Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 7-9
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Cosponsored with the Institute of African Studies (IAS); The Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR);
and Committee on Global Thought (CGT)
Senegal is one of a very few countries with a large Muslim population (over 90 percent) that is governed by democratic institutions; and it is generally accepted that Sufi brotherhoods have played a crucial role in establishing this democratic and tolerant Senegalese society.
The two-day international conference, with the participation of Senegalese scholars, explores the trajectory of the making of this democratic and tolerant society, the tours and detours, the plural and changing expressions (political, social, cultural and aesthetical) it took since the early engagement of Islam and politics in Senegambia.
As part of this conference, Columbia University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture presents A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal, a landmark exhibition curated by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, which features contemporary Senegalese as well as representations of Sheikh Amadou Bamba, the founder of the Sufi Mouride brotherhood.
• Click here for an online tour of the exhibition.
At the exhibition’s opening at the Schomburg Center, Senegalese singer Musa Dieng Kala will perform a music recital, incorporating the poems of Sheikh Bamba.
- Conference Papers -
“Sufism: Spiritual and Democratic Revolution in Islam: The Case of Seengal”
• Mansour Sy Djamil, Caliph of the Seydi Moustapha Sy Jamil branch of the Tijanyya Sufi Brotherhood
This presentation is an exploration of the intersections of Sufism and social and political arrangements from within. As Sufi leader, a social actor and an intellectual in three different traditions of scholarship and thought — Muslim Senegalese, global Islamic and Western — Mansour Sy Djamil explores and engages critically with Sufi modes of spirituality and its appropriations and (re)shaping by Senegalese religious communities.
“The Senegalese ‘Social Contract’ Revisited: The Muridiyya and State Politics in Post
• Cheikh Babou, Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
The so-called Senegalese “social contract” has been the object of much scholarly interest. Some scholars credit the unusual stability of post-colonial Senegal in the politically chaotic West Africa to the political brokerage of Muslim brotherhoods (especially the Muridiyya). They argue that Muslim clerics, through the strict control over their disciples, provide the government with the legitimacy to ensure the loyalty of the citizens and in return receive recognition and material support from the state. This idea constitutes a cornerstone of the social contract theory. This paper presents a more contrasted picture of the relationships between disciples and sheikhs in the Muridiyya and its impact on the brotherhoods’ politics. It shares scholars’ view that the Muridiyya is one of the most powerful political brokers in Senegal and that it has historically played a major role in helping foster consent for government policies. However, it contends that the relationships between the Muridiyya and the Senegalese state are less stable and more complex than the social contract theory would let to believe.
“Debating Religion in the Age of Democracy: Senegal in Regional Perspective”
• Leonardo Villalón, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida
The idea that Sufi Islam has historically been more accommodating to democratic norms and institutions than other forms of Islam have been is much discussed by scholars of religion and politics. Senegal, in addition, has frequently been cited as a prime example of this “compatibility,” given the overwhelming predominance of Sufi forms of religious organization and the country’s historical political stability and relative liberalism. This paper will examine this relationship and argument by placing the Senegalese case within the regional Sahelian context, specifically in comparison with the evolving dynamics of religion and politics in Mali and Niger—two neighboring Muslim countries currently ruled under democratic regimes. This paper will argue in particular that the advent of a real substantive democratization of the political system since the early 1990s has brought a number of evolutionary changes that nuance and even call into question some of what had long been considered part of Senegal’s “success.”
“Senegalese Democracy from a Comparativist’s Viewpoint”
• Alfred C. Stepan, Wallace Sayre Professor of Government and Political Science, Columbia University
This paper attempts to make four interrelated contributions to the comparative literatures on secularism, human rights, citizenship, and democratization using Senegal as the primary case. First, Senegal has been ranked by some authorities as the leading democracy in the Islamic world since 2000. Second, much of the standard literature on religion and politics, building on France and the United States, implies that secularism, with a complete separation of church and state, is the most conducive institutional arrangement for democracy-building and the protection of human rights. But this paper shows how, and why, Senegal violates these French and American “lessons”. Empirical democratic theorists must abandon the idea of a singular secularism, and advance research concerning “the multiple secularisms of modern democracies”. Observations about Senegal’s social construction of a version of secularism they call “laïcité well understood and properly practiced” will hopefully encourage new thinking about alternative formulas for rights protection and democratization in polities where religions are practiced robustly.
• Read paper here.
“Global Circuits of Senegalese Muslims and Women’s Search for Religious Merit”
• Beth Buggenhagen, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University
This paper analyzes women’s search religious merit through feasting, offerings to the religious hierarchy and beauty and dress practices in Senegal and in its North American diaspora in New York City. These exchange practices characterize Mouride women’s participation in a number of public gatherings central to their devotional practices including meetings of religious associations, family ceremonies, and pilgrimages to the tombs of Sufi figures. This paper focuses on women’s financial and religious practices in the context of the annual visit of religious leaders during Sheikh Amadou Bamba Day and other Mouride conferences throughout the year (such as the visit by Serign Modou Kara Mbacke) and the way in which women’s financial practices have caught the eye of the Mouride clergy seeking to expand its moral and material might.
“Visualizing Dakar: Sufi Arts of Democracy”
• Allen F. Roberts, Director, Professor of World Arts and Cultures and the Director of the African Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Of the four major Sufi paths in Senegal, the Mourides are by far the most active artists, and the ways they are transforming—indeed, refabulating—inner city neighborhoods is the subject of this paper. “Refabulation” refers to the choosing of new fables, histories, and allusions to make places more suited to the felt needs of those seeing to such a transformation. The colonial lieux de mémoire of Dakar are being reconceived, renamed, and rebuilt by Mourides who cover walls with portraits of Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1853-1927), the saint whose teachings and life-lessons are central to the movement. A very distinctive visual piety has emerged among Mourides over the years, based upon the understanding that the portrait of Bamba is an icon—an active presence, that is, that conveys a blessing energy called baraka to all those viewing or passing it by. These portraits are democratic in their intentions for they bless everyone, even non-Muslims and expatriates who may be unaware of whom it is in the images.
• View the paper’s exhibition here.
“Dakar’s Sunnite Women: The Dialectic of Submission and Defiance in a Globalizing City”
• Erin Augis, Associate Professor of Sociology, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Since the 1990s, Senegal’s Islamic reformist movement has proliferated largely as a result of urban youths’ increasing interest in transnational forms of Sunni orthodoxy. These young people, who refer to themselves as “Sunnite,” have carved out spaces for personal spiritual and ethical expression from the discourses of the movement’s older male leadership, who for lack of electoral opportunities and popular support, focus their political discourse on critiquing how the Senegalese state’s secular policies affect women’s roles as wives and mothers. Young Sunnite women do not simply devise moral development within their leader’s debates, however; they also work to salvage their personal identities in Dakar’s rapidly changing economy. In shaping their own religious subjectivities, they challenge gender and class hierarchies embedded in some of the very capitalist forces which are promoted by the state and which also fuel the contemporary individualist ethics and forms of transnational activism supported by the Sunnite movement.
“Joking Kinships and the Crafting of Inter-ethnic and Religious Tolerance ‘From Below’ in Senegal”
• Etienne Smith, doctoral candidate, le Centre d’Etudes de Recherches Internationales à l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques
Senegal’s so-called ‘exceptionalism’ pertains to three spheres: the political (stable democracy), the religious (collaboration and tolerance) and the cultural (low politicization of ethnicity and cooptation of regionalisms). This paper focuses on the interplay between ethnicity and religion in Senegal, showing first the complex intersection between the two in past and present, and then discussing its consequences for Senegal’s “social contract”. Finally it argues that we need to broaden the picture beyond the sole religious sphere in order to notice a common pattern of relations: 1) informal accommodation at the top between the Senegalese state and groups in society (religious, linguistic, regional); 2) tolerance and inclusion from below through the extendable idiom of kinship. Its informality makes it difficult to theorize the Senegalese model of pluralism, but it may well be the clue to its resilience.
“Charismatic Cosmopolitanism: Sufi Sovereignty and Hidden Knowledge in the Global ‘Taalib Baay’ Network”
• Joseph Hill, postdoctoral fellow at the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies, University of Rochester
The relationship between Islam and secular democracy is not always a zero-sum contest privileging either an Islamic or a secular humanistic ground for sovereignty. Taalibe Baay in Senegal employ the Sufi opposition of apparent (zahir) and hidden (batin) truths to accommodate participation in multiple sovereignties and networks of governance. Taalibe Baay religious authorities resolve disputes and oversee daily happenings according to Islamic jurisprudence and mystical principles. However, they keep religious governance and its principles largely hidden and thus avoid conflict with secular authority. Disciples acquire fluency in these principles through a unique form of mystical education (tarbiyyah) that has circulated Sufi discourses and practices into daily Taalibe Baay practice and provided terms to relativize hegemonic notions of sovereignty. While secular liberalism aspires to pluralism by subordinating religious and cultural differences to universal humanism, Taalibe Baay practice a pragmatic pluralism acknowledging principles of knowledge and authority.
• Read paper here.
“Reconciling Monotheism and Polytheism: An Analysis of a Talismanic Textile of the Chicago Art
• Ousmane Kane, Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
This paper is an analysis of a Talismanic textile from Senegal, which is part of the Textile collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. It shows that magical objects, and talismans in particular, illustrate well the ways in which monotheists attempted to reconcile polytheism and monotheism.
“Islam, the Originaires and the Making of Public Space in a Colonial City: Saint Louis du Senegal”
• Mamadou Diouf, The Leitner Family Professor of History and Director of the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University
This paper explores the biography of a late 19th and early 20th century trader, H.G. Diop to reconstruct the contours of the public space in the French colonial city of Saint Louis du Senegal. Despite the fact that was established by the French, its political, cultural, social and moral economies were largely the product of multiple transactions, revisions and contestations. Such processes were (re)framed in various indigenous, trade networks and Atlantic contexts. The paper examines the diverse and changing (re)compositions that shaped continuously the Saint public space, in particular the role of Islam in its successive elaborations.
“Religions, Sufi Orders and the Project of Modernity in Senegal”
• Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
This presentation will examine the project, formulated by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Mamadou Dia, to build the Senegalese nation on a spiritualist socialist program of modernization and on the cooperation between the secular state and religion, particularly the Sufi orders, in order to achieve that goal. Senghor and Dia’s writings will be examined (with some emphasis on Senghor’s philosophy of “laïcité”) and their project confronted with the history of the relationships between the secular state of Senegal and the Sufi orders.