Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

ERC

KNOWING_EACH_OTHER Report Summary

Project ID: 283466
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - KNOWING_EACH_OTHER (Knowing each other: everyday religious encounters, social identities and tolerance in southwest Nigeria)

This project challenged the state-of-the-art by exploring interfaith and Muslim-Christian relations in Yoruba-speaking southwest Nigeria not through politics and public debate but through a focus on interpersonal relationships and social identity.

It made a ground-breaking intellectual contribution in two key ways. First, the project generated the first reliable survey on religion since the 1960s, and the first large-n ethnographic survey of attitudes and practices by Yoruba Muslims and Christians ever. This data is of major significance in a country where there is no accurate population register, and it will constitute a major resource for researchers in future. Parallel to the survey, the project carried out multidisciplinary qualitative field work including archival research and interviews, field notes, and locally printed texts in English, Yoruba, and Arabic. The analysis of this vast collection is expected to continue for several years after the end of the project.

The project highlighted the creative mobilization of religion and religious difference in a wide range of contexts and identified generation, education, and gender as crucial to understanding religious coexistence in southwest Nigeria.

First, challenging the idea that modern education is religiously neutral, research showed that in the 1950s and 1960s, Muslim-Christian conversion was closely associated with education. While the conversionary trend was later halted by an investment into Muslim schooling, it raises questions about the religious impact of ostensibly secular education that resonate with contemporary Islamic critiques. Importantly schools were also places of encounter that encouraged Muslim-Christian learning about the other religion.

Second, since the 1980s, women have been more likely to convert to Christianity than men. As the overall population boasts higher numbers of Christian women than men (and vice versa among Muslims), intermarriage between Muslim men and Christian women is frequent. But the dynamics of these marriages mean that female conversion has reduced the Muslim share of the population less than expected: following the local patrilineal ethos, children from such marriages are normally Muslims. As Muslim men rely on Christian wives and mothers, and Christian women depend on Muslim husbands for self-realisation as mothers, both communities are intimately dependent on each other.

These findings exceeded the expectations set out in the original project proposal, which focused on tolerance, a normative concept describing the endurance of something one disapproves of, as the basis for peaceful coexistence. But socially productive forms of Christian-Muslim coexistence such as interfaith marriage illuminate forms of religious coexistence ‘beyond’ the tolerance paradigm. Moreover, the pivotal role of Muslim-Christian marriage suggests that the philosophical reflection on interpersonal recognition, as developed by Axel Honneth, needs to engage with gendered difference as a potential anchor of religious (and other forms of) coexistence.

Both insights also confirm the epistemological importance of drawing on insights from Africa and the global South to interrogate theoretical notions developed in the global North.

Project findings were disseminated in public lectures and keynote addresses by myself and other team members in universities in Africa, Europe, the UK, and the US. In addition to organizing panels at existing conferences, the project has also organized three international conferences focusing on project themes in Nigeria and the UK, contributed to an exhibition on “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” at the British Library attended by over 19,000 visitors, and collaborated with two Category 2 UNESCO Institutes in Nigeria. Follow-on activities aimed at interfaith education in Nigerian schools are planned after the end of the project.

A growing body of project publications is strongly interdisciplinary. Published work arising from the project has been reviewed as ‘truly pioneering’ (Africa Spectrum 2017/2) and as charting ‘a new path toward understanding interfaith tolerance’ (American Ethnologist 44/3).

Reported by

THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
United Kingdom
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