The Iranian Revolution and Conversion to Shi’ism in Senegal

Seminar date: 
10 June 2008
Speaker(s): Mara Leichtman, visiting fellow at ISIM, Leiden

Mara A. Leichtman (Ph.D. Brown University 2006) is helping to build a new specialization in 'Muslim Studies' at Michigan State University and teaches courses on the anthropology of religion, Islam, Africa, the Middle East, globalization and ethnographic field methods. She has held visiting positions at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, Germany, and at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. Her research highlights the interconnections between religion, migration and politics, and conversion to Shi'a Islam, through examining Muslim institutions and the communities they serve. She is currently working on two book manuscripts: New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power and Femininity (with Mamadou Diouf, under contract with Palgrave Macmillan) and Becoming Shi'a in Africa: Lebanese Migrants and Senegalese Converts. 

The establishment of a Shi'a Islamic movement in Senegal is one alternative to following the dominant Sufi orders. I examine Senegalese conversion narratives and the central role played by the Iranian Revolution, contextualizing life stories (trans)nationally in Senegal's political economy and global networks with Lebanon and Iran. Converts localize foreign religious ideologies into a "national" Islam through their belief that Shi'a education can bring peace and economic development to Senegal. This seminar explores how proselytizing, new media technologies and Muslim networking can lead to social, cultural and perhaps even political change through translating the Iranian Revolution into a non-violent reform movement.