Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

Research Masterclass in Nigeria

Monday, April 30, 2018

The director of the Institute of African Studies, Brian Larkin, is a Professor of anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University. His research focuses on the ethnography and history of media in Nigeria. Most broadly he examines the introduction of media technologies into Nigeria—cinema, radio, digital media—and the religious, political, and cultural changes they bring about. He explores how media technologies comprise broader networked infrastructures that shape a whole range of actions from forms of political rule, to new urban spaces, to religious and cultural life. He is currently completing the manuscript for Secular Machines: Media and the Materiality of Islamic Revival, which analyzes the role media play in the rise of new Islamic movements in Nigeria and explores theoretical questions about technology and religion.

Larkin lead a research masterclass jointly organized by Sciences Po, Columbia University, the University of Ibadan and IFRA Nigeria that was held in June 2017. It brought 18 junior doctoral students from all over Nigeria to the University of Ibadan for an intensive workshop designed to train students in the intellectual questions, methods, and writing strategies relevant for their future careers. Students engaged in reading seminars around the topic of Sacred Urbanism, developed intellectual questions around that topic, and engaged in primary research at a field site.

The masterclass examined arguments about the ways in which religious movements are increasingly coming to shape the future of urbanism in Nigeria. It has long been true that urban studies has viewed religion as something that happens in cities but not as a producer of urban space. In response to this, recent scholarship examines the ways that faith-based movements are increasingly coming to take on a role formerly played by the state in shaping the infrastructures, residences, schools, economies, and cultural practices of urban life. This is spectacularly the case in the prayer cities that have formed along the Lagos-Ibadan corridor in which massive gated communities represent a distinct form of gated urbanism complete with electricity supply, road building, education and health facilities, and water supply all provided by religious institutions rather than the state.

Students engaged in primary research in three different religious sites in order to understand how religious groups alienate and control land, the forms of governance and sovereignty that emerges in these spaces and how these interact with the state, and why people live within religiously demarcated urban space.

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Funded by the African Humanities Project (Columbia-Sciences Po) supported by the French American Cultural Exchange Partner University Fund and the Alliance Program.