Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2018

Sean Hanretta

Associate Professor of History, Northwestern University

A Moving Minority in Twentieth-Century Ghana: Goods, Discourses, and the Trap of “Islamization”

Progress in understanding the institutions, forms of leadership, and textual traditions related to Islam in Africa has highlighted the need to link religious practices to transformations in social life. Elucidating such linkages requires accounting for the ideologies embedded in source bases. In modern Ghana, as elsewhere, colonial and postcolonial archives meld with the textual production of the ʿulamā' to reinforce a legalistic framework while the historical imaginary embedded in most oral accounts structures change in terms of “Islamization.” Yet when used to attend to personal interactions, affect, and materiality in weddings and funerals—including the social and temporal elaboration of ritual and the material concreteness of contact with the deceased and the grave—these sources illuminate profound reconfigurations of family, community, and politics. In the case of Ghana, they provide an opportunity to understand changes involving population movement in response to wage labor and urbanization in ways that avoid tropes of assimilation and tolerance. 

Sean Hanretta received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently an associate professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University. His book, Islam and Social Change in French West Africa: History of an Emancipatory Community, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009 and his shorter works have appeared in the Journal of African History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Past & Present, the Oxford Handbook of Modern African History, and other volumes.