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Researching Religion: The Interview

On Thursday, 1st of March, IFRA was happy to organise a seminar led by Dr. Sounaye Abdoulaye, research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) of Berlin, Germany.

A religious studies scholar trained at Northwestern University (United States), Dr. Sounaye is a specialist of Islam, which he has researched extensively in Niger and Nigeria. He has notably focused on Salafi leaders and movements. He is currently starting a project on religious practices on Nigerian campuses.

Dr. Sounaye opened the seminar by questioning the significance of religion in the Nigerian contemporary life. He noted that religious studies lie at the crossroad of social sciences, insofar as religions and society are entangled. Religion is encoded in a network of normative, axiological or aesthetical features assembled to generate a complete social fact.

In religious studies as in other fields, the interview has a key role in the implementation of the research process as an intersubjective exchange. It requires pragmatism and resilience to adapt to the interlocutor, but also a significant preparation: preliminary research is often indispensable, although displaying overtly immense knowledge about the topic researched is not always a pertinent strategy. The interaction is sometimes contingent to factors which are difficult to control. For example, some interviewers are more skilled than others in talking, some people connect very well with certain interlocutors (“good match”) but not with others, etc. The context is also crucial: the atmosphere, smells, visual environments may critically affect the conditions and outcome of the interview. Various participants in the seminar, who were as usual master and PhD students of the University of Ibadan in virtually all fields of the social sciences and humanities, were interested in the tension between the interview and other data collection strategies, such as participant observation. They debated their differences and the specific parts they play in the qualitative research process.

After the presentation and debates, Dr. Sounaye proposed to start a short field work exercise. Students were requested to take one hour in the surroundings of the Institute of African Studies to interview passers-by on religion. They formed teams and identified research questions around religious practices, identities and knowledges and started. After the exercise, they recounted their experience and explained the methods they used along with their main findings.

Seminar participants were so enthusiastic and active in sharing their experiences that the workshop largely exceeded the allocated time slot and ended in late afternoon. The seminar was also the opportunity for Dr. Sounaye to announce that he will partner with IFRA to select a funded doctoral student in Nigeria as part of his new project on religious practices on university campuses. More information about the project will be circulated in due course.

2018 03 01 seminar Abdoulaye Sounaye 1

IFRA director Dr. Elodie Apard introducing Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye

2018 03 01 seminar Abdoulaye Sounaye 2

The participants after the seminar

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