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.

Interfaith coexistence on the campuses of the University of Lomé (Togo) and the University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) since the 1970s

On 6 June 2023, Frédérick Madore presented his paper “Interfaith coexistence on the campuses of the University of Lomé (Togo) and the University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) since the 1970s” at the workshop “Religion for Peace? Identifying Conditions and Mechanisms of Interfaith Peace” organised by the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Berlin.

Book launch “Religiosity on University Campuses in Africa: Trends and Experiences”

At the 2023 European Conferences on African Studies (ECAS) in Cologne, Abdoulaye Sounaye and Frédérick Madore launched their edited volume Religiosity on University Campuses in Africa: Trends and Experiences.

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.


  • Agency Beyond Subversion and Submission: Constructing the Pious and Educated Ethiopian Muslim Woman (Yekatit Tsehayu, University of Florida)
  • «Apprendre à lire le Coran en 12 séances» : Les étudiants de l’Université Abdou Moumouni à la quête du savoir religieux (Bello Adamou Mahamadou, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)
  • “Too young,” “Immature,” and not Committed Enough: The Decline of Faith-Based Student Organizations in Togo and Benin? (Frédérick Madore, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)

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)

“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.

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.

“‘L’accueil des nouveaux bacheliers’: Students discover the academic environment”

On October 31st, 2022, Vincent Favier presented a thesis chapter entitled “‘L’accueil des nouveaux bacheliers’: Students discover the academic environment” during the workshop “Religions on Campus: Coexisting Traditions, Reformulating the Secular and Life Projects” that took place at LASDEL, Niamey, Niger.

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