Contested knowledge, sociality, and religion: intellectual culture under postcolonial conditions on the Swahili coast and beyond
This project documents and analyzes biographical pathways, social engagements, and communally related topical concerns in the trajectories of relevant influential figures (social leaders, activists, thinkers and teachers) in the Swahili region, who are largely identified, or identify themselves, as Muslim scholars or Islamic intellectuals. How are these agents embedded in society; by what means and actions do they gain recognition; and how do they gain and increase followers and influence (while committed to different ideological agendas, in terms of politics, Islamic reform, etc.)? These questions are pursued in a collaboration with academic and non-academic scholars from the region, and combining ethnography and archival research with close readings, interviews and dialogical exchanges with local interlocutors (in person and by social media). Thus by means of an ethnographic pathway that combines fieldwork methods with contextualizing readings and interpretations of materials, this project engages in a new approach to the study of local intellectuals and public debate, and regional intellectual history and the intellectual practice of individual agents, as engrained in regional history and social experience. Hereby, attention to the dimensions of postcolonial experience more generally, as well as the specific political tensions between Muslims and the state – that play out differently in Kenya and Tanzania, also with a view to their wider transregional connections – is an important concern. The concrete initial focus is on handful of scholars from Lamu, on the Northern Swahili coast, with a view to pursuing contrasting case studies in a complementary consecutive phase.