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Religion and National Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa

Workshop Respondent

Rosalind I. J. Hackett, Professor and Head of Religious Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Rosalind I. J. Hackett is Professor and Head of Religious Studies, and adjunct in Anthropology, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  Hackett has published widely on religion in Africa, notably on new religious movements, religious media, regulation of religious diversity, and religion and conflict.  Recent publications include: Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets, and Culture Wars (ed.) (Equinox 2008) and Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa, (University of Notre Dame Press, co-edited with James H. Smith, 2012).  Forthcoming publications are The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism (co-edited with Simon Coleman, New York University Press) and New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa (Indiana University Press, co-edited with Benjamin Soares).  In 2010 she was re-elected President of the International Association for the History of Religions (until 2015). 

Case Study Presentations (alphabetical)

David Amponsah, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies, Harvard University
Amponsah is a historian of African religions and his research excavates the construction of authority and authenticity through religion.  Amponsah’s dissertation project, “Politics of Custom: Indigenous Religion, Public Wellbeing and the Making of Ghana, 1824–Present Times” investigates how statecraft and public wellbeing were imagined, contested, and negotiated through the lens of indigenous religion, amidst its suppression and appropriation by the state.
Dianna Bell, Mellon Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University
Bell’s current research focuses on mutual influences between indigenous religion and Islam in West Africa.  Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, she shows how Malians use the concept of baraji (merit) as a framework for understanding proper religious practice and the integration of indigenous religion and Islam in daily life.  Bell also studies education in Qur’anic schools in southern Mali and how religion and ecology intersect in West African environmental management.
Joseph Hellweg, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Florida State University
Hellweg is a cultural anthropologist.  He has published two books, Hunting the Ethical State: The Benkadi Movement of Côte d’Ivoire (University of Chicago Press, 2011) and Anthropologie, les premiers pas (L’Harmattan, 2011), and articles in Africa, Africa Today, and the JRAI.  He continues to follow dozo hunters in Côte d’Ivoire and has begun new research on the N’ko alphabet in Guinea and Mali.
Murray Last, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University College London
For more than fifty years Last has conducted research on northern Nigeria, including clusters of related issues in medical anthropology and traditional medicine, pre-colonial African jihad, and a number of intersecting concerns in pre-Islamic religion and culture and Islamic intellectual traditions. Recently he has investigated Boko Haram and religious violence in contemporary Nigeria.  His work titled The Sokoto Caliphate (Humanities Press, 1967) is considered the standard.
Timothy P. Longman, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of African Studies, Boston University
Timothy Longman’s current research focuses on state-society relations in Africa, looking particularly at human rights, transitional justice, democratization, civil society, the politics of race and ethnicity, religion and politics, and women and politics.  His book, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda (Cambridge, 2010) is based on his field research in Rwanda in 1992-1993, and 1995-1996.  Longman argues that Rwanda’s churches became implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide because of their historic links with the state, their active engagement in ethnic politics, and the ongoing cooperative ties between leaders of the churches and the state.  He is currently finishing a book on Memory and Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda.
Isabel Mukonyora, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Western Kentucky University
Mukonyora’s publications feature a variety of research projects on the role of religion in postcolonial Africa, including how religion relates to issues of ecology, gender, and global politics.  Her book Wandering a Gendered Wilderness: Suffering and Healing in an African Initiated Church (Peter Lang Publishing Group, 2007) shows how Shona people from Zimbabwe construct a theology featuring their landscape as a religious symbol of both oppression and hope for liberation.  Mukonyora is currently working on a book examining the public role of Christianity in shaping attitudes to the environment, African religions, and nature in colonial central and southern Africa. 
Moses Ochonu, Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Ochonu specializes in the modern history of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on the colonial and postcolonial periods.  He has authored two books: Colonial Meltdown: Northern Nigerian in the Great Depression, (Ohio University Press, 2009) and Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria, (Indiana University Press, 2014).  Ochonu is working on two new book projects.  First, a collection of analytical and polemical essays on a variety of topics relating to Nigeria, Africa, and diasporic African communities.  Second, an ongoing project analyzing the travel narratives of Northern Nigerian Muslim travelers to Britain in colonial and postcolonial times.

Abdi Samatar, Professor and Chair of Geography, Environment, and Society, University of Minnesota; Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria
Samatar’s scholarly interests examine the relationship between faith, state, and public life in Africa.  At the moment, he is looking at the link between democratic leadership, public institutions, and development in East and South Africa.  Other themes in Samatar’s research include Islam, social capital and ethnicity in the Horn of Africa, and environment and development.  Finally, a general thread in his research is how national public institutions enable people in developing countries to tap opportunity into the global capitalist economy and avoid its cruel traps.  In 2012 Samatar was elected President of the African Studies Association.