Final Conference “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Remoboko organised its final conference entitled “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas” at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin on 6-8 September 2023.

Concept note

A learning and training institution, the university constitutes both a moral space and a social fabric (Nafziger and Strong 2020; Ndofirepi and Cross 2017). Historically, university campuses have been at the heart of social and political imaginations and experiences, and have proved transformative of aspirations, living conditions and power relations across the world. In Europe and America, university campuses offered the breeding grounds for political ideas and aspirations that radically transformed social dynamics, especially in the 1960s; in both colonial and postcolonial Africa, universities emerged as the building sites of the state and the central piece of the political economy of the newly set polities, as they trained the backbone of the state administration (Mellanby 1958; Ike 1977), promised social advancement and even development (Assié-Lumumba 2011; Livsey 2017); in contemporary India, university campuses breed and feed nationalism, exclusionary and identity politics; at the global level, the branching out of universities has become a trend and a model for a knowledge economy that is conquering the world, drawing interest from various walks of the society, but also prompting reconsideration of the added-value of university education and campus experience today (Connell 2019; Guèye 2017; Mellanby 1958; Hauerwas 2007).

While university education can be defined as a social asset, the campus emerges as a political arena (Assié-Lumumba 2011) that often hosts rival and competing ideas and actors working to offer visions of the world, models of social status and even divine salvation. In many countries, as a state institution, the university is at the center of public policies and affects governance, especially since its funding, for example, has implications for both political stability, youth aspirations, economic performance and social coexistence.

Such as a position has turned university campuses into moral spaces, sites of contestations and arenas where various moral agents be they leftist, secular or religious, take roles, acquire influence, and engage in competitions that shape the experience of being student, lecturer, or staff member. What skills and expertise become valued, sought for, and promoted? What social engineering initiatives, moral entrepreneurships and political agendas unfold and mobilize on university campuses today? How are these agents, claims and agendas co-habiting the same space? How is this process affecting life on campus? What forms, tools and ideas of politics emerge in that context? What moral ecology unfolds, especially when morality rests grounded into religiosity and absolute truth-claims? And then, what are the consequences of the secular dismissal of religion and religiosity, when intellectual culture is built on acute skepticism, evolutionism and even atheism?

With such questions in mind, we claim that university campuses offer a site of a critical examination of morality, aspirations and normative orders. In the quest for social becoming, students in particular, have to deal with a conjunction of moral and knowledge economies often at odds with each other, forcing them to be creative and modular, as they navigate the requirements of an academic curriculum, the constraints of everyday life and the expectations of their broader sociopolitical environment. In short, this conference seeks to examine how university campuses in Africa and beyond:

  1. offer training for various skills and know-how which translate into key assets for the social becoming of students beyond the campus;
  2. become a site of moral activism where competing claims of social good and citizenry lead to projects of self-transformation (individual, collective) and/or even conflicts of norms;
  3. feed on various forms of engagements (intellectual, religious, political) while developing their own politics (regional, religious, ethnic, ideological, etc.).

Programme

Religiosity on University Campuses in Africa: Trends and Experiences

Sounaye, Abdoulaye and Frédérick Madore, eds. Religiosity on University Campuses in Africa: Trends and Experiences. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2023. https://www.lit-verlag.de/isbn/978-3-643-91429-3.

Abstract

This volume examines religiosity on university campuses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Focusing on both individuals and organized groups, the contributions open a window onto how religion becomes a factor, affects social interactions, is experienced and mobilized by various actors. It brings together case studies from various disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, sociology, history, religious studies, literature) and theoretical orientations to illustrate the significance of religiosity in recent developments on university campuses. It pays a particular attention to religion-informed activism and contributes a fresh analysis of processes that are shaping both the experience of being student and the university campus as a moral space. Last but not least, it sheds light onto the ways in which the campus becomes a site of a reformulation of both religiosity and sociality.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Religiosity on University Campuses in Africa (Abdoulaye SOUNAYE and Frédérick MADORE)
  • Straddling the “Epistemic Divide”? Medical and Faith-based Healing among Christian Students in Mbarara, South-Western Uganda (Dorothea SCHULZ and Britta BAYER)
  • Exister en contexte autoritaire : les associations étudiantes chrétiennes et islamiques à l’Université de Lomé sous Gnassingbé Eyadéma, 1970–2005 (Frédérick MADORE)
  • Pentecostalism in the University Public Sphere of Molyko (Buea, Cameroon): Challenges, Media Strategies and Students’ Involvement, 1993–2020 (Francis Arsène Fogue KUATE)
  • « Tuba », une construction de l’identité religieuse par les étudiants salafis et pentecôtistes de l’Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey, Niger (Mahamadou BELLO ADAMOU)
  • Vivre sa foi Tabligh au sein des campus de Côte d’Ivoire : ethnographie du cheminement de la religiosité des étudiants (Youssoufou BAKAYOKO)
  • Secular Dynamics and Religious Awakening on University Campuses in Ghana (Mohammed Ameen KASIM)
  • Mobiliser l’Histoire dans le contexte académique nigérien : le prisme des récits religieux (Vincent FAVIER)
  • Performing Religiosity: Protest and Prayer Performance in a Nigerian University (Stephen T. OGUNDIPE)
  • Aspiration and Activism: Muslim Students’ Future-Making in Mbarara, South-Western Uganda (Dorothea SCHULZ)
  • Islam on University Campuses in Côte d’Ivoire since the 1970s: Muslim Intellectuals and Francophone Salafism (Frédérick MADORE and Issouf BINATÉ)

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

PANEL at EUROPEAN CONFERENCE ON AFRICAN STUDIES. AFRICAN FUTURES, Cologne 2023

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

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

Chairs:
Koudbi Kabore (Joseph Ki-Zerbo University Burkina Faso)

Discussants:
Vincent Favier (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)

https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/ecas2023/p/12457

Abstract

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.

Papers

  • 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)

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.

“Praise the Lord!”: Bible Study at the University of Ibadan

Nothing seems to disturb the quietness of the University of Ibadan’s campus in the late afternoon. It is the end of classes and students are slowly making their way to the main gate or hang around the halls of residence. While some are playing football and tennis, others are chatting in small groups, checking on their phones, cooking food in their rooms. Yet, in a few hours’ time, a sound activity will break the usual calm of the campus. In different places, one will hear students singing, others screaming, high-pitched voices from saturated loudspeakers, drums rolling.

The city of Ibadan. Nigeria. 08.02.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

With its green, walkable park-like appearance and its many facilities, the Ibadan campus has little to envy the British and American models from which it always seems to draw inspiration. In fact, the University of Ibadan (UI) was established by British settlers in 1948 on a hill in the outskirts of the city. But it may soon become encircled by this sprawling, roaring city in the southwestern part of Nigeria, in the Yoruba region, as Nigeria’s population is growing steadily. Reflecting a booming trend all over Nigeria, Pentecostal student fellowships have increasingly pervaded universities in the past decades. These student organizations are local, university-based branches that belong to national, so-called “mother Churches”. Deeper Life, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Christian Apostolic Church, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Winners’ Chapel are some of the most famous and popular Churches that dominate the Nigerian Pentecostal-Charismatic landscape today. All of them – and many more – have branches on the UI’s campus, so that every evening, when it gets dark, their activities start. Bible Study sessions, prayer services, or just freely organised worships pop up a bit everywhere in the student halls or in informal spaces like makeshift constructions next to the halls.

A makeshift church next to a student hall where the Redeemed Christian Fellowship organises events. UI, Ibadan, Nigeria. 26.02.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

This evening, members of the Christ Apostolic Church Youth Fellowship (CACYOF) prepare one of their weekly worships in the Mellanby Hall, a centrally located student residence on campus. A few female and male students put the plastic chairs in rows, arrange the ventilators in one of the hall’s Common Room in which I take a seat. Non-academic staff rents these so-called “common rooms” to the student fellowships for their religious activities. Musicians install a keyboard and a drum set on each side of the lectern, from which the preachers, usually students too, but sometimes external guests, will give their “lecture”. During the soundcheck, undergraduate students fill up the room, which can contain approximately 40 persons. Latecomers have to stand before the door. Low-energy bulbs create a dim light while fans struggle to cool the room as the worshippers start warming up. The Bible Study always begins with music and singing, mixing up sometimes with melodies coming from another room in which a fellowship is gathering.

The Mellanby Hall in which CACYOF’s Bible Study takes place. UI, Ibadan, Nigeria. 27.02.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

The sound level slowly increases until the preacher takes the lead and announces the topic of today’s study: “the potencies of the Word of God.” Referring to the Old Testament and the psalm 119, he asserts: “The spirit of wisdom goes with the spirit of knowledge.” Then he asks for 11 volunteers for reading other verses. During the sermon, the keyboard player softly presses and holds a few keys, enveloping the words of the preacher with a musical texture that reminds a bit of the dramatic and though the very kitsch atmosphere of old-fashioned Western soap-operas. “You being saved is different than your soul being saved,” says the pastor. “Soul has to be saved daily, it goes beyond the body. The Word of God saves the soul and it starts from the purity of the spirit.” When the pastor hushes, a long keyboard note catches the silent audience and fills up the room with solemnity. Walking back and forth in the central aisle, the Pastor would sometimes softly lay his hand on someone’s shoulder, in a reassuring gesture that doesn’t seem to distract the worshipper. “The things of the flesh, put them away! You don’t need them!” he goes on, as he raises his voice. He repeats: “The Word of God saves the soul.” And he starts a new stanza: “The Word of God heals. And it delivers.” The student pastor subtly sets the pace of the ceremony like a conductor. His rhetoric, his tone, the repetition of identical words and phrase structure support the dramatic dimension of the event that the musicians contribute to heighten too. The success of this kind of performance depends on the charisma of the leader and on his ability to conduct the different actors and movements of the Bible study.

A student sitting with the Bible on his laps at CACYOF’s Bible Study. UI, Ibadan, Nigeria. 13.02.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

After roughly an hour of preaching, reading the Bible, and commenting on verses, the fourth preacher drives the audience towards the “tongue-speaking communion” with this sentence: “If the Word of God has not entered your spirit, it becomes meaningless.” The use of the words “God”, “spirit”, “entered” in a conditional form resonates as signals for the upcoming practice of tongue-speaking. The audience suddenly knows and feels that the time has come, as several members start shaking one leg slightly and close their eyes. The preacher looks gravely over the assembly. As he raises his voice, his intonations and gestures become more vigorous, and the sermon reaches another intensity. In a call & response style, some of the sentences he pronounces are rhythmed by a short silence, during which the audience would accordingly answer an intonated “a-MEEEEN!” The preacher shouts: “PRAISE THE LORD!” And the crowd: “HALLELU-JAAAH!” The preacher still holds the authorization of starting the collective tongue-speaking, creating a tension that seems unbearable to many, ready to explode. Some faces in the audience become even more contracted, the eyes closed, heads are bent down or held up high. Hands in the back or psalms facing up, most students start moving their lips or whispering some indistinguishable sounds and shaking their legs rhythmically, frenetically. Finally, the preacher gives the go-ahead when he starts speaking meaningless syllables in the microphone: “Sha-ka-ra-pe-te-raka-tapo! Re-ke-ta-pa-ka-tala-mata!…” Immediately, flows of vowels and consonants collide with each other in the four corners of the room. Bringing this din to an end is usually achieved when the preacher pronounces the magic sentence: “In Jesus’ name we have praid!” “a-MEEEEEENNN!” the crowd responds in unison. The calm is suddenly back and the sermon continues. The “Baptism through the Holy Spirit” is one of the main features of Pentecostal theology and something that worshippers actively seek after. In short, speaking in tongues is seen as a bodily manifestation of a spiritual gift that proves the presence of the Holy Spirit in individuals.

Advertisement for a worshipping event at the University of Ibadan. Ibadan, Nigeria. 17.01.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

From an outsider perspective, this kind of transcendental spiritual practice is rather intriguing at first sight. At the same time, one can only notice how this collective effervescence, to take on a Durkheimian terminology, is socially organised, well-structured, guided, and controlled. During almost thirty minutes, the preacher alternates his sermon with this so-called “Tongue-speaking” or “Tongue-praying”, which students do to varying degrees. As another round of “tongue-speaking” starts again, some students just keep on moving the lips almost silently and barely shake their body, while others begin to release themselves to such an extent that they fall into a sort of epileptic trance, either standing or lying down on the floor. A few girls, wearing a headscarf, hit the wall repeatedly with the hand while they speak in tongue. Others, down on their knees, would hit the floor. Eyes shut, arms raised in the air, baffling sounds, imploring face expressions, heavily shaking and sweating bodies translate a feeling of both releasing and refilling the soul, a tension that the drummer helps recreate with frequent drum rolls. Power cuts may occur several times during the study, but don’t really affect it. Students fellowships are strategic: having a drummer always ensures the musical continuity of the Bible Study because it doesn’t need amplification. This time, the session ends up in the dark, with loud and joyful collective singing, while students keep on dancing and jumping.

The Christ Apostolic Church, generally used for Sunday services on the campus. UI, Ibadan, Nigeria. 08.03.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

At the end of the Bible Study, most of the students would stay inside or outside before the room, tidying the place, chatting, and laughing. Others would go back to their respective halls and have dinner at their cafeteria, as most of them live on the campus. The relaxed atmosphere following this session of Bible Study somehow contrasted with the intensity of the worship. I had the feeling that these practices helped students release some tensions, particularly the ones who went apparently “far” in what looked pretty much like a trance or a possession. Yet, others were discreet, or even shy, and seemed sometimes out of place when they were barely shaking a foot while standing next to a frenetically moving, sweating, and shouting body. While some are rather seeking biblical knowledge and guidance for reading and understanding the Bible, others would engage with this worshipping opportunity on a different level. This practice is anything but unusual, or hidden, on the campus. Even though the students found themselves in the intimacy of this common room, other gatherings often take place outside on the campus, where students may worship and perform such practices openly, publicly, in groups or individually.

The Association Des Étudiants Musulmans Du Niger (AEMN): Shaping Good Muslims, Producing a Muslim Elite. Islamic Activism in the Educational Landscape in Niger

Favier, Vincent. ‘The Association Des Étudiants Musulmans Du Niger (AEMN): Shaping Good Muslims, Producing a Muslim Elite. Islamic Activism in the Educational Landscape in Niger’. Journal of Education in Muslim Societies 4, no. 1 (2022): 108–27. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/iupjournals/index.php/jems/article/view/5162.

Abstract

Over the past three decades, African students have created several religious associations that reconfigured the social and political landscapes of sub-Saharan universities. Scholars often focused on this type of religious activism and yet didn’t study the associations’ educational agenda comprehensively. This article intends to fill this gap by examining the socioreligious activities of the Association des Étudiants Musulmans du Niger (AEMN) and the impact of its educational discourse at the Université Abdou Moumouni (UAM) in Niamey, Niger. Mainly relying on empirical data gained through participant observation and interviews, it explores the ways the association pervades and shapes the educational landscape, notably by establishing partnerships beyond the university. The association’s leaders, so it appears, promote an educational ethos that redefines the role of academia and its benefits for the Nigerien society. Correlating students’ religiosity with academic performance, they try to reconcile Islamic values with scientific knowledge in the process of producing the future elites of the nation.

Sunday Dancing Club at MFM

By Vincent Favier

People who come there on Sunday morning spend most of the time singing and dancing, but it is neither a nightclub nor a radio station. It is a church. Starting at 8 AM, the service could be an exciting afterhour for the Christians who spent their night in one of the few Niamey’s nightclubs. Usually held by Christians, they are frequented by expats and Nigeriens from diverse religious affiliations, if they have any. This suggestion may sound out of place, yet one shouldn’t downplay the energy that preachers and worshippers put into creating an atmosphere of joy and celebration every Sunday morning in this church. MFM stands for “Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries”, a name that says it all about the Church’s style of worship. Originally founded in Nigeria, it has gained an international reputation through its usually loud, heated, and highly demonstrative services. One of the most notorious Churches on the African Pentecostal landscape, it opened branches in several African countries, including Niger, as well as in Europe and in the United States.

The Mountain of Fire and Miracles’ church. Niamey, Niger, 20.12.2020. Photo: Vincent Favier

Located in Niamey’s poor and popular district of Boukoki in which a majority of Nigerien Muslims live, the Church was run by a Nigerian couple until the Charlie Hebdo’s riots broke out in Niger in January 2015. After stealing or destroying what they could, mobs of youngsters set several churches in fire, but in a few areas, Muslim neighbours spontaneously constituted vigilantes’ groups and managed to protect Christians and churches. Nevertheless, the Nigerian couple, traumatised, moved back to Nigeria and a woman from Benin was appointed pastor of Niamey’s MFM church. In a spirit of forgiveness, the new pastor tried to make a fresh start with the neighbourhood by offering food and goods to the families and sweets to the children when she comes back from the market. The relationship is rather cordial now, yet she deplores the fact that kids in the hood still throw stones into the church’s yard sometimes, pointing at their lack of education. She decided to level-up the walls surrounding the church. The memory of the riots remains painful for many Christians. In this context, it is thus not surprising that worshipers’ behaviours are noticeably less exuberant and the noise generated by the services is overall lower compared to Pentecostal practices in Nigeria. In all cases, the sixty or so members of the congregation meet regularly again, sing and dance freely, especially on Sundays.

Worshippers waiting to drop their tithes before the altar. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 20.12.2020.
Photo: Vincent Favier

On this Sunday morning, the church is almost full for the special ceremony dedicated to offerings. Once a month, members bring goods of their choice, according to their financial capacity. A Bluetooth headset in his ear, a young security guard wearing a T-shirt with the MFM logo stands at the entrance and keeps an eye on the streets. Inside the church, all the goods were dropped in a corner, waiting for the pastor to start the ritualised offering ceremony. Worshipers must be patient. They know this kind of service usually lasts up to six hours. Instead of young partygoers, the participants are rather families dressed in their best Sunday cloth. Many men and boys wear either the traditional riga or casual jeans and shirts. Women picked their most elegant dress in African wax fabric often matching their huge headscarf, but some wear cocktail dresses and sophisticated hats that would provoke sideways glances in any posh American wedding. Some little girls are dressed like princesses with multicoloured plastic hair clips. A small group of school teenagers – hand-clapping experts –, a few students of the Université Abdou Moumouni, men and women coming alone or with their children, form the rest of this mixed congregation. They are mostly from Nigeria, but also from Togo, Niger, Benin, and Burkina. They are a Christian community like many others on Sunday in Niger’s capital city, praying in the name of Jesus, seeking to feel the Holy Spirit’s breath inside them, imploring God to bless and to reward them on this earth, here below. And if it’s not in this life, then it will be in the hereafter, a student told me.

Young boys and girls dancing before the altar. MFM, Niamey, Niger. 07.03.2021.
Photo: Vincent Favier

In fact, the pastor likes to remind that the MFM community stands apart from other Christian churches: “We are at MFM, we have our own way of praying!” Indeed, I witnessed practices that I never saw elsewhere in Niamey’s churches, not even in Nigeria. The pastor continues: “Standing like a tree is not praying! Satanic tree! Break it!” And the assembly would start mimicking the pastor’s gesture, moving their forearms up and down frenetically, like machetes cutting the air, and repeating in chorus: “Break it! Break it! Break it!” Performance plays a central role in the sermon as it helps mediating a spiritual sensation.

Worshippers mimicking the pastor’s gestures. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 07.03.2021.
Photo: Vincent Favier

During another service, the participants were asked to bring cooking oil in a small bottle and to spread it on their head during the sermon to chase the evil spirit. “My hair” said the pastor, “reject the bewitchment! Bewitchment attacks me through the hair. My hair, take fire!!!” – “Fiiiiiiiire!!!” people shouted in response as they were vigorously spreading the oil on their head.

But before doing such practices, church members need to warm up. The Sunday service always starts with gentle singing and dancing during almost an hour, as members keep on coming. A student plays a synthesizer next to the bassist, a few women sing. A father seats down on a chair, gives his Bible to his 4 or 5-years old kid, and, while the kid holds the Bible seemingly absent-minded, the father closes his eyes, lays his hands on his son’s shoulders and starts praying. Joyfully, the singing goes on and on, increasingly louder, until the pastor makes her apparition on the stage.

The pastors giving the sermon. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 07.03.2021. Photo: Vincent Favier

The sermon is bilingual. The pastor preaches in French and a second pastor, a man, translates it consecutively into English. His proficiency in translation is crucial to the whole performance. It is not only about finding the right words quickly but rather being able to reproduce the pastor’s tone, fluidity, eloquence that gives the sermon its theatrical dimension and strength. Based on the metaphor of the tree, the Pastor drew a parallel with the umbilical cord that connects to the ancestors, and that one must cut, or burn. African Pentecostals emphasize the need to radically break with the traditional past because satanic forces inhabit spiritual traditions and keep preventing Christians to access health and prosperity here and now. During another sermon I attended, the pastor declared annihilating the power of all fetishes, voodoo, and satanic powders through the fire of God. In fact, Muslim reformist discourses may equally reject ancestral social and spiritual practices during public preaches, yet they don’t perform it as symbolically as the Pentecostals do. Often, it becomes a cacophony when church members repeat words after the pastors: “Pouvoir !!” “Power!!” “Feu de Dieu !!” “Fire of God!!” The service shortly reaches a hypnotic, if not epileptic, climax.  Like in many churches, the pastor brings everyone down and takes back control of the ceremony by saying the magic words: “In Jesus’ name we have prayed”. Like a class of disciplined children, everyone is suddenly quiet again and ready to listen. The sermon goes on:

– “People subscribe life insurances, but our life insurance is Jesus! With Jesus, a radiant light will shine on your life!”

– “Amen!” the assembly answers.

– “God will surprise you! We see others with a big house, a pretty car. Jesus will make you an important person!”

– “Ameeeeeen!”

Worshippers dancing in circle during the final procession. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 07.03.2021.
Photo: Vincent Favier

After hours of singing, praying, dancing, mimicking, listening and shouting, time has come to perform the final offering ritual. The pastor even apologizes for exhausting her congregation so much today as she begs for one last dance. Before bringing the several goods to the front, members are called to contribute to the financial effort of the church with giving tithes and offerings. Like the Islamic Zakat, tithes are supposed to be around 10% of a member’s income. Offerings may then come on the top. How much one should give remains at the discretion of each individual. For that purpose, the pastor distributes envelops to participants who require one, while he encourages them to give more: “What’s your offering plans for this year? Are you going to keep on giving 500-500 [FCFA] or are you gonna raise to 1000-1000?” Once the members have put their offering or tithe in the envelop, they fold it and hold it in their hand raised over the head, and close their eyes for the benediction. The pastor begs God to bless the offerings and to make individuals’ wishes come true. She then calls them to stand up and, as the music starts again, people come to the altar and drop their envelop in a box. The closing procession can start now.

Worshippers’ offerings being blessed by the pastor. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 07.03.2021.
Photo: Vincent Favier

Bringing the goods to the altar is performed as a ritual. The papas, the mamas, and the youths are called to gather the one after the other, to pick some goods and to bring them to the altar. Ananas, bags of rice, oil bottles, yams are shaken up and down over the heads, left and right, carried by the members of each group walk and dance towards the stage. Joy, hilarity and communion soon spread all over the place. Once they dropped the goods, every group dances some 15 minutes before the altar, and goes again.

Two university students dancing at the end of the ceremony. MFM, Niamey, Niger, 07.03.2021. Photo: Vincent Favier

It is almost 2 PM and worshippers eventually receive meals prepared by the church. The whole ceremony ends up in a frenetic atmosphere of singing and dancing, although visible sweat on faces and shirts betrays the participants’ exhaustion. But everyone seems to enjoy the celebration and spending a long part of their day within their community. And the pastor doesn’t miss the opportunity to make them feel good and unique when she says: “Lose yourself when you give thanks! If you’re normal, you’re a fool! Do something exceptional during the procession! You are distinct.”

Religiosität, Wissen und Performance. Forschen und filmen auf einem Universitätscampus in Niamey, Niger

Static image from the film “Ƙaramin Sani Kukumi Nèe”, BRD / Niger, 2022. Credit: Vincent Favier

On June 21, 2022, Vincent Favier was invited to Prof. Dr. Tobias Wendl’s colloquium on African arts at the Art History Institute, Freie-Universität Berlin, to give a talk entitled “Religiosität, Wissen und Performance. Forschen und filmen auf einem Universitätscampus in Niamey, Niger.” followed by the screening of the film preview (work in progress) “Ƙaramin Sani Kukumi Nèe / Little Knowledge is a Danger”.

REMOBOKO at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

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.

Presentations

“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.

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