Religion in West Africa: Cosmpolitanism, Faith Communities, and the Social Fabric

Programs > Religion in West Africa

MARCH 2, 2017
West Africa’s Women of God
Robert M. Baum, Dartmouth College
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West Africas Women of God - R. Baum-1








NOVEMBER 15, 2016 5pm
The Demons as Guests: Aesthetics of African Traditional Religion and Pentecostal Hot Prayers in Nigeria
Nimi Wariboko, Boston University
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Wariboko - Demons as Guests

MARCH 31, 2016
Into the Sacred Forest: Ritual and Vodun’s Global Expansion
Timothy Landry, Trinity College
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Into the Sacred Forest_ Ritual and Vodún's Global Expansion-2









November 12, 2015
The Zombies African Origins: A Socio-Historical Reconsideration
Terry Rey, Temple University
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Allegory of Death - La Fortune-1








April 8, 2015
Jews of West Africa:
Past, Present, and Future
William F.S. Miles, Northeastern University
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November 13, 2014
“Pagans” in Northern Nigeria:
Colonial Policies and the Death of Pluralism
Shobana Shankar, Stonybrook University
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Initiated in February 2010 with a lecture from renowned scholar activist, Hauwa Ibrahim, the BU/WARA Series, “Rethinking Islam” was expanded in the fall of 2014 to allow us to explore the wide range of religions and faith communities in the region. Now entitled “Religion in West Africa: Cosmopolitanism, Faith Communities,” our first lecture featured Shobana Shankar of  Stonybrook University.


October 10, 2013
The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa
Rudolph T. Ware III, University of Michigan
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Walking Quran

We were pleased last week to welcome Rudolph ‘Butch’ Ware of the University of Michigan to talk about his forthcoming book, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa. Dr. Ware led us through the chapters and arguments of his book, focusing on Qur’anic schooling and what it can tell us about Islamic epistemology.  Emblematic of the West African Sufi traditions of education is the alluwah or wooden writing board.  The use of this board for learning to write Qur’anic verses is not nearly as prevalent in Islamic communities outside of Africa. Yet it continues an older tradition dating back to the early days of Islam, a tradition, argues Ware,  that is grounded in a theory of knowledge that is not only discursive but embodied.  Through memorization, practice, discipline, and even ‘drinking’ verses washed off the alluwah, one comes to hold sacred texts and knowledge in one’s very body.

While Ware noted that this tradition of embodied knowledge is often (though not always) at odds with educational approaches of Salafist movements that have arrived on the scene more recently, he underscored the profound tenacity, resilience, and adaptability of these older ways of knowing and being within Senegambia.



May 2, 2013
From the Jihad to Boko Haram:
Reflections on Islamic Fundamentalism and Secularism in Nigeria
Edlyne Ezenongaya Anugwom, University of Nigeria at Nsukka







October 11, 2012
Saïda Oumul Khairy Niasse:
Her Father’s Daughter
Pearl T. Robinson, Tufts University


Rethinking Islam in West Africa, a lecture series jointly sponsored by Boston University African Studies Center and the West African Research Association was pleased to feature Professor Pearl Robinson as the first speaker of the 2012-2013 year. Professor Robinson spoke about her forthcoming documentary on female empowerment among the Tidjaniyya Sufi order in Niger. The film, Mama Kiota, examines the life and work of Saida Oumul Khairy Niasse, whose promotion of education, financial autonomy, civic engagement, and a strong sense of identity as an African Muslim woman, bridges the gap between the global feminist movement and Islamic feminists. Professor Robinson’s remarks about the process of making this film included glimpses into the personal and family life of this remarkable woman who is the founding president of the Jamiyat Nassirat Dine, a Muslim women’s association with nearly 100 chapters in Niger and branches in eight West African countries. Mama Kiota is narrated in Hausa and will be distributed through markets for Sufi religious goods, video entertainment markets, mobile movies, online sites and academic markets.


February 23, 2012

Youth, Religion, and Cultural Identity in the Era of Globalization:  Hizbut Tarqiyya (Senegal) 1975-2008
Ibra Sene, The College of Wooster


As part of the jointly sponsored series Rethinking Islam in West Africa, Boston University African Studies Center and the West African Research Association were pleased to welcome Ibra Sene of the College of Wooster for this year’s second talk in the series.

On February 24, 2012, Dr. Sene presented a lecture on the history of the Hizbut Tarqiyya in Senegal. The Hizbut Tarqiyya, he explained, was established in 1975 as the Dahira des Etudiants Mourides (DEM), a student group at Université de Dakar (now Université Cheikh Anta Diop).

Among other things, the Sahelian drought of the seventies triggered a rural exodus throughout the region, including Senegal. Murids, who had heretofore been primarily based in rural Senegal, began moving to the cities and to destinations outside of Senegal. A second generation of Murids was now entering the state education system and would play an important role in the establishment of the DEM. Over the following decade, the membership of the organization and its activities grew significantly. As a result of that, the DEM moved off campus to the Rue 10 neighborhood, then to SICAP Mermoz. In the early 1990s, the 5th Khalife General of the Murids, Serigne Saliou Mbacke, renamed the DEM Hizbut Tarqiyya, and in 1995, the group relocated to the holy city of Touba. This coincided with the 100th anniversary of the deportation of Cheikh Bamba to Gabon by the French, an event commemorated annually by the Maggal in Touba. This relocation was a major milestone in the development of the organization, which became gradually a major actor in Touba until it was momentarily banned from the holy city, between 1998 and the early 2000s.




November 3, 2011
Islamic Diversity and Radicalization in Sierra Leone
Ismail Rashid, Vassar College

RashidProfessor Rashid presented a lecture on Islam in Sierra Leone. “Sierra Leone,” he said, “is predominately Muslim, but it is not an Islamic state.” While Sierra Leone has a large and diverse Muslim population, it remains decidedly secular in its government, which puts great stock in cultivating religious amity, with government events often opened with readings from both the Qu’ran and the Bible. Muslims have been active in the politics of Sierra Leone since independence. Although for its first 35 years the leadership was composed of Christians, this was not a great source of tension. Religion seems not to be a flash point in Sierra Leone; neither religion nor ethnicity were significant factors in the extreme violence that characterized the recent civil war in Sierra Leone. Attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to introduce Salafist ideas have not met with much success among Sierra Leoneans, who put a premium on religious tolerance.



April 20, 2011
West African Roots of American Islam
Beverly Mack, University of Kansas
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MackWhat’s a nineteenth century Nigerian woman Sufi poet doing in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Hartford, and Springfield? She’s teaching women about living in the world, just as she did in her own time and place. Like nineteenth century Nana Asma’u, contemporary American Muslim women follow a study program that has its roots in the tenth century, while they have their feet in the twenty-first. They are separated by 150 years, on different continents, and communicating with technology Asma’u could not have imagined, but the message is the same, and every bit as relevant today as it was in pre-colonial Nigeria.

Continue watching: Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7 and Part 8.


November 9, 2010
Muslim Women Reshaping Islam:
West Africa in a Global Context
Ousseina Alidou, Rutgers University 








September 28, 2010
“Islamic-based Strategies for Female Empowerment in Niger”
Zeinabou Hadari, Niger Office of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria


Trained as a historian (Temple University), Dr. Hadari is currently head of the Niger office of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. At the same time, Dr. Hadari plays a key role in a number of civil society organizations. She is a member of WLUML (Women Living Under Muslim Laws), a global solidarity network providing a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam, is active in a number of human rights organizations, and is a founding member of both the African Link for Peace and Development and the Niger Women’s Network for Peace.


September 15, 2010
“Repetition for Itself”:
Iterative Arts of Senegal
Allen F. Roberts, UCLA


On September 15, Professor Allen Roberts of UCLA presented on “Repetition for Itself: The Iterative Arts of Senegal,” drawing upon the exhibit and book, A Saint in the City, by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts, in which they explore the visual world of the Mouride, a sufi brotherhood in Senegal. The founding saint of the Mouride is Cheikh Amadou Bamba, of whom just one photograph exists. This one photograph has inspired the ubiquitous images of the saint found everywhere in the urban environment—on walls, signs, vehicules, shops—anywhere it can be displayed. These images serve both as sources of spiritual solace and as a means of worship—what Roberts referred to as ‘visual dhikr’, or a visual version of the repetitive chanting that forms an important part of worship.  The talk drew a significant audience, including students and faculty from other institutions in the Boston area.


May 3, 2010
The War on Terror and Al Qaeda in Tuareg NW Africa
Jeremy Keenan, University of Bristol





February 26, 2010
Reflections on Practicing Law in Shari’a Courts
Hauwa Ibrahim, Harvard University

Hauwa 3

On February 26, we were honored to host Hauwa Ibrahim  as our first speaker Hauwa Ibrahim. Ms. Ibrahim is the Nigerian attorney best known for her courageous work in a number of high-profile cases defending women in the Shariah courts of Northern Nigeria. Prior to her work in the Shariah courts, Ms. Ibrahim served as Principal State counsel in the Nigerian Ministry of Justice for eight years.  She has been a guest lecturer at numerous universities in the US and Europe, has consulted with various international organizations including the EU, UNDP, Lawyers without Borders, and BAOBAB for Women’s Rights. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, not the least of which is the Sacharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded to her by the EU Parliament in 2005. Ms. Ibrahim has written extensively on Shariah law and on women’s rights under law. She has recently completed a handbook on strategies for practicing in Shariah courts, and is currently working on a book on humanizing Shariah.


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