Current Institutional Affiliation
Postdoctoral Fellow, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2011
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
World Arts and Cultures, University of California / Los Angeles
Celebrity, Violence, and the Mystic Arts in Postwar Sierra Leone

This cross-disciplinary study explores and critiques the tactics of cultural entrepreneurs appropriating militaristic mystic arts for the cultural and spiritual reconstruction of post-conflict Sierra Leone. The 1991-2002 civil war brought a decade of chaos that challenged many vital local spiritual practices, whether through desecration of sacred space, criminal acts perpetrated in the name of secret societies, or fatalities of ritually protected combatants. Hassan Jalloh, former military commander and devout Muslim, has emerged as an unlikely champion of religious and cultural heritage by rehabilitating his troops as performers of mystic arts. Channeling fame won in war, Jalloh now commands audiences through spectacles that blend messages of peace with both the titillation and the trauma of past violence. Using ethnography, critical videography, and archival research, this project illuminates how these performances mediate local religious practice, international war crimes law, a burgeoning media infrastructure, and the country’s painful memories.