Project

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The contemporary expansion of Corporate Islam in rural West Africa

Applicant Chappatte André
Number 186907
Funding scheme Eccellenza fellowship
Research institution Global Studies Institute Sciences II Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.04.2020 - 31.03.2025
Approved amount 1'805'144.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Discipline
Ethnology
Social geography and ecology
Political science
Sociology

Keywords (9)

rural lifeplace; phenomenological anthropology; corporate Islam; West Africa; living religiosity; connectivity; bureaucratic practices; social form of power; Muslim organization

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Depuis la chute de Kadhafi l'insécurité au Sahel est devenue une préoccupation majeure des États ouest-africain et de leurs partenaires internationaux. Sous la pression de groupes armés d'allégeance islamiste, l'État s'est récemment retiré de vastes zones du Sahel. Des experts s’alarment même sur le fait que des régions au sud du Sahel sont sur le point de tomber aux mains d'organisations 'terroristes'. Le problème d’insécurité est réel. Cependant ces discours sécuritaires reposent sur des spéculations émotionnelles plutôt que sur des bases empiriques solides. Sur le terrain nous constatons que les organisations musulmanes légales sont également en expansion dans les zones rurales au sud du Sahel. Il est donc urgent d’étudier concrètement les organisations musulmanes opérant au sud du Sahel afin de déchiffrer les motivations réelles de ceux qui choisissent de rejoindre ces organisations.
Lay summary

Ce projet de recherche met en dialogue quatre études de cas d'organisations musulmanes en croissance dans des zones rurales de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Il est conçu avant tout comme une enquête de terrain car c’est une méthode qualitative qui permet d’explorer les aspirations, tensions et transformations motivant les musulmans ruraux à joindre ces organisations dans une époque marquée par la recherche d'une vie morale, prospère et moderne. Chaque étude de cas sera donc explorée par un terrain de 12 à 18 mois. Les études de cas choisies sont représentatives d’un mouvement d’expansion de nouvelles formes d'organisations musulmanes inspirées par la gestion d’entreprise.

               Les membres de l'équipe de recherche exploreront ainsi les processus de bureaucratisation que ces organisations mettent en avant actuellement. Ils se poseront la question suivante : comment ces pratiques bureaucratiques d’inspiration néolibérale sont-elles appropriées et innovées localement ? Les membres de l'équipe de recherche examineront également l'activisme musulman dans des zones rurales façonnées par des contextes socio-étatiques en mutation. Ce faisant, ils considéreront le rural comme un réseau de petites villes et villages marqué par une connectivité croissante en termes de pouvoir décentralisé mais aussi de consommation de masse (e.g. produits chinois) et d’accès Internet (e.g. téléphones portables). Cette enquête de terrain contribuera donc à décoder étroitement les enjeux politiques, aspirations personnelles et opportunités qui motivent les musulmans ruraux à joindre ces nouvelles formes d'organisations musulmanes dans leur quête d’une vie morale, prospère et moderne.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 10.02.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Abstract

The contemporary expansion of corporate Islam in rural West Africa1. Summary of the research plan: According to mainstream media, as a result of the pressure of armed groups of Islamic allegiance, the State has recently withdrawn from large areas of the Sahel (central Mali; northeast Burkina Faso, northeast Nigeria). Alarming discourses have also been thriving among experts on West Africa since the fall of Gaddafi in the region. Security advisors are even speculating that southern regions of Muslim West Africa were about to fall in the hands of terrorist organizations promoting anti-Western agenda. While acknowledging the issue of insecurity in the Sahel, arguments for a southward spread of terrorist Islamist organizations are based on emotional speculation rather than solid empirical foundations. Faced with a post 9/11 revival of a fear of an „evil” pan-Islamism which is also nurtured by the current Global War on Terrorism, there is an urgent need to offer concrete depictions of Muslim organizations operating in rural West Africa in order to decipher the actual motivations of those who choose to join these Muslim organizations. It is also of crucial importance to understand the genuine aspirations, tensions, and transformations that mobilize their members in an era marked by new forms of organization, growing connectivity (e.g. mobile internet access), and a search for a moral, prosperous, and modern life. This urgency is moreover enhanced by the scarcity of ethnographic work on Muslim life tout court in rural West Africa. This research project thus explores, through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, four representative case-studies of Muslim organizations (an organization of Muslim women in Niger, a youth organization of modernist Salafi inspiration in Nigeria, a Muslim NGO in Ivory Coast, an organization of new Sufi inspiration in Guinea and Mali) which are expanding their activities in rural areas. Accumulating 40 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Muslims living in rural regions of a pre-crisis southern Mali (2008-2010) and a post-conflict northern Ivory Coast (2014-2018), the project investigator has the necessary experience to supervise with carefulness this demanding ethnographic inquiry. The project will contribute to the following three interrelated thematic perspectives. 1.) New forms of religious organization in West Africa: the emergence of corporate Islam. We will explore processes of “corporatization” that Muslim organizations are currently undergoing; by this we mean a social form of power that acts through bureaucratic practices which are inspired by modern management but crafted locally. 2.) Muslim activism in rural regions: We will examine, within changing political dynamics, ramifications of corporate forms of Muslim activism into rural “lifeplace”. This new concept helps us to explores the rural as a network of small towns and villages marked by growing connectivity (mass-consumption; mobile internet access).3.) The phenomenology of religious experience. Rather than putting religious orthodoxy and human freedom in tension, our phenomenological analysis probes a living corporate religiosity whose transformative power emerges in moments framed by ritualized bureaucracy, mundane opportunities, and exclusive identities.This ethnographic inquiry will offer the first nuanced, detailed, and actors-centered depictions of the contemporary expansion of corporate Islam in rural West Africa. Putting forward the innovative concept of “lifeplace” it will deepen our understanding of an allegedly distant rural life through an exploration of the growing connectivity (concrete, digital, imaginary) between small towns and villages with the wider world. By probing to what extent Islam can be the vector of modern bureaucracy in rural West Africa, this ethnography will contribute to closely decode political stakes, personal aspirations, and opportunities that motivate rural Muslims to get involved and pursue their engagement in corporate Islam within their search for a meaningful life.
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