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Religion, Morality and Boko in West Africa: Students Training for a Good Life (Acronym: 'Remoboko')

Remoboko is a study of religiosity and how it affects secular education (boko, in Hausa) in West Africa. It focuses on the presence, competition and conflict between secularism, Salafism and Pentecostalism on two campuses (Universit√© Abdou Moumouni, Niamey, Niger, and University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria). It examines how students that seek a degree that would insure them a better life, resort to Salafism and Pentecostalism. How boko in this context is both appealing and rejected is at the core of the project.

In Niger and Nigeria, the two countries the project covers, boko is criticized for being morally corruptive, culturally alienating and socially unfit because it supposedly lacks grounding in religious norms. In targeting secular schools in both countries, the terror organization Boko Haram has illustrated the problematic nature of boko and the dark side its appropriations may have. Across Africa, Salafis and Pentecostals have targeted learning institutions. These religious groups criticize these institutions for practices and values they deem inauthentic and dangerous. In that process, as one may notice on campuses across West Africa, students have become religious actors in their own right, challenging and redefining conceptions of good life and being a student.

Are these dynamics signaling a de-secularization of academia? How is this process affecting the “secular” which has shaped both the mission of the university and its practices? What is then the impact of these developments on the university as an institution of training, critical thinking, knowledge production and socialization? How can fostering critical abilities and enlightening the minds of students be reconciled with nourishing and imbuing souls with absolute certainties? How do these developments affect attitudes towards academic training, interactions among students, with teachers, gender relations and campus regulations? How do university authorities then manage the diversity and the pluralism, but also the competition, friction and outright clashes these developments entail? How does this affect the experience of being a student, a good Muslim and a good Christian? How are the “salvation goods” Salafis and Pentecostals offer, contribute to make life good?

It is important to keep in mind that these dynamics emerge on campuses previously dominated by leftist movements and secular ideologies (Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Laicité). Therefore, beyond the issues that emerge with Salafi and Pentecostal co-habitation of the campus, this project engages the overarching question of the redefinition of the student as an intellectual and sociocultural model. As the university undergoes this change and transformation process, a key goal of the project is to understand the re-entanglement first, between religious traditions, and then, between the religious and the secular.

Remoboko is a Leibniz Junior Research Group and runs from June 2018 until May 2023. It is based at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient of Berlin (ZMO) and is funded by resources of the Leibniz Competition. The project is headed by Dr Abdoulaye Sounaye.

Directorate: Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye

Researchers: Adejoke Rafiat Adetoro, Vincent Favier, Bello Adamou Mahamadou