Islam, History, and Tradition in Contemporary Mali

A presentation by Benjamin Soares, anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at the Afrika-Studiecentrum in Leiden, The Netherlands.

Monday, April 07, 2008
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
10th floor
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095


  • In recent years, political and economic reforms, cutbacks in state services and education, increased global interconnections, and the spread of new media technologies have all had a dramatic impact in Africa. Such processes have also had a profound influence on the practice of religion in Africa in ways we are just beginning to understand. Avoiding both facile understandings of Islamism/political Islam and quaint and static notions of “African Islam,” I propose a way of thinking about Islam in Africa that draws attention to history and “tradition,” as well as the particularities of the present. I consider recent and sometimes dramatic transformations in religious practice in Mali. In doing so, I reflect upon changing modalities of religious expression, modes of belonging, and contemporary ways of being Muslim in the current neoliberal era and more broadly upon the relationship between religion and economy.


  • Benjamin Soares, an anthropologist, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Afrika-Studiecentrum in Leiden, The Netherlands. He has conducted research on Islam and religious encounters in Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal, as well as among West African Muslims living in France. He has held fellowships at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and at the University of Chicago and taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Sussex. His publications include Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town (2005), as well as the edited collections, Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa (2007) and Islam et politique en Afrique (forthcoming in 2008), both with René Otayek, Muslim-Christian Encounters in Africa (2006), and Islam and Politics: Anthropological Perspectives (with Filippo Osella), a special issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (forthcoming in 2009).

Enter campus at Wyton Drive and Hilgard Avenue.

Cost : Free & open to the public; pay-by-space and all-day parking ($8) is available in not 3.

James S. Coleman African Studies Center

Sponsor(s): African Studies Center