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Recap: Baraza with Dr. Marloes Janson

On Friday February 14, the Center for African Studies and the Center for Global Islamic Studies hosted a Baraza with Marloes Janson (University of London). Dr. Janson is a reader in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. Her publications include: “Studying Religious Pluralism in Yorubaland: A Tribute to J.D.Y. Peel.” Religion and Society: Advances in Research (2017); “The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in Megacity Lagos.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief (co-author, 2016); and Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jama’at (2013).

Dr. Janson’s lecture, “‘Moses is Jesus and Jesus is Muhammad’ – The Chrislam Movement in Nigeria” focused on the concept of religious pluralism. Religious pluralism describes when religious practitioners engage in multiple religions at the same site. This concept offers a fresh perspective on religions in a multi-faith setting, and Chrislam—Dr. Janson’s focus of study—is an example of this. During her research in Gambia, Dr. Janson interviewed youth who had encountered Chrislam preachers from Nigeria. After trying to find such preachers in Gambia, she went to Nigeria where she conducted nine months of ethnographic research.

She noted that the dynamics of Christian-Muslim encounters are still not fully understood. Largely they are approached as religious conflicts or interfaith dialogues. Dr. Janson has found that both approaches take religious boundaries for granted. Her research asked three key questions: (1) How can we conceptualize processes of religious mixing without falling into the pitfall of assuming an essentialized purity, as is the case with much work on syncretism (2) Which alternative concepts are available to examine the dynamics of multi-religious fields? And (3) What difference does it make to take multiplicity as the default?

Using ethnographic vignettes, Dr. Janson’s lecture detailed how participation in religious events for both Christian and Islam faiths works within the community. She noted that shared culture and ethnicity makes co-existence and shared religious practices possible and accepted in Yorubaland. Respondents had a pragmatic approach to religion, which she found to be characteristic of the Chrislam movement. Some of this she attributes to the failure of the Nigerian state to provide welfare to citizens. Thus, religious movements like Chrislam seek to provide economic and social support to followers in this void.