Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor of Teaching, African Studies Program, Georgetown University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2011
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religion, Northwestern University
Mosques, Schools, and Meeting Rooms: Relations between Arab-Educated Elites and the Political Establishment in Kano, Nigeria

My dissertation research focuses on the professional trajectories of “returnees” – religious elites with Arab university degrees – in Kano, Nigeria from 1960 the present. Nigerian returnees desire to Islamize state and society, emphasizing a “pure” Islam defined largely on the basis of Qur’anic interpretations and Islamic theologies that are uncommon in West Africa but dominant in the Arab Middle East. But Nigerian returnees are also a heterogeneous group whose members, in different ways, shape debates about Islam's place in politics and successfully compete with local clerics by popularizing alternative notions of Muslim orthodoxy and global solidarity. Through a focus on democracy, urbanity, and new media, I ask how returnees transform their background and credentials into personal charisma or institutional influence and how their interactions with other Muslims reshape prevailing definitions of Islamic knowledge. I hypothesize that Kano’s intra-Muslim debates, widespread Arabic literacy, shari’a system, independent media, and turbulent politics create spaces for Islamic activism that are particularly receptive to the knowledge and skills returnees possess, competencies as varied as the returnees themselves. This research addresses interrelated concerns in religious studies, anthropology, and political science. Within religious studies, this project will contribute to studies of the impact of transnational religious flows. Within anthropology, my work will increase understanding of urban religion and the behavior of Muslim actors in young democracies. Within political science, I will engage studies of religion’s role in state-society relations in Africa. Using methods of participant-observation, interviews, and media analysis to clarify how returnees make use of their credentials in teaching, theological discourse, and political activism, this research explores the relationship between local politics, sectarianism, and a global religious community.