Three Questions to Dr. Frédérick Madore

Could you tell us more about your background, and why you decided to join REMOBOKO and Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)?

Before joining ZMO, I was previously a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida, and a Part-Time Professor at the University of Ottawa. I completed my Ph.D. in History in 2018 at the Université Laval in Canada.

This position for the Remoboko research group was quite appealing since there is a significant overlap between my research interests and those of the Remoboko project. For instance, I have worked and published on Muslim student associations in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. My research is comparative and explores the history of Islam and Muslim societies in Francophone West Africa from the 1950s to the present. I have conducted extensive fieldwork in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Togo, focusing on Islamic activism among youth and women, their appropriation of media, and Muslim politics. Before joining ZMO, I was also engaged in a research project on Muslim minority communities of Benin and Togo since the late colonial era.

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of a team working on religiosity and higher education in West Africa, and to go beyond the tendency to study Islam and Christianity independently from each other.

How would you describe your current research project, the one you are conducting within the framework of REMOBOKO and ZMO?

At ZMO, my research project is entitled “Salafism and Pentecostalism on University Campuses in Benin and Togo since the 1970s: Lived Religion in ‘Secular’ Contexts.” It examines religiosity on the campus of the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Benin and the Université de Lomé in Togo. The project engages four sets of research questions and analytical perspectives.

The first set of questions is related to Christian-Muslim Encounters. Studying competition, rivalry, conflict and coexistence between different religious groups on campus is an important part of my research. Are public universities contributing to religious polarization especially with the rise of Salafism and Pentecostalism?

However, I also want to approach religious pluralism beyond the conflict/interfaith dialogue or violence/tolerance dichotomy. I’m particularly interested in how Christian-Muslim encounters are shaping how the faithful “perform” their religion and can adopt similar modes of proselytizing, media practices and organizational techniques. In other words, the interplays of borrowing and boundary-making, sharing and exclusion, mimicry, etc.

Related to the focus on how religiosity is experienced in multi-religious settings is the “lived religion” approach, I will assess the plurality of ways in which university students practice their religion and make their religious identity meaningful in their everyday lives.

Basically, the study seeks to explain why religion now occupies such an important place in students’ lives and in the academic sphere, which was formerly dominated by leftist and secular ideologies.

What does this greater religiosity say about students’ aspirations for a better life? Understanding the process of becoming a religious activist through life trajectories will be central

Thirdly, my project will reflect on how religious activism, ostentatious religious signs and markers, as well as ongoing debates on campuses about the role of religion in the public sphere affect the university as a secular educational institution. How has the rise of religious activism on campuses redefined the Western academic model of the public university and its secular intellectual culture? What does it tell us about the historical trajectory of the university in these two countries?

And related to this is the issue of governing religion and religiosity on campus; how have university administrators and faculty managed religious accommodations and regulated the growing religiosity on campus?

The last set of research questions is what I’m calling “The making of new elites.” Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa have historically been highly politicized institutions. They have acted as an important vehicle of elite formation and reproduction.

I want to examine the sociopolitical roles assumed by this young religious elite trained in secular universities. More specifically, to what extent are religious groups calling into question the leadership of “traditional” secular student unions as the main representative body of all students?

I also want to access the capacity for Christian or Muslim student groups on campus to express divergent opinions in relation to the discourses of the “official” or “self-proclaimed” representatives of their religious community.

What inspired you to start writing about student activism and religiosity on university campuses?

The large body of scholarship on student activism in West Africa has tended to focus on revolutionary and secular ideologies while overlooking religion despite the increasing number of religious groups on campuses since the 1990s.

Recent studies have stressed the importance of studying universities to understand contemporary religious dynamics in the region. Regarding Benin and Togo, much of the literature concerns the key role of student protests in the advent of the national conferences in the early 1990s

Surprisingly, little research has investigated religiosity and higher education despite the enduring role of religion in the social and political life of both countries. Historically, the Catholic Church has occupied a dominant position in Benin and Togo. However, since the 1990s and 2000s, the thriving charismatic Pentecostal and evangelical movements have exerted a growing political influence.

Missionaries from Nigeria and Ghana played an important role in the popularity of Pentecostalism in Cotonou and Lomé. The influence of Evangelical and Pentecostal movements at the state level is particularly visible in Benin. In 1996, Mathieu Kérékou, the former Marxist dictator, made a political comeback. “Kérékou II”, as he was popularly known, appeared as a new and converted man who had subjected himself to the power of God. He won the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections. Kérékou successor, Thomas Boni Yayi, was also a born-again Christian and a pastor in a church of the Assemblies of God in Cotonou

While the Muslim community of Benin and Togo have historically played a very limited role in national politics, recent events have attracted attention for an apparent Islamic awakening. In Togo, Muslim leaders played an important role in the opposition movement behind the anti-government protests that broke out in 2017–2018. In Benin, in 2019, a well-known imam from Cotonou was elected to the National Assembly.

Finally, I think this topic is important because while recent reports on the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso have raised fears of jihadism spreading to neighboring states bordering the Gulf of Guinea, including Benin and Togo, Islam in this region remains mostly unknown.

Many analysts and journalists have highlighted the recent spread of Salafism and Saudi Arabian-funded NGOs in the region, which is misleading and problematic in many ways. By focusing on the more fundamental and longer-term dynamics of social and religious change in the region, I want to offer a corrective to this focus on the “radicalization” of Muslims.

Militantisme islamique sur le campus de l’Université de Lomé (Togo) depuis les années 1980 : être musulman en contexte minoritaire, laïc et (semi-)autoritaire

On February 22, 2022, Dr. Frédérick Madore gave a public talk on “Militantisme islamique sur le campus de l’Université de Lomé (Togo) depuis les années 1980 : être musulman en contexte minoritaire, laïc et (semi-)autoritaire”, organized by the Chaire de recherche sur l’islam contemporain en Afrique de l’Ouest at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Trois questions à Bello Adamou Mahamadou

Pouvez-vous nous parler des manifestions religieuses estudiantines à l’Université ABDOU MOUMOUNI (UAM) de Niamey ?

Ces dernières années, l’UAM est marquée par une expression croissante de l’identité religieuse de la part des étudiants aussi bien que des autres composantes de l’université que sont les enseignants-chercheurs et le personnel administratif et technique (PAT). Que ça soit de façon somatique et/ou langagière, chacun exprime son appartenance religieuse sans gêne, contrairement aux années antérieures où la religion était perçue comme dégradante. À titre illustratif, du côté musulman, cette expression s’observe à travers le port des tenues religieuses comme le hidjab et le niqab par les étudiantes, et le port de pantalon s’arrêtant au niveau de la cheville ou le port ostensible des chapelets par les étudiants. Au niveau communautaire, on observe non seulement l’exercice de culte en congrégation, mais aussi la mise en place des associations religieuses par les différents groupes religieux avec pour mission entre autres l’assistance aux fidèles nécessiteux. Sur le plan prosélytique, on note l’organisation de diverses activités dont les conférences, les séminaires de formation, les cours religieux (l’apprentissage de la lecture du coran, l’enseignement des hadiths…) animés soit par ces associations, soit par des acteurs isolés.

Comment se fait la construction de l’identité religieuse au niveau personnel des étudiants ?

La plupart des étudiants religieux que nous avions rencontrés lors de notre recherche témoigne, avoir construit leur religiosité après leur inscription à l’UAM. L’environnement religieux de cette université a joué un rôle important dans cette nouvelle adoption. Cet environnement est caractérisé non seulement par la diversité des acteurs, mais aussi par la liberté de l’exercice de culte dont jouissent les étudiants. Pour conceptualiser l’adoption de l’identité religieuse, nous avons utilisé le concept de conversion religieux dans le sens où celle-ci peut être au sein d’une même religion (conversion de l’intérieur) ou vers une autre (conversion externe), pour parler comme Hervieu-Léger. La conversion de l’intérieur fait allusion au fidèle qui construit son cheminement religieux au sein d’une même religion. C’est le cas par exemple d’un étudiant musulman qui embrasse le salafisme ou d’un chrétien qui se converti au pentecôtisme, après avoir entré en contact avec ces courants religieux sur l’espace universitaire. Pour les qualifier, nous avons fait usage du concept de radical (un mot anglais) qui veut dire, comme en français d’ailleurs, une adoption rigoriste des recommandations religieuses. La deuxième conversion traite des étudiants qui renient leurs religions d’origine au profit d’une nouvelle ; que ça soit de l’islam vers le christianisme ou vice versa. Du fait de son caractère novateur, nous avons qualifié de sabon tuba, une expression haussa qui veut dire littéralement ‘’nouveau converti’’.

Comment ces convertis s’approprient-ils cette identité religieuse ?

Un certain nombre de traits caractérisent ces deux convertis. D’abord, on observe un respect strict des recommandations de sa nouvelle religion, qui se traduit par une pratique rigoriste. En effet, que ce soit sur le plan vestimentaire, comportemental ou cultuel, le sabon tuba comme le radical se démarque des autres fidèles par leur volonté de suivre à la lettre les exigences religieuses. Ce respect témoigne de leur volonté d’atteindre un degré de piété plus enviable que celui dont ils avaient antérieurement. En le visant, nos convertis renient leur passé qu’ils considèrent comme un égarement. Ensuite, tout comme ils rejettent leurs pratiques religieuses antérieures, ils rejettent les fidèles (leurs anciens compagnons) qui continuent à les respecter. Ils sont au retour rejetés par leurs anciens compagnons qui les considèrent comme des renégats à bannir.

En plus, ces deux groupes de convertis se distinguent aussi par leur volonté d’apprendre et/ou d’approfondir leur religion en suivant, comme nous l’avions dit précédemment, diverses formations religieuses, au sein ou à l’extérieur du campus universitaire. Enfin, ayant construit une religiosité jugée exemplaire, le converti se donne comme mission la diffusion des valeurs religieuses auprès de leurs anciens coreligionnaires. Malheureusement, dans une situation de rejet réciproque, la prédication de la « Bonne nouvelle » n’est pas facile.

Three Questions to Vincent Favier

REMOBOKO Junior Research Fellow and a doctoral candidate at the  Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin

Can you tell us more about the nature of students’ debates on campus at the Université Abdou Moumouni in Niamey?

Talking and debating on campus is probably one of students’ favorite activities, especially in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which has the greatest number of enrolled students among all the faculties. Students often talk about the current social, political, economic and sometimes religious affairs occurring in the Nigerien society. But they’re very keen on discussing international “hot” news too. The security situation in the whole Sahel region, the presence of military forces in Niger and its neighbouring countries, ongoing geopolitical conflict in the Muslim world, etc. What happens in France is often scrutinized. Debating is part of students’ daily interactions, within friend circles, between classmates or roommates. But this activity may take place in a rather formal way too. Student groups often organise conferences followed by debates at the Place AB, an amphitheater that welcomes all kinds of activities and gatherings dedicated to students. These groups are for instance the Student Union, the Christian or Muslim student associations, but also smaller groups like the student club of a faculty department (philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc.), student “embassies” (student clubs coming from the same Nigerien region or town) or even a Panafricanist group. To some extent, the campus is a snapshot of the Nigerien society with a few international students coming mostly from West African francophone countries. Although Nigerien Muslims form the largest of these groups, the campus’ diversity fosters rich debates on a variety of topics. What caught my attention is the way students address their history. History in Niger and West Africa is intriguing because it seems to be very much in the making, something that still needs to be agreed upon. Because of this greater social diversity as I highlighted above, people seem to acknowledge the importance of formulating and bringing different historical narratives together and producing a broader national one for a relatively young republic that has been independent since 1960. This process needs a consensus that is hard to reach as many groups address the past differently.

What is precisely at stake in these historical narratives?

I think the diversity of the socio-religious, ethnic and diasporic landscape found on the university campus is fascinating because it shows how crucial history is for nation-building. And this is what the university is – or was – supposed to achieve from its inception in the 1970s in Niger: to produce the future ruling and administrative elites of the new, independent nation. This process is fundamentally a negotiation between several actors, especially politicians and historians. Students – and not only history students – may have a say too as they become conscious of their social and intellectual status and of the role they might play at a later stage in society. But it is also an ever changing process and negotiation as society and its social constituencies and sensibilities evolve through time. Today’s Niger don’t face the same challenges as during the first decades following independence, and so does the university. For instance, religious actors who pervaded the university sphere a couple of decades ago try to participate in this endeavour. Producing history is not just about writing scholarly books. Different speakers may disseminate their own interpretation, version, or vision of history and contribute to fuel debates on historical knowledge and truth. These debates are crucial to grasp because they indicate what kind of historical narratives dominate, and what it tells us about the present context. In other words, specific interpretations of the past highlight very much the actors’ agenda but also what their audience wants to hear and yet memory is necessarily selective. By listening to only certain sets of historical narratives, students may not be able to reconnect a – mostly distant and forgotten – past with the present they want to change. A historical fact that is mobilised again and again in students’ rhetorics is the French colonial era. The immorality of this era and its deceptive, inauthentic and inadapted legacy – in other words, some characteristics of the word boko, broadly meaning secular education – are thus targeted by students, but also and maybe mainly by religious actors.

What narratives are mobilised about the colonial era?

Students at the UAM are mostly concerned with daily things that relate to their future individually. Will they get their diploma? Will they find a job? Will they earn enough money? Who are they going to marry? But some of them seize these debates as they feel they may play a role, have an impact or even change society, bring Niger forward. They start by trying to shape their social environment and engage with such questions and debates on the history of what is currently called Niger and issues inherited from the past and the colonisation can be addressed and wounds healed. Of course, a dominant discourse condemns the persistence of colonialism – neocolonialism – and thus refuses to see in it something that belongs to history. In fact, this part of history is not contested. What is contested is its interpretation in a current context, and here is where religious discourses come into play. For the campus imam, Islam had provided people with human rights long before the enlightenment thinkers did. For Christians, one would jump back to the life of early Christians to find biblical narratives that help them make the difference as a minority in their society. For Panafricanists, Christianity may be criticised because of its link to colonialism and one should remember that Africa had a civilisation before Europe had. While most of the actors often remind their attachment to Niger, they mobilise religious frames that go far beyond the borders of this republic, both in time and space, and thus may conflict with each other. Bringing these different sensibilities and interpretations of the past into a collective, national one, is the greatest challenge that politicians, religious leaders, historians and students face these days for their political project. These actors mobilize metanarratives – whether Islamic, Christian or Panafrican (drawing on the Kemet for example) and set them as an encompassing historical frame, rather than make them fit into the national context. The way history is constructed between global and local pasts is insightful in the Nigerien context as individuals and groups try to reconnect with their past, but also to cope with a painful colonial past that shook or even erased large parts of the history of today’s Niger. The question of historicization is crucial in the university context we’re researching because it is the site of national knowledge production but also a political tool of the nation for training new social and political elites.

Students, the Church, and Decolonization in the Congo

Our fifth session Boko Café took place on June 22th, 2021 between 3-5pm (Berlin time) with our guest Dr. Pedro Monaville, a historian of modern Africa and a professor of History at NYU Abu Dhabi, UAE. He gave a presentation on “Students, the Church, and Decolonization in the Congo.

Dr. Monaville’s current research project focuses on the role of student activism in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and notably on how Congolese university students helped give meaning and content to their country’s independence in the 1960s and 1970s. Through their activism and intellectual work, students introduced and mediated new ideas about culture, politics, and the world. In his current book project, Dr. Monaville follows the collective trajectory of the Congolese students of the 1960s. The project shows how students contributed to reimagine the Congo as a decolonized polity by connecting their country to global discussions about revolution, authenticity, and equality.

Dr. Monaville suggested three readings for the participants:

  • Monaville, P. (2019). The political life of the dead Lumumba: Cold War histories and the Congolese student left. Africa, 89(S1), S15-S39. doi:10.1017/S000197201800089X
  • KANTROWITZ, R. (2018). CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AS ‘A NATION IN MINIATURE’: CATHOLIC CIVISM IN SENEGAL AND BENIN, 1960–1970s. The Journal of African History, 59(2), 221-239. doi:10.1017/S0021853718000300
  • Biaya, T. (1999). Société Parallèle, “Mobutucratie” et Nationalisme Post-colonial en République Démocratique du Congo. African Journal of Political Science / Revue Africaine De Science Politique, 4(1), 63-82. Retrieved June 20, 2021, from

Three Questions to Dr. Pedro Monaville

You recently finished a book about students politics in the Congo. Can you tell us more about this project?

The book is currently titled Students of the World: Decolonization and the Global 1960s in the Congo.

It will be published by Duke University Press in the Spring of 2022.

The main intervention of the book is to replace the Congo within the global 1960s and to show that students in Kinshasa were as important a political force in their country, as student protesters were in Berkley, Berlin, Mexico, Paris, and Rio.

Like their peers around the world, students in the Congo were deeply internationalists and imagined and real connections with distant people, ideas, and struggles shaped their perception of politics in the Congo.

My book is also an attempt at revisiting the history of the Congo’s decolonization, and particularly to understand the impact of the Congo crisis of the early 1960s and of the Mobutu dictatorship on the invention of independent Congolese statehood.

During your talk, you explained that Lumumba was a major figure for Congolese students in the 1960s. What explains his influence over them?

Lumumba’s assassination had indeed a major impact on the trajectory of student politics. In the mid-1950s, the Belgian state had finally authorized the opening of a university for the colonized, based on the idea that higher education would produce “moderate” Congolese who would be willing to work hand in hand with the Belgians and who would counter the influence of anticolonial politicians.

Initially, many students indeed were critical of the radical anticolonialism of Lumumba. Actually, in the aftermath of President Kasa-Vubu’s dismissal of Lumumba as Prime Minister in 1960, the government that Mobutu put in place to replace Lumumba’s executive was made exclusively of university students and recent graduates. These students were in charge when Lumumba was arrested and then sent to Katanga, where he was assassinated in January 1961.

However, the assassination reverberated very strongly among the Congolese educated youth and it created a shift towards the left. The fate of Lumumba opened the eyes of many about the nature of neo-colonialism. What I also argue in the book is that the worldwide emotion around Lumumba’s assassination mattered a great deal in students’ awakening to left nationalism. It was through their association with the figure of Lumumba that they existed in the eyes of the world, and this new Lumumbist identity was key in opening up doors through the decades.

What the role of Catholicism in student politics in the Congo in the 1960s?

The Catholic church dominated the education sector in the Congo. Most students had been trained in Catholic seminaries and high schools. After independence, the Church became an even more important institution, in great part because it was able to maintain its resources and structures while the crisis of the early 1960s had seriously undermined state capabilities.

At the same time, there were conversations within Catholic intellectual circles about the decolonization of the Church and of Catholic liturgy. These discussions percolated among students and influenced to some degrees students’ understanding of cultural nationalism.

Yet, for an increasing number of students in the 1960s, the Church was seen as a conservative force – still very much a colonial institution. The main university in the country, Lovanium, was a Catholic institution, but many students there resented the relative rigidity of Catholic education. For them, Catholicism embodied the right, and in contrast they saw themselves as a left avant-garde, and many embraced various forms of socialism.

However, it is also striking to note how many people form this generation returned to the church later in their life, and how they used religion as a resource in the political during the tensed period of democratization in the early 1990s.

Workshop “Religion in Higher Educational Institutions in Africa and Beyond: (Re)Conversion, Power, and Authority from a Comparative Perspective”

November 16-17, 2021 Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient

Religious diversity is a feature of contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa and the outcome of many dynamic socio-historical processes. Over the past centuries, Christianity and Islam in particular, claimed a significant influence on social, political and even economic interactions across the continent. While trade, missions, migrations, and demographic growth imposed new forms of religious cohabitation, being religious and displaying it has become prevalent in many parts of the continent. This has affected the status of religiosity in private and public domains, has shaped modes of belonging, power relations, and ultimately how people interact, especially in multi-religious settings.

Organised by the Remoboko research group, this workshop focuses on conversion and power/authority in religious interactions, and aims 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. Prioritising a comparative approach, it seeks to bring together various analytical and methodological approaches and disciplinary perspectives to examine the dynamic of conversion and construction of authority in higher educational institutions.

Students’ social background, gender, religious belonging, academic status (undergraduate, postgraduate, doctor, professor…) are conceptual lenses that could be used to frame contributions. We acknowledge that power is relational and multidimensional; hence we include alternative concepts such as authority, agency, domination, and influence, which may help understand conversion in relation to authority in social interactions and religious experiences. What drives conversion at the individual or the group level? To what extent does conversion occur through personal choice, external persuasion or coercion? How authoritative are the power structures—scriptures, theologies and interpretations—that religion produces in the processes of (re)conversion? What narratives are mobilised to establish authority, and build outreach strategies? How are identities and belonging reconfigured? What boundaries emerge and are challenged in this process? What power relations ensue? How does (re)conversion shape religious interactions and experience on campus? These are some of the issues we would like to engage. Therefore, we welcome contributions that rely on detailed empirical case studies in higher education contexts.

The workshop will be held at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin. The languages will be English and French. Costs for travel and accommodation will be covered for a limited number of participants. In case participants cannot travel due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the workshop will be held in a hybrid format, online and on-site.

Interested graduate students/young scholars should submit their contributions and direct inquiries to: Participants will be expected to write a blog post based on the presentation during the workshop. The blog posts will be published on our blog:


• July 15, 2021: Deadline for abstract (max. 300 words), a short biography of the applicant along with their full name, email, and affiliated institution and department
• August 1, 2021: Notification of acceptance
• October 30, 2021: Deadline for papers
 November 16-17, 2021: Workshop

Three Questions to Dr. Anne Heffernan

Professor in Southern African History, Durham University

What was the role of Christian student associations in anti-apartheid activism?

Christian student organizations played a number of roles in the anti-apartheid struggle, and these differed somewhat over time. In the period I discussed in my talk – the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s – these associations were one of the principal ways that students on black campuses were permitted to organise themselves when other types of student associations (especially overtly political ones) were banned. As a result, some of these groups came to take on more and more political activism. This was not seen as a conflict with their religious identity – to the contrary, for many students their identity as Christians carried with it an imperative to seek social justice. In the context of apartheid South Africa that meant challenging the politics of the state.

Can you tell us more about the emergence of Black theology (or Black Consciousness) at the University of the North (South Africa)?

Black Theology emerged first as a project of the University Christian Movement (UCM), which was formed in 1967 and had a presence on both black and white university campuses. Although UCM was founded at Rhodes University, a white campus, it quickly became more prominent on black campuses around the country, like the University of the North. I would argue that this was because student associations and organizations were more restricted on black campuses; for instance, the National Union of South African Students (the biggest student organization in the country) had been banned from forming a branch on the campus of the University of the North. As a result, religious organizations like UCM took a more prominent role in campus life, and especially in campus politics.

UCM was very concerned to join their religious convictions with their political ones; this was an ecumenical Christian organization, and, as I mentioned above, it was deeply committed to the cause of social justice and opposing the oppression of the apartheid state. Black Theology was the project that embodied bringing those aims and influences (religious and political) together. Black Theology drew heavily on the ideas of liberation theology, which came out of South American Catholicism, and its most prominent proponent was James Cone, a black American theologian. It emphasizes the idea that traditions of biblical exegesis and interpretation have been shaped by white supremacy, and argues that only by returning to the radical pro-poor, anti-exclusionary teachings of Jesus in the gospels could Christianity become relevant to black people. Cone argued this for black Americans, and student activists in South Africa adopted his ideas for their own context. Black Theology demanded an active form of Christianity – it called on adherents to challenge injustices like apartheid, and to seek liberation in this world, not just ultimate salvation after death.

These messages were especially compelling on campuses like the University of the North, where black students experienced many of apartheid’s exclusions and indignities on a daily basis. Christianity was also the dominant religion on campus, and there were more Christian student groups than any other, so for many students this connection of their faith to their experience of politics was very generative and exciting. It is one of the reasons UCM was so prominent on campus in the late 1960s.

In your presentation, you said that the University Christian Movement is becoming a secular space (what is how she framed it? Or secular theology?). What do you mean by that?

Over the five years of its existence (1967-1972) I think it’s fair to say that UCM became increasingly more secular – or at least less bound by any traditional frameworks of Christianity. It was founded as an ecumenical organization with support from five churches (Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalis). But by the early 1970s they were disengaging from using language about God or recognizing Christ as divine. Generally this was an effort to be more and more inclusive of the range of beliefs (and explorations) of its members. Many became disaffected with formal church structures during this period; in some cases this was because of churches’ conciliatory politics with the state, but also because of what were considered outdated social and sexual codes of ethics imposed by churches. UCM was very much a product of its time – a student organization of the late 1960s – and it became deeply involved in countercultural politics. But nonetheless UCM – and, importantly, the South African Students Organisation, which was formed after UCM and was even more prominent on black campuses – maintained much of the spirituality that characterized it earlier. Many members still identified as Christian, even though some were disaffected with their churches, and they used religious language and imagery to describe their work: SASO spoke of its movement having ‘bishops’, ‘prophets’ and ‘martyrs’. Dan Magaziner describes this approach as a kind of ‘secular theology’ (Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets, p. 77) and I think he is right to point to the fact that explicitly political organizations like SASO retained religious imagery and idioms even as explicitly religious organizations like UCM became less bound by strictures of organized religion. I do not think this ‘secularization’ represents a disaffection with spirituality – even as some students broke with religious organizations like churches, most maintained aspects of belief in God. And it is important to note that this spread of ‘secular theology’ was relatively contained to the most radical students on campuses. Many students who were practicing Christians were dismayed by the UCM’s break with more formal church-based theology. After UCM dissolved itself, the most prominent religious group to emerge as a political force on the campus of the University of the North – the Students’ Christian Movement – took a much more conventionally Christian approach to theology, and did not overtly challenge the religious teachings of the churches its members came from (although it did sometimes challenge the political positions of those churches).

Workshop “La religion dans les institutions d’enseignement supérieur en Afrique et au-delà : (Re)Conversion, pouvoir et autorité dans une perspective comparative”

16-17 novembre 2021 Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient

La diversité religieuse est une caractéristique de l’Afrique subsaharienne contemporaine et le résultat de nombreuses dynamiques socio-historiques. Au cours des siècles passés, le christianisme et l’islam en particulier, ont influencé significativement les interactions sociales, politiques et même économiques à travers le continent. Alors que le commerce, les missions, les migrations et la croissance démographique ont imposé de nouvelles formes de cohabitation religieuse, le fait d’être religieux et de l’afficher est devenu courant dans de nombreuses régions du continent. Cela a affecté le statut de la religiosité dans les domaines privé et public, façonné les modes d’appartenance, les relations de pouvoir et en fin de compte, la façon dont les gens interagissent, en particulier dans des contextes multiconfessionnels.

Organisé par le groupe de recherche Remoboko, cet atelier se concentre sur la conversion et le pouvoir/l’autorité dans les interactions religieuses. Il vise à interroger la (re)conversion (en tant que processus social et spirituel) et le pouvoir ou l’autorité (émanant des individus, des chefs religieux ou des institutions) sur les campus universitaires. Privilégiant une approche comparative, il cherche à rassembler diverses approches analytiques et méthodologiques ainsi que diverses perspectives disciplinaires pour examiner la dynamique de la conversion et la construction de l’autorité dans les établissements d’enseignement supérieur.

Le milieu social des étudiants, leur sexe, leur appartenance religieuse, leur statut académique (premier cycle, cycles supérieurs, docteur, professeur…) sont autant de notions conceptuelles qui pourraient être utilisées pour encadrer les contributions. Nous admettons que le pouvoir est relationnel et multidimensionnel ; nous incluons donc des concepts alternatifs tels que l’autorité, l’autonomie, la domination et l’influence, qui peuvent aider à comprendre la conversion en relation avec l’autorité dans les interactions sociales et les expériences religieuses. Qu’est-ce qui motive la conversion au niveau de l’individu ou du groupe ? Dans quelle mesure la conversion se produit-elle par choix personnel, par persuasion externe ou par coercition ? Dans quelle mesure les structures de pouvoir – écritures, théologies et interprétations – que la religion produit dans les processus de (re)conversion font-elles autorité ? Quels sont les récits mobilisés pour établir l’autorité, et construire des stratégies de sensibilisation ? Comment les identités et l’appartenance sont-elles reconfigurées ? Quelles frontières émergent et sont remises en question dans ce processus ? Quelles relations de pouvoir en découlent ? Comment la (re)conversion façonne-t-elle les interactions et l’expérience religieuses sur le campus ? Ce sont là quelques-unes des questions que nous aimerions aborder. Par conséquent, nous accueillons les contributions qui s’appuient sur des études de cas, empiriques et détaillées, dans des contextes d’enseignement supérieur.

L’atelier se tiendra au Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) à Berlin. Les langues utilisées seront l’anglais et le français. Les frais de voyage et d’hébergement seront couverts pour un nombre limité de participants. Au cas où les ne pourraient pas voyager en raison des restrictions du Covid-19, l’atelier se tiendra sous un format hybride, en ligne et sur place.

Les é diplômé.es et jeunes intéressé.es sont invité.es à soumettre leurs contributions et à adresser leurs demandes de renseignements à : Les devront rédiger un billet de blog sur la base de la présentation faite pendant l’atelier. Les textes seront publiés sur notre blog :


  • 15 juillet 2021 : Date limite pour le résumé (max. 300 mots), une courte biographie du candidat ainsi que son nom complet, son adresse électronique, l’institution et le département auxquels il ou elle est affilié.e.
  • 1er août 2021 : Notification d’acceptation
  • 30 octobre 2021 : Date limite de soumission des articles
  • 16-17 novembre 2021 : Atelier

Trois questions à Dr. Guy Bucumi

Chercheur postdoctoral et chargé de cours à la Faculté de droit de l’Université de Sherbrooke.

En parlant des trajectoires de la laïcité et des rapports entre l’État et la religion en Afrique, vous suggérez une laïcité de compromis. Que voulez-vous dire par là ? Voulez-vous expliquer ?

Lorsqu’on analyse de près l’histoire des relations religions-États en Afrique, on est frappé par l’ambiguïté qui les a toujours caractérisée : complicité, tensions et parfois persécutions selon les temps et les lieux. Le principe de laïcité-séparation à la française, adopté par les constitutions africaines francophones essentiellement, est aujourd’hui à l’épreuve de la forte religiosité qui caractérise les sociétés africaines.

Les religions ont toujours été des acteurs essentiels de la vie publique de ces régions et les périodes de crises institutionnelles se sont toujours accompagnées d’une activité religieuse particulièrement forte. On pense aux religions traditionnelles ancestrales, mais aussi, naturellement, aux missions de l’époque coloniale, à leur rôle dit civilisateur, à leur implication dans l’enseignement ou l’assistance avant la période d’anticléricalisme virulent lors de la décolonisation, qui suivit l’accès à l’indépendance des États africains. On connait davantage la participation active de l’Église catholique et notamment des évêques dans les processus démocratiques ou dans le fonctionnement de conférences nationales souveraines qui furent constituées pratiquement dans tous les États africains francophones dans les années 1990. Celles-ci, présidées par un évêque, étaient en charge de la réorganisation globale du pays; elles eurent pour mission de redéfinir les valeurs fondamentales de l’État en veillant à l’instauration d’un État de droit et d’une démocratie pluraliste. De nouvelles expressions religieuses se développèrent alors sans entrave. Cette histoire où religion et politique s’entrecroisent constamment, pour collaborer ou pour s’affronter, constitue une donnée spécifique aux États africains, caractère qui perdure aujourd’hui, même si tant les religions que les pouvoirs publics connaissent de profondes mutations

Par la reconnaissance du fait religieux comme l’une des marques spécifiques de leurs sociétés, es États gagneraient, dans l’adoption d’un modèle de laïcité favorisant une étroite collaboration, une garantie de cohésion et un équilibre socio-politique. L’équilibre social et le respect de cette particularité africaine, en la matière, seront à ce prix. En effet, si les principes ne sont pas compris de manière univoque, on imagine combien il peut s’avérer complexe de les traduire dans les faits de  homogène. Il donc souvent complexe de déterminer les modalités  et de réalisation de la laïcité. Face à cette difficulté, la mise en œuvre de la laïcité se fait alors dans la négociation. Entre l’application stricte du principe de la laïcité et sa remise en cause actuelle, c’est la voie des compromis qui doit alors être privilégiée. Ce processus serait le fruit d’une recherche d’un entre-deux : le maintien d’un principe jugé nécessaire et la production d’une solution acceptée localement par les différents acteurs.

Vous dites que l’Afrique est un terrain d’expérimentation religieuse. Comment en sommes-nous arrivés à cela ? Pouvez-vous nous en dire un peu plus?

Le continent africain est un terrain fertile pour les expérimentations religieuse du fait de l’attachement des sociétés africaines à la spiritualité. La prolifération des nouveaux mouvements auquel on assiste actuellement, qu’il s’agisse du courant évangélique ou du salafisme, n’es donc pas une surprise, . l’attachement des populations africaines à la religion, ou aux religions, est bien connue.

 Depuis l’époque précoloniale, les sociétés africaines ont toujours puisé leurs racines dans une norme fondamentale transcendante, ayant valeur constitutionnelle : la loi divine. Vécue comme une exigence sacrée, cette règle fondamentale y a toujours été respectée, conservée et transmise de génération en génération. En effet, l’un des traits caractéristiques des sociétés africaines précoloniales a toujours été leur référence au sacré. Le constitutionnaliste camerounais Maurice Kamto affirme, quant à lui, que  « c’est un fait constant que dans l’Afrique noire précoloniale, le pouvoir est investi de sacralité […]. Le sacré fondait le pouvoir en Afrique précoloniale, le sacré délimitait également les modalités du contrôle du pouvoir »[1]. Malgré l’existence de différents mécanismes d’exercice et de régulation du pouvoir, le sacré, poursuit-il, continuait à conférer aux sociétés africaines précoloniales, une cohérence rigoureuse.Toutes les activités sociales et politiques, les modes de pensée et d’actions s’en imprégnaient.

Dans votre communication, vous avez parlé aussi de paradoxes d’une laïcité importée. On se demande bien ce que recouvre cette notion et les enjeux que porte la laïcité aujourd’hui?

Dans l’histoire juridique contemporaine, peu de mots sont davantage chargés de passion, mais aussi d’ambiguïté, que celui de laïcité. De fait, le terme est diversement interprété. Ce conflit inhérent à la notion de laïcité pourrait s’expliquer, selon le juriste Jean Rivero, par le fait que, « contrairement à la plupart d’autres doctrines qui ne bénéficient que d’un “seul père”, et donc d’un seul et même esprit qui les a pensées et organisées, la laïcité est “un carrefour” : des courants d’une extrême diversité y convergent »[2]. Sa polysémie a amené certains auteurs à ne plus recourir à la définition de la laïcité pour l’expliquer, affirmant qu’« elle ne se définit pas, elle se sent, elle se vit… »[3].

La laïcité est un cadre de régulations des relations religions-État, Elle doit répondre, sur un plan juridique, aux nouveaux enjeux des relations religions-État marquées, en Afrique, par la recomposition sociologique et religieuse actuelle. Le contexte actuel,marqué par la prolifération des nouveaux mouvements religieux, incite à s’interroger sur la mise en œuvre d’une nouvelle interprétation des règles applicables à la question religieuse. En effet, l’argument est que le principe de laïcité ne peut plus être interprété de la même manière du fait des transformations sociales et religieuses intervenues.

Si la laïcité va de pair avec la liberté religieuse, elle a, pour ses autres caractères, des définitions multiples ; concept valise, affirme Didier Leschi signifiant ainsi les contenus incessamment renouvelés qui doivent faire figurer sous ce terme. Il conviendrait, dans le cadre de l’Afrique, d’inventer une forme de laïcité combinant le respect de la diversité religieuse avec les collaborations décisives que les religions ont toujours entretenues avec les autorités publiques. Collaborations nécessaires dont le droit doit néanmoins préciser strictement les conditions d’exercice.

[1] m. kamto, Pouvoir et droit en Afrique noire, Paris, LGDJ, 1987, p. 11.

[2] j. rivero, « De l’idéologie à la règle de droit : la notion de laïcité dans la jurisprudence administrative », La laïcité, Actes de la 6è session du Centre de sciences politiques de l’Institut d’études juridiques de Nice, Université d’Aix-Marseille, Paris, PUF, 1960, p. 265.

[3] j. rivero Ibid., p. 266.

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