Conversations with Wendell Marsh

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Date & Time: 
Friday, October 20, 2017
4:00pm to 6:00pm

"Genealogies of Race and Religion in Colonial Senegal"

Abstract:
Many scholars have noted the importance of a racialized understanding of religion in the French colonial project in the areas in and around contemporary Senegal.
Islam noir -- the concept that distinguished African Muslims from so-called white Muslims of the Arab heartlands, by virtue of a personal and charismatic model of devotion institutionalized in Sufi orders, a syncretic and non-textual orientation to religious practice, and an easily governable docility -- is now said to be a relic of a racist colonial past that must be got beyond. In this talk, I propose that some of the ways that contemporary scholars have tried to go beyond race fail to appreciate the work that different ideas of race did in negotiations between colonial administrators and Muslim notables. The theory of a racialized Islam was used in the production of durable structures during the colonial period that have shaped the way Islam has been understood, lived, and governed. Instead of either discarding race or enshrining it as a transhistorical human category, I examine the Franco-Senegalese racial project and its development of Islamic structures during the colonial moment by reading a genealogy of the saintly figure al-Hajj Umar Tal by Shaykh Musa Kamara. Taken from The Most Deicious of Sciences and the Best of the News in the Life of Hajj Umar, this excerpt of a 1935 text offers a critical view of what was emerging as the joint racial project of the colony-state and indigenous elites as well as the powerful structures of the Sufi brotherhoods in a process of mutual accommodation.

Speaker: Wendell Hassan Marsh, PhD Candidate
Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies-Columbia University


Location:
Columbia University
758 Schermerhorn Ext.