Conference Series 2018-19

West Africa and the Maghreb


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Ousmane Kane, Ph.D, is the first Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society at HDS. Since 2002, he was an associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Kane studies the history of Islamic religious institutions and organizations since the eighteenth century, and he is engaged in documenting the intellectual history of Islam in Africa. He is the author of Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria (Brill, 2003), The Homeland Is the Arena: Religion, Transnationalism and the Integration of Senegalese Immigrants in America (Oxford University Press, 2011) and, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa (Harvard University Press, 2016).

PANEL 1: Sufism and Sufi orders in Muslim Africa

Armaan Sidiqi is a PhD student in NELC at Harvard University with cross-disciplinary interests in North African political and intellectual history as well as contemporary Islamic social and spiritual movements. Much of her work analyzes the intersection of time, space and social context in the production and revival of religious texts, movements and ideologies. She holds a BA in Anthropology from Loyola University and MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago.

Youssef J. Carter is a College Fellow in the Departments of Anthropology and African & African-American Studies at Harvard University. Last year, he was a visiting scholar in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and Non-Residential Research Fellow at the International Institute of Islamic Thought. His research includes an examination of a West African Sufi Order—Al Tariqa Mustafawi—and its deployment as a technique of spiritual and bodily care amongst Muslims of varying African and European descent as they migrate to varying locations around the Atlantic.

Ariela Marcus-Sells is an assistant professor of Religious Studies and Distinguished Emerging Scholar at Elon University. Her research focuses on Sufi intellectual history, the history of Muslim societies in West Africa, and the relationship between the categories of Religion, Magic, and Science. She graduated with a PhD in Religious Studies/Islamic Studies from Stanford University in 2015 with a dissertation that examined the Realm of the Unseen in the work of eighteenth-century Sufi writers from the Southern Sahara Desert. This project was based on unpublished manuscript texts that circulated between Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa and she accordingly spent much time in manuscript libraries in Mali, Morocco, and France.

Christine Thu Nhi Dang is Assistant Professor of Music at NYU. Her research explores the role of musical practice in expressing religious and political forms of belonging and in mediating the distance between the two. She studies the relationship between religion and politics in the music of Africa, in Islam and Christianity in the global south, and in the contemporary soundscapes of urban life. Her current book project, "Songs of Spiritual Difference: Muslim and Christian Voices in Senegalese Public Space", is based on two years of ethnographic research with multiple religious communities, and will represent the first academic monograph on sacred music in Senegal; it examines the ways in which musical practice is used to produce experiences of spiritual belonging and difference, and probes the consequences that such musical production of belonging and difference bears on the wider publics in which religious communities are located. Her research has appeared in Islamic Africa and Ethnomusicology Forum, and she has presented papers at the Society for Ethnomusicology, the American Anthropological Association, the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, and the African Studies Association.

PANEL 2: Prayers, Invocations, and the Talismanic Tradition

Zachary Wright, PhD, is associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, with joint appointments in history and religious studies. Wright received his PhD (history) from Northwestern University, his MA in Arabic studies, Middle East history, from the American University in Cairo, and his BA in history from Stanford University. His book publications include Jihad of the Pen: the Sufi Literature of West Africa (co-authored with Rudolph Ware & Amir Syed, AUC Press, 2018); Living Knowledge in West African Islam: the Sufi Community of Ibrahim Niasse (Brill, 2015); and On the Path of the Prophet: Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and the Tariqa Muhammadiyya (AAII & Faydah Books, 2005, 2015). He has also translated a number of West African Arabic texts into English, with publications such as The Removal of Confusion Concerning the Saintly Seal (Fons Vitae, 2010), Pearls from the Flood (Faydah Books, 2015), and Islam the Religion of Peace (Light of Eminence, 2013). His current research concerns eighteenth-century Islamic intellectual history in North Africa. He teaches classes on Islam in Africa, modern Middle East history, African history, Islamic intellectual history and Islam in America.

Adam Larson, EdD, is lecturer of English at Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar, where he teaches in the writing program. Larson received his EdD from King's College London, where he focused on the sociology of education in the Middle East and North Africa. He also holds an MA in Comparative Religion and BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Washington (Seattle). Larson was a Fulbright Fellow in the Yemen Arab Republic, where he researched the narrative construction of religious identity in historical and spiritual accounts of the pilgrimage to Prophet Hud in Hadhramaut. His current research interests involve the relationship between learning and identity, and how processes of constructing and transmitting spiritual knowledge shape social identity and practice in diverse settings. At Cornell, he teaches courses in medical sociology, history of medicine, and religion and healing.

James C. Riggan is a PhD candidate in the History and Ethnography of Religions at Florida State University. His research focuses on materialism and embodiment in Islamic traditions. Currently he is completing a project on Qur’anic exorcism based on fieldwork conducted in Fes, Morocco.

Paul Gerard Anderson is a Ph.D student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrating on Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies. He received his master’s degree from CMES in 2016. He is working on a project entitled “A Deluge of Tears: The Conflux of Shīʻī Literature, Ritual, and Identity in Martyrdom Narratives.”

Oludamini Ogunnaike is an assistant professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary. He teaches courses on Islam, Islamic Philosophy, Spirituality, and Art, as well as African and African Diasporic Religions. He holds a PhD in African Studies and the Study of Religion from Harvard University, and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies. Professor Ogunnaike's research examines the philosophical dimensions of postcolonial, colonial, and pre-colonial Islamic and indigenous religious traditions of West and North Africa, especially Sufism and Ifa. He is currently working on a book entitled, Sufism and Ifa: Ways of Knowing in Two West African Intellectual Traditions and maintains a digital archive of West African Sufi poetry.

PANEL 3: Re-evaluating the Historic Core Curriculum

Abdulkadir Abubakar is a Ph.D student at the University of Alberta in Canada. His intellectual interests include Islamic Intellectual Thought and History of West and North Africa. He received a BA and an MA in Semitic Languages at University of Johannesburg, South Africa in 2014. He has translated several works of West African Muslim scholars in English.

David K. Owen is a doctoral candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His thesis analyzes Ibn Ḥazm’s proposals for the use of formal logic in Islamic juristic methodology during the 5th/11th century in al-Andalus. His research also documents the history of applied logic in institutions of Islamic legal education of northwestern Africa. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University, was awarded the Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Fellowship for Islamic Studies at Harvard and has served as a Fulbright Scholar for research in Mauritania, Morocco, and Spain.

Alexis Trouillot earned his Master's degrees in mathematics and history of sciences and is currently writing a Ph.D. thesis in history and philosophy of sciences at Université Paris 7 on mathematical manuscripts from Mali and Mauritania written in the 19th and 20th centuries. The goal of his research is to understand the role and place mathematics had in the lives and education of scholars in the region and how mathematics entered into dialogue with other disciplines. He is also interested in the place Africa north and south of the Sahara has (or does not have) in the field of history of mathematics. As he is mainly focusing on textual heritage in West Africa, his research places this issue in conversation with the field of ethnomathematics in Africa, which focuses on non-written mathematics.

Ismail Warscheid is a tenured research scholar at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. He received his training in History and Arabic studies at the University of Geneva and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, from which he obtained his PhD in 2014. His scholarly interests are in the cultural and social history of the Islamic West, with a strong emphasis on the study of Muslim legal texts. He is currently exploring the role of Islamic law in the construction of social order within early modern Saharan and Sahelian societies. Among his recent publications are Droit musulman et société : la justice islamique dans les oasis du Grand Touat (Algérie) aux XVIIe – XIXe siècles (Leiden: Brill, 2017) and “The Persisting Spectre of Cultural Decline: Historiographical Approaches to Muslim Scholarship in the Early Modern Maghreb” in JESHO, 2017, 60/1-2, 142-173.

PANEL 4: Jihadi Ideology: What is new, what is not?

Abdulbasit Kassim is a third-year Ph.D. student at the Department of Religion, Rice University. His primary field is Islam and his secondary field is African Studies. His research focuses on the Intellectual History of Islam in Africa, Contemporary Islamic Movements in Africa, Postcolonial African States, African Religions, and the International Relations of Sub-Saharan Africa. His first book, The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State (Hurst Publishers, Oxford University, 2018) co-edited with Michael Nwankpa, offers an unprecedented collection of 2 primary source texts, audio-visuals and nashīds (martial hymns), translated into English from Hausa, Arabic and Kanuri, tracing the history and evolution of the Boko Haram movement. Abdulbasit's scholarship has been published in the Journal of Politics, Religion and Ideology, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology and the Combating Terrorism Center. He is currently conducting research on the Arabic writings on Jihad in Central Sudanic Africa from 1700 – 2017.

Anouar Boukhars is a nonresident scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program and associate professor of international relations at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. Boukhars is author of Politics in Morocco: Executive Monarchy and Enlightened Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2010). He is also a co-editor of Perilous Desert: Sources of Saharan Insecurity (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013) and Perspectives on Western Sahara: Myths, Nationalisms and Geopolitics (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).

William F.S. Miles is Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University in Boston. His latest book Scars of Partition examines contemporary legacies of French-British colonial partition in the borderlands of West Africa, the West Indies, South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Miles's Hausa/and Divided: Colonialism and Independence in Nigeria and Niger is cited in the Britannica Book of the Year for having made a "significant contribution to learning" in the History of Mankind field. He is editor of Political Islam in West Africa. Professor Miles is Palgrave Series co-editor for African Borderlands Studies and is on the executive committee of the African Borderlands Research Network (ABORNE). He has conducted trans-Sahara counter-terrorism programming assessments for USAID in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania.

Zekeria ould Ahmed Salem is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of The Institute for The Study of Islamic Though in Africa, at Northwestern University. His most recent book is titled: Prêcher dans le Désert: Islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie (Paris, Karthala 2013). His other publications include; “The Paradoxes of Islamic Radicalization in Mauritania” in George Joffe (ed.), Islamist Radicalisation in North Africa. Politics and Process, London, Routledge, 2011. : “Bare-Foot activists: Transformations in the Haratines Movement in Mauritania” in S. Ellis, I.V. Kessel, (eds.) Movers and Shakers: Social Movements in Africa, Leiden, J. Brill, 2009 ; “Mauritania: A Saharan Frontier State”, The Journal of North African Studies, Volume 10, Issue 3/4, September 2005, pp. 491–506 ; “Islam in Mauritania between Political Expansion and Globalization: Elites, Institutions, Knowledge, and Networks”, in B. Soares and R. Otayek (eds.), Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. He was a visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Florida from 2010-2011. He has served subsequently as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Paris (2012) and Nantes (2013).

PANEL 5 New Intellectual Connections

Robert P. Parks is the Founding Director of the Centre d’Études Maghrébines en Algérie. He received his Ph.D. in political science in May 2011, which was based on several years of qualitative research in Algeria and Tunisia. His research has been published in The Middle East Journal, The Arab Reform Bulletin, The Journal of North African Studies, and The Middle East Report and he contributed to The Politics of Islamic Finance (Edinburgh UP, 2004), The Arab Spring (Palgrave MacMillan 2014), and The Middle East (CQ Press 2016). He is co-editor of Global and Local in Algeria and Morocco: The World, The State and the Village. (Routledge, 2015) and is currently writing book on state building processes in Algeria and Tunisia, examined from the bottom-up.

Ebrima Sall is the Executive Director of TrustAfrica, a pan African foundation based in Dakar, Senegal. He is the immediate previous Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA, Africa's leading social research council), a position he held from April 2009 to June 2017. He has also held other senior positions, including Senior Program Officer and Head of Research at CODESRIA (2004-2009), Senior Research Fellow and Programme Coordinator at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden (2001-2004), and Director of the Center for the Promotion of Village Savings and Credit Associations in The Gambia (1992-1994). He taught as an adjunct professor at the political science department of Gaston Berger University, in Saint-Louis, Senegal, from 1996 to 2000. He holds a ‘Maitrise’ (MA) degree in Economic and Social Administration from the University of Grenoble II in France, a Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies (DEA) in the Socio-economics of development, and a doctorate in sociology from University of Paris I-Pantheon-Sorbonne. In 1992, he was promoted to the rank of ‘Maitre de Conferences’ (Associate Professor) in ‘sociology-demography’, by the National Commission of Universities of France. He was a post-doctoral fellow of Yale University's Program in Agrarian Studies in 1997-98, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Center for African Studies, Harvard University (October-December 2017). Ebrima is the (co-)author/editor of several publications on higher education, academic freedom, the social sciences, social movements, citizenship, governance, and post-conflict transitions in Africa.

Fatima Harrak is a historian and political scientist. She holds a diploma from Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Paris and a Ph.D. from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She is a Research Professor of the University Mohamed V Institute of African Studies (IAS) where she served as Director. She is an active member of the pan-African Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Dakar, where she served as Vice Chair, Vice-President, then President of the Scientific Committee. She held visiting positions at a number of African, European and U.S. universities and is the author of numerous books and studies in Arabic, French and English on themes of Islamic reform in North and West Africa, African women in the transmission of Islamic learning, trans-Saharan slavery and Africa in the world.

Mansour Kedidir is a Professor at the Higher School of Economics and a research affiliate at the Center for Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology (CRASC) in Oran Algeria.. He received a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Lyon. He is the author of several books including -La colère de la steppe (Paris, Pensée universelle, 1987) ; Bénie soit la mort de l’enfant naturel (Alger, Editions ENAG 1999) ; La nuit la plus longue (Alger, APIC, 2015) ; and L’armée algérienne dans la lutte contre le terrorisme (Editions universitaires européennes, 2012). He is also the co-editor of the Africa Review of Books.


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