Religious Activism on Campuses in Togo and Benin since 1970
Project funded by the ”Remoboko” Leibniz Junior Research Group (2021-2023)
Although faith-based organizations have coexisted with student unions at the Université de Lomé in Togo and the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Benin since the 1970s, much of the literature has tended to focus on the role of student protests in the advent of the national conferences in the early 1990s while overlooking religion. This research examines the understudied history of religious activism on these campuses which were once dominated by leftist and secular ideologies. It analyzes two how Christian and Muslim student associations have emerged in the context of a one-party dictatorship in Togo and a Marxist-Leninist regime in Benin, and how the rise of religiosity has affected the public university as a secular educational institution. The history of these associations not only underscores the fact that the campus constitutes a microcosm of national sociopolitical life, but also illustrates the importance of the translocal dimension in understanding the internal dynamics of these groups. The activities and training programs offered by religious organizations contribute to the development of a “social curriculum” that provides students with a space for socialization and a set of skills, norms, and moral values that complement their secular academic curriculum.
Muslim Minorities in Southern Cities of Benin and Togo
Project funded by a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018-2020)
This research project examines the understudied Muslim minority communities of southern Benin and Togo since the late colonial era (1950s). 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. The project aims to move beyond a reductive focus on “radicalization” by interrogating how Muslims’ political location as a minority in Christian-majority settings affects their experiences, self-understandings, and political stakes. It also examines the plurality of ways in which Muslim youth and women make their religious identity meaningful in their everyday lives and beyond established analytic categories (Sufi, reformist, Salafi).
Youth and Women’s Islamic Activism in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso
Project funded by the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture and the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program Doctoral Scholarship (2013-2018)
This research project is a comparative historical study of the role of Muslims from marginalized social groups in the transformations of Islam in these two countries over the past sixty years. The parallel religious demography of both countries—with Islam as the main religion (60% in Burkina Faso; 43% in Côte d’Ivoire) but with Muslims historically in a subordinate political role—makes the comparison of these two specific cases compelling. The research draws from a combination of sources, including twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Abidjan and Ouagadougou (2011; 2014–15), along with thousands of archival materials, national newspaper articles, and documents produced by Islamic organizations.
The core argument is that intergenerational and gender relations are at the heart of the dynamics (re)structuring the Islamic ﬁeld in recent decades, and that these relations are intricately linked to issues of power and religious authority. I assess the individual and collective capacity of youth and women to both challenge and conform to social constraints through Islamic activism. I demonstrate that generational and gender differences heavily favoring male senior leaders in both countries in the 1970s and ’80s have been tempered over time, even if tensions persist. This is especially salient in Burkina Faso where strong gerontocratic principles still prevail within Islamic organizations, and showing deference to the older generation often remains an important social norm. The recent developments in both countries also echo the diversification in the types and sources of religious authority which can be observed elsewhere in the contemporary Muslim world. More individuals and groups from different segments of society now claim the right to speak in the name of Islam, including youth and women. Francophone “Muslim intellectuals” have been at the forefront of the emergence of a “civil Islam” by devising new forms of civic engagement and entrepreneurship for socio-economic development.