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.
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.
PANEL at EUROPEAN CONFERENCE ON AFRICAN STUDIES. AFRICAN FUTURES, Cologne 2023
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.
Frédérick Madore (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient), Perry Collins (University of Florida)
Despite the growing popularity of digital humanities, a limited number of initiatives related to Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa have attempted to mobilize digital tools to analyze and disseminate research data. Launched in 2021, the “Islam Burkina Faso Collection” (https://islam.domains.uflib.ufl.edu/s/bf/) is an open-access digital database containing more than 2,700 archival materials, newspaper articles, Islamic publications, photographs and bibliographical references related to Islam and Muslims in Burkina Faso. “Digital exhibits” with interactive timelines, which include a selection of documents from the database, contextual information for approaching this material and a selective bibliography, serve as entry points for the larger collection. This project is one of the first digital humanities initiatives to be published under a new University of Florida Libraries program, LibraryPress@UF. This program, an imprint of the Libraries and the University of Florida Press, seeks to develop public scholarship across formats that extend and complement the work of traditional academic publishing. Alongside its value as a scholarly and educational resource, “Islam Burkina Faso Collection” has benefited LibraryPress as a case study to explore and refine three major areas: (1) publishing workflows and human resources, including evaluation of digital publications and multi-expert collaboration; (2) technical infrastructure and expertise, including defining services for web hosting and design; and (3) sustainability, including feasible expectations for maintenance and archiving. Throughout all of these areas, the project has modeled an approach to digital scholarship and library publishing that balances experimentation and ambition with realistic goals and an eye toward replicability in future work.
In this workshop, explicitly designed for doctoral candidates and postdocs, the Remoboko research team will present its work, and discuss the methodological difficulties associated with researching a sensitive topic from an ethnographic perspective. Finally, members of the team discuss the challenges of completing their PhDs within a research project.
“The innocent spy who came in from the cold: Fieldwork in the Sahel and self-reflexivity”, Vincent Favier
Vincent Favier did a presentation entitled: “The Innocent Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Fieldwork in the Sahel and Self-reflexivity”. Beside the nod to the climatic dimension due to frequent travel between Germany and Niger, this title refers to the conditions and experience of doing Fieldwork in the Sahel from 2019 to 2021. Inspired by Nigel Barley’s “The Innocent Anthropologist”, his presentation outlined the challenges faced by the researcher as a French and non-Muslim in a former French colony dominated by Islam. Balancing between linguistic and academic affinities and forms of political distrust, or even faith-based contempt, Vincent explained how doing fieldwork in such a social environment requires to be strategic, patient, and diplomatic. This particular setting also enables the researcher to reflect on himself, on the individuals and groups he looks at, but, more importantly, on the way these individuals perceive him and the significance of his research project. In an unstable regional context due to terror attacks, French military intervention, coups, accusations of state corruption, and disinformation, being perceived as a spy is anything but surprising, especially when one comes from abroad to ask questions. Self-reflexivity is thus a crucial dimension of research, in any context, not only to assess the epistemological biases but also to gradually break down clichés and engage in mutual understanding.
“Being a Muslim and a researcher: conducting research in a context of religious competition”, Bello Adamou
Bello Adamou presented the topic : Being a Muslim and a researcher: conducting research in a context of religious competition. He began his presentation by discussing his religious identity and his associative background within one of the Muslim Students Association of Niger, section of the Abdou Moumouni University of Niamey. Being Muslim, he participated several times in the activities of this association without however occupying a position of responsibility or integrating one of the commissions, during his cycles of Licence and Master. Thus, he mentioned the influence of his research on his religious identity because it requires him to analyze the different groups with the neutrality that scientific research requires. Then, he mentioned the different reactions of religious groups on his research. While Christians and Sufis accepted him without resistance, the Salafis perceived him as a spy on the payroll of the outside world. However, over time the latter group came to accept him as a researcher. Finally, Bello reported attempts by student religious groups to influence his research as they perceived him as a mouthpiece for their activities on campus through his scientific publications.
“A “Yovo” Historian in Benin and Togo: Conducting Fieldwork in Times of Pandemic and Fears of Jihadism Spreading”, Dr. Frederick Madore
Frédérick Madore did a presentation entitled “A ‘Yovo’ Historian in Benin and Togo: Conducting Fieldwork in Times of Pandemic and Fears of Jihadism Spreading”. In the first part of his talk, he offered some thoughts on conducting ethnographic fieldwork as a historian by training. Although a lot of textbooks exist on ethnographic fieldwork, the “field” often presents unexpected challenges, and the research must deal with many gray areas. He also addressed the issue of positionality and reflected on how being a foreigner or a “pseudo-insider” as well as making friends in the field impact the research findings. In the second section, Frédérick Madore gave an overview of the difficulties of doing research in insecure regions – “red zones” –, and how the security context in West Africa can influence the research on Salafism. For instance, many journalists and commentators, in assessing the threat that jihadists pose to countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea, such as Benin and Togo, have pointed out the spread of Salafism and Saudi Arabian-funded NGOs in the region. As a result, a growing number of Salafis are reluctant to talk to researchers and building trust can be a challenge. Finally, he highlighted the difficulties of conducting research in post-colonial archival centers in West Africa, which are often underfunded and disorganized. Historians of contemporary Africa must make do with less written material and usually must rely on oral sources.
“‘Who is your father? What family do you belong to?’ and ‘Patience, I’ll call you back!’: Researching Islam and Muslim Life in Contemporary Sahel”, Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye
In a region such as the Sahel where Salafi-jihadism has become highly politicized, from below and above, from within and without, what are the challenges of conducting research on Islam and Muslim societies? How to deal with ethnographic discomfort and security concerns? What to draw from those constraints, but also opportunities to engage other dimensions of the work of academic knowledge production? What to learn from the actual contexts and the dynamics that shape it? How to make research and academic collaboration work? These questions were at the core of the public lecture (“Who is your father? What family do you belong to?” and “Patience, I’ll call you back!”: Researching Islam and Muslim Life in Contemporary Sahel) Abdoulaye Sounaye gave on June 13, 2022 at the Department of Anthropology of the University of Halle. Building on his two decade-long experience conducting fieldwork in the region, the lecture was an opportunity to open a conversation on the constraints and forms of social control that field researchers have to deal with, especially when “working at home.” The conditions of ethnographic research on Islam and Muslim societies in the Sahel were discussed, highlighting some of the challenges and the problematic nature of such methodological orientation today. The lecture also drew attention to both ethical and epistemological concerns, especially with regard to the sensitivity of “Islamic” topics, how researchers (are and) become subject to social control, navigate the “non-sense” of research, and become constitutive of the field.
On June 2, 2022, Frédérick Madore presented a paper at the Islamist Protest, Terrorism and (In)Security in Africa Conference at the Institut des Relations Internationales du Cameroun (Yaoundé).
On June 3, 2022, Bello Adamou Mahamadou will present a paper entitled “‘Tuba’, une construction de l’identité religieuse par les étudiants salafis et pentecôtistes de l’Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey, Niger” for the workshop Point de passage et frontières religieuses organized at LASDEL (Niamey).
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.
On March 22, 2022, Dr. Frédérick Madore presented a paper, “Émancipation féminine et militantisme islamique en Afrique de l’Ouest depuis 1980 : quelques enseignements du Burkina Faso, de la Côte d’Ivoire, du Togo et du Bénin” at the international workshop Femmes africaines dans une société d’hommes: espaces contraints, habilité sociale et formes d’émancipation, organized by the Laboratoire Mixte International MaCoTer.
On March 8, 2022, Dr. Frédérick Madore gave a talk for the Laboratoire d’Analyse et de Recherche, Religions, Espaces et Développement (LARRED) at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi. He gave a presentation entitled “Les associations chrétiennes et islamiques sur les campus de l’Université d’Abomey-Calavi et de l’Université de Lomé depuis 1970 : la laïcité à l’université face à l’activisme religieux”.