Each person presented for about an hour followed by a discussion.

Vincent Favier (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, ZMO) opened the session with his paper on “L’accueil des nouveaux bacheliers. Les étudiants découvrent l’environnement académique”. Favier’s presentation focused on the relationships between the different students and the groupings they create at UAM. Thus, the chapter he presented is not a historical outline, but an ethnographic look at university life at UAM.

This was followed by the presentation of Dr. Madore (ZMO) entitled “‘Trop jeunes’, ‘immatures’ et pas suffisamment engagés: entre déclin des associations confessionnelles et nouveaux défis du militantisme étudiant à Lomé et à Abomey-Calavi”. Although Madore is a historian, he adopted an anthropological approach. Besides the challenges for students to express their faith in an authoritarian context, Frédérick Madore dealt with the mutual influences between Christians and Muslims, the handling of religiosity and secularity, and ultimately understood the campus as a microcosm of national socio-political life. Dr. Katrin Bromber (ZMO) moderated the discussions.

After lunch, the first methodological session was led by Thomas Veret (Institut de Linguistique et Phonétique Générales et Appliquées (ILPGA), Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle). In his tak entitled “Publier dans une revue de sciences sociales: processus, contraintes et strategies”, Veret explained the strategies, constraints and processes that can be encountered when publishing a journal articles.

On Tuesday, 01.11 the workshop started at 08.30 chaired by Agnès Badou (LASDEL Parakou). Bello Adamou Mahamadou (ZMO) presented a chapter entitled “Adoptons-nous afin de pouvoir faire passer le message de l’Évangile: l’évangilasation pentecôtiste à l’Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey”. In this paper, Bello Adamou Mahamadou presented the approach of different actors in their missionary activities. He further examined the extent to which their proselytism contributes to the transformation of the academic public sphere and the extent to which expansionist (transnational) policies influence the UAM.

Next, Dr. Mounkaila Abdou (UAM) presented “L’enseignement d’Almaghili.” Abdou, after an introduction to Almaghili and a reflection on his work, succinctly presented his doctoral thesis on the topic of the same name. This was followed by the presentation of Abdoulbaki Djibo (UAM) “Les formes contemoraines d’appropriation de l’Islam et du christianisme à Niamey”. Djibo mainly addressed the spaces and ways of transmission of knowledge and religious values. He focused on the leading question of the forms of knowledge acquisition that promote the appropriation of Islam and Christianity.

In the afternoon, Dr. Jean Pierre Olivier de Sardan (LASDEL) provided insights into his years of field research and approach under the title “Discours des cherchés et interprétations du chercheur: exigences méthodologiques et pièges idéologiques.”

On Wednesday, November 2, Amadou Issoufou (UAM) started the day with his presentation on “La pénétration du wahhabisme dans la partie ouest du Niger”. After a geographic overview, Issoufou contextualized the emergence of Islam in Niger, in order to address the spread of Wahhabism in the country. This was followed by the presentation of Muhammad Yakasai (Humboldt University of Berlin) “Transformation of Islamic Scholarship/ learning in Kano Nigeria: 1950–1995”, which is a chapter from his dissertation. Yakasai examined the implementation of Shari’a in Kano and Northern Nigeria and the political response of Muslim elites. He intended to provide a picture of how Muslim elites establish policies from below.

Next, Dr. Nadir A. Nasidi (Ahmadu Bello University) presented “One University, Two Faiths: The Nature and Dynamics of Muslim-Christian Relations in Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, 1977–2019.” After a historical outline of the emergence of the two religions, Islam and Christianity, in Kano, Nasidi explained the relation of the two communities and their adherents at the university campus in Kano.

After the lunch break, the participants of the workshop had an excursion to the university campus of the UAM. Here, the group had the opportunity to discuss with the general director  of the Centre régional des œuvres universitaires, the secretary general  of the Union des étudiants Nigériens de l’université de Niamey, and members of the executive committee of the Association des étudiants musulmans du Niger. The excursion was rounded off by a student event at the university’s amphitheater on issues related to sexuality. Here theory and practice were connected and the participants gained a common basis by visiting a campus together. Thus, the exchanges with different actors of the UAM offered new insights that drove the discussions and research.

On Thursday 03.11, Oumarou Moussa (UAM) presented on the topic “Influence de l’islam sur l’abolition de l’esclavage dans les sociétés touarègues et zarma-sonay dans l’ouest du Niger depuis le 19ème siècle”. Oumarou Moussa socially classified the issue of slavery and addressed the reparation and criminalization of slavery. This was followed by the presentation of Sekou Sala Timbely (Faculté des Sciences Sociales (FASSO) de l’Université de Ségou) on “La conversion religieuse dans ses formes et motivations sur le campus universitaire de Point-G à Bamako (Mali): des formes plus classiques aux plus inédites”. Timbely presented, among others, sacred manifestations of the religious on campus, as well as profane activities, such as training, association work, personal development, organization of tutoring courses, blood and material donations, etc.

After a break, the third methodological session took place. Dr. Madore introduced the participants to different ways of online research and access to academic literature. Under the title “Recherche documentaire en ligne”, Madore went into detail about different platforms to freely access scientific articles. He further explained the different possibilities on the websites to find further literature.

In the afternoon, Veret led his second methodological training session on “Rédiger pour être publié: enjeux et défis”. Verret went into the different stages of publishing a paper in an academic journal. For example, he explained the structure of a scientific article and gave various examples to illustrate the process.

On the last day of the workshop, Friday 04.11, Dr. Ibrahim Moussa (Université André Salifou de Zinder) presented on “La présence de l’islam sur le campus de l’Université André Salifou de Zinder: entre assise et rivalités”. First, Dr. Moussa presented the history of the city and the University of Zinder, and then went on to discuss religiosity on this campus. This was followed by the final presentation of the workshop giving by Dr. Bromber under the title “Academic publishing: personal reflections on a challenging practice”. She offered personal insights into her academic career and shared her experience of publishing, the difficulties she has faced, but also solutions to have a successful publications record.

Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye, head of the research group REMOBOKO gave some concluding remarks. According to him, in addition to campus and religion, leitmotifs were coexistence, secularity, as the works dealt with coexistence and secularity, among others. Coexistence also raises the question of space through the campus, the mosque, etc. A space where values are shared, where people meet each other, where there is imitation and competition. Also, Sounaye highlighted that the campus is also the social beyond the academic and the religious.

One can step out of religiosity to understand religiosity. This is the case of secularism when trying to analyse how it is understood by different actors. He goes on to discuss the role of actors in making religiosity visible and important on campus. Clothing, in particular, is an important example of this religiosity. There is also the question of space, morality, life (its understanding), and living conditions of students, among others. One should also look at the actors with whom students relate (teachers, university authorities, etc.). On the question of bureaucratization of religion, Sounaye noted that participants have addressed mostly religious associations, or organized religion, but religiosity is often disorganized and escapes these groups.

Besides the scientific agenda, there is a political agenda, that of going beyond English and French according to Sounaye: “It is important to mention the fact that we have been able to stay together and work together. This is also a success of REMOBOKO.”

For his part, Dr. Madore argued that the methodological training was a key element of the workshop. He also pointed out the opportunity to have brought different geographical backgrounds in contact with each other.

Dr. Moussa Talibi (enseignant-chercheur à l’UAM), who represented the Minister of Higher Education in Niger, emphasized religiosity as a sociological transformation. The transformation is not only because they are ideologically trained, but out of conformism. He stressed the importance of the workshop because it had the courage to address issues that are difficult to address. Finally, Talibi highlighted the fact that Niger faces security challenges and therefore the difficult distinction between terrorists and civilians. Thus, there is a kind of implosion in the country and the most effective weapon is education.

Religiosité et culture du savoir : la révolution épistémique islamique au Niger

Conference à l’UAM

Abdoulaye Sounaye

10/11/2022: 9:00

La culture du savoir islamique telle qu’elle est apparue depuis une vingtaine d’années au Niger et en général dans les contextes musulmans en Afrique de l’Ouest, a considérablement changé l’environnement épistémique. Au-delà de la simple pratique de la mémorisation du Coran ce qui était l’une des formes classiques d’apprentissage du savoir islamique, de formes plus raffinées, plus organisées et plus englobantes ont émergé, révolutionnant la pratique et la recherche du savoir en Islam. Une révolution épistémique s’est opérée dans ce contexte. Quelles en sont les dynamiques? Qui en sont les acteurs? Quels en sont les espaces? Et finalement, quels en sont les enjeux? C’est à ces questions que tentent de répondre cette conférence.

Aran ma? To-Kaji! : visages esthétiques de l’Islam a Niamey

Conference au Centre Cultural Franco-Nigerien de Niamey

Abdoulaye Sounaye

8/11/2022, 19:00

Cette conférence offre un examen de quelques formes et habits esthétiques des modes d’être musulman à Niamey. Elle appelle à une analyse des modes d’expression de la religiosité qui vont au-delà du contenu. Elle insiste en particulier sur l’importance des manières de se distinguer, de parler, de s’exprimer, dans les dynamiques de l’islam contemporain.

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