ASCL Seminar: Religious engineering - a practice approach to (religious) projects of social transformation

Marabouts chant during a marriage ceremony in Niger. Photo credits: Amadou Ibrahim (through Wikimedia Commons).

Please note this lecture will take place at 11.00 AM (CET) - online. Registrees will receive a link a few days before the lecture.

This lecture presents the ongoing research project "Religious engineering. The making of moralities, development and religion in Niger", carried out with Paula Schrode, Mahaman Tidjani Alou and two doctoral students, Hamissou Rhissa Achaffert and Abdoulaye Ibrahim Bachir.

Searches for transformation on the African continent are shaped by a high frequency of interventions by international experts and organizations of all kinds, as well as many (trans-) national and civil society initiatives. Our research focuses on transformation projects in Niger, which strive for a "just", "liberated" or somehow "better" society, and that are in one way or another related to religious traditions, for instance, projects by Islamic associations, Pentecostal Churches, or development actors.

The talk introduces "religious engineering" as a concept for analyzing those active and conscious attempts to work on the future shape of society, which refer to religious resources such as religious teachings, actors, institutions, or symbols. It assumes that relating to a religious tradition with the purpose of "improving" a particular situation is a way to both, "engineer" society and the religious tradition itself. The perspective of "religious engineering" adds ethnographic complexity to the study of the religion/development-nexus and aims to better understand processes in Niger, which are generally described as Islamization, NGO-ization or development.

Studying transformative practices with a "religious engineering" perspective not only helps to see how notions of "change" and differentiations between "religious" and "secular" evolve and become blurred in and through these practices; by understanding projects of transformation as competing moral projects, it also explores ways of doing ethics through the manifold practices of improving or developing society and religion.

Since May 2014, Eva Spies is a professor for the Study of Religion with focus on Africa at the University of Bayreuth. She studied social and cultural anthropology, the study of religion, and political science in Tübingen and Mainz. In her anthropological PhD at the University of Mainz, she worked on intercultural contacts in the context of development cooperation in Niger (Spies 2009). In her current research, she engages with the interface of religion and development cooperation. She is interested in forms of religious engineering, with which she designates attempts to shape and improve religious, social, and political worlds. The engineers are actors who refer to religious ressources (practices, teachings, symbols, or institutions) within their projects of transformation.

Date, time and location

25 February 2021
11.00 - 12.30
Online event