Insa Nolte, PhD
Professor of Social Anthropology and African Studies
University of Birmingham
Born in 1969 in Göttingen, Germany
Studied Economics at the Freie Universität Berlin and African Studies at the University of Birmingham
Muslim Men, Christian Women: An African History of Gender and Religious CoexistenceWhy study Muslim-Christian relations in Africa? Over the past two decades, social historians, anthropologists, and scholars of religion have highlighted that histories of Muslim-Christian relations in Africa and Asia often differ significantly from those in Central and Western Europe and North America. My research focuses on the Yoruba of south-west Nigeria, where Muslims and Christians have coexisted largely peacefully for more than a century. It addresses the conceptual gap between the study of Muslim-Christian relations (usually explored through the lens of politics or communal history) and the study of everyday and gendered religious practice (typically explored within a single religious tradition) by focusing on the everyday relationships between Yoruba Muslims and Christians.
The key argument of my book is that gender is an anchor of Muslim-Christian relations among the Yoruba. Based on long-term collaborative and interdisciplinary research in Nigeria and previously neglected oral and Islamic sources, I highlight that nineteenth-century Yoruba men and women often followed diverse traditional religious practices. While men and women embraced Islam and Christianity differently, their roles were also transformed by the gendered con-ceptions that were part of Muslim and Christian practices. By the mid-twentieth century, men were more likely to be Muslims, and women more likely to embrace Christianity. As interfaith marriages became frequent, gender, marriage, and kinship shaped the mutual engagement of both religions.
While the Yoruba constitute an important case study of positive Muslim-Christian relations, twentieth-century Yoruba gender preferences for Islam and Christianity also reflect global patterns of religious engagement. I will therefore sharpen and expand my analysis through comparison with other African and Asian societies to refine the understanding of gender as a fulcrum of Muslim-Christian relations beyond south-west Nigeria. Insofar as such insights highlight the limits of European-centred approaches to religious difference, they also contribute to the emergence of a more global understanding of Muslim-Christian relations.
Nolte, Insa, Olukoya Ogen, and Rebecca Jones, eds. (2017). Beyond Religious Tolerance: Muslim, Christian and Traditionalist Encounters in an African Town. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer / James Currey.
Nolte, Insa (2019). “The Future of African Studies: What We Can Do to Keep Africa at the Heart of Our Research.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 31, no. 3: 296–313.
– (2020). “‘At Least I Am Married’: Muslim-Christian Marriage and Gender in Southwest Nigeria.” In Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 28, no. 2: 434–450.