The Conference and the Context

This conference will launch an African Centre for advanced study of Christianity and Islam in Africa. It will bring together international scholars for three days of interdisciplinary study related to interaction between Muslims, Christians and their traditions. Through panels, presentations and round tables, the conference will serve as a nexus for conversations which bring together research from historians, translators, educators, inter-faith specialists, textual scholars and others who share an interest in the intersection of Christianity and Islam. It will also collaborate with the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, Oxford (CMCS), in convening local, regional and international associates who share an interest in developing advanced study of Christianity and Islam in their regions.

Territory, hospitality and the West African context

The theme of ‘territory’ reflects the observation that most tensions between Christians and Muslims – and, indeed, between other human groups – have to do with the question of who is in control in a particular place. There is a triangle of people (be they a family, a tribe, a religious group or another ethnic group), power (who makes decisions?) and land (the place where they live) [See Ida Glaser, The Bible and Other Faiths, IVP/Langham, 2005]. These tensions are evident across Africa whether it is open conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and Central African Republic, or tensions between pastoralist groups and peasant farmers over land in West and East Africa.

The theme of ‘hospitality’ reflects the observation that tensions are less where the peoples involved practice hospitality towards others. In the African continent where Christians and Muslims compete for land and power with each other, and with African tradition, it has been demonstrated that the harmonious co-existence of Christians and Muslims even within families is related to African traditions of hospitality [See various works by Lamin Sanneh and John Azumah].  How far, we might ask, might such ideas of hospitality address issues arising from current movements of peoples between countries?

In the contemporary world, religion and the relationship between adherents of different religions are debated on multiple platforms. The discussion may rely on simplistic portrayals of Christianity and Islam, and present the two faiths in oppositional terms without consideration of regional, cultural and doctrinal differences between and within the faiths. For example, in Western circles, Christianity is largely discussed in relation to secularism and rising atheism, whilst Islam is mostly discussed in terms of current affairs and debates about multiculturalism. It is also seen as an apparently recent phenomenon, despite a millennium of interaction between Europe and Islamic empire which ended only in 1924 with the dissolution of the Ottoman sultanate.

The new African Centre in Ghana offers a different context which challenges the polarities of current discourse: this exploration of territory and hospitality promises not only to develop fresh understandings for a rapidly changing Africa, but also to bring insights into global discussions and to point ways forward for study and future engagement world-wide. To continue our comparison with the western discourse in the context of secularism: on the African continent, in contrast to much of the West, religion is seen as integral to humanity, so that Christianity and Islam are expressions of an essential aspect of humanity. There is much longstanding variety within Christianity and Islam across Africa, but it has generally been true that Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa share daily life, and that there are many in inter-faith families and some acts of shared public worship. Across Africa, there are daily contacts between the two faith groups that have been termed a ‘dialogue of life.’ The pacifist histories and tendencies of the Christian and Islamic traditions are, however, not homogenous across borders and communities. Geo-political issues and radicalisation have increasing influence, and regional conflicts are often expressed in terms of conflict between religions. So, our questions are relevant and urgent.

People, law, history, theology: the territory questions

In democracies, territories are usually defined within nation states or in regions within those states. There are peoples who see themselves as indigenous, there are peoples who see themselves as long-term residents, and there are new immigrant communities. There are questions about how the religious laws of different communities relate to the national laws, but it is generally agreed that law-making proceeds according to local precedent, on the basis of an established national constitution, through democratically elected government, and in accordance with international ‘Human Rights’. The religious basis of such laws is seldom made explicit.

In sub-Saharan Africa, territories may be defined according to long-established tribal tradition, and some of these territories are not bounded in ways which fit the ‘nation state’ model. This is particularly true of areas populated by pastoral and nomadic peoples. Further, different peoples may have their lives regulated by different laws even within a single village. Islamic shari’ah, African tradition and European-style secular law may exist side by side, all functioning under an overall nation state constitution. For example, couples might be subject to different legal systems depending on whether they were married in an Islamic ceremony, through simply beginning to live together, or in church.

The Christian and Muslim dimensions are, then, of great importance in thinking about territory: there is not only the question of who has the power in an area, but of what kind of law prevails. Is it Islamic law, traditional African, international human rights law, or some kind of Christian law? Alongside the question of how peoples can co-exist is the question of how legal systems can co-exist. Discourse depends on the extent of agreement on the historical narrative that has shaped the governance of shared territories. Such underlying issues are not always stated, and the different communities may be unaware of each other’s versions of their shared histories. Further, issues are often intertwined with religious views of territory and jurisdiction as well as with concerns about religious community and identity. The religious views, in their turn, derive from scripture and tradition, and from the historical and theological movements which have shaped the different religious identities. Again, such issues are not always stated or understood.   

Learning to live together

The organisers of this conference believe that, for Muslims and Christians to live at peace with each other in the 21st century, the legal, historical and theological issues surrounding ‘territory’ and hospitality needs to be acknowledged and understood. This is a multi-disciplinary task, and it is also a shared task: Muslims and Christians will need to understand each other’s views on these issues, and of the texts, history, law and theology which determine them.

In order to live together, we need to learn together. We need a model of how learning may take place between Muslims and Christians that promotes peaceful co-existence. The conference will develop such a model in the particular context of the territory and hospitality questions. The model will use the theme of mutual hospitality, in which we can offer space to hear each other’s ideas and beliefs as we consider how we can share territorial space. We anticipate that this model will prove fruitful for many other future investigations. We will include a dimension of public discourse, so that the scholarly learning together will be part of a broader learning together.

Summary of objectives

In relation to the issue of territory:

  • to use an inter-disciplinary approach to explore regional histories and conditions

  • to compare differences and similarities of texts, their interpretations, and consequent political, legal and social outcomes

  • to encourage Muslims and Christians to work together on collaborative research projects

In relation to learning to live together:

  • to develop a model for Christian and Muslim scholars to learn with and from each other on the basis of rigorous research

  • to provide the occasion for Muslims, Christians and wider public to encounter each other and challenge preconceived notions of Islam and Christianity

  • to develop scholarship and networks to continue this learning across the globe


Programme

The conference will model an interactive method which puts together presentations of academic research and of practical collaboration in the form of themed panels that combine a research paper, relevant case studies and reflection. Such a varied programme hopes to optimise access to different regional, cultural and theological perspectives.

Day 1: Contemporary experiences

The conference will begin with an overview of contemporary issues relating to relations between Christians and Muslims that is pertinent to local contexts. Presentations are invited that analyse current social, political and geographic factors with relevance to Muslims and Christians sharing territory and learning together. The day will begin with relevant case studies, which will be chosen to give current practical contexts for the ensuing discussions. The second half of the day will be taken up by further presentations and a plenary response to the contemporary issues raised throughout the day.

Day 2: Historical experiences

The second day will draw together historical studies of Muslim-Christian relations in local contexts. Presentations are invited that describe and analyse historical aspects with relevance to Christians and Muslims sharing territory and learning together.

The programme will again feature case studies. The day will move towards reflection on the contemporary issues recorded on Day 1 in the light of the historical studies, with additional historical analysis where relevant. The evening will be taken up by keynote presentations from scholars who have extensive experience and academic grounding on the interface of Islam and Christianity.

Day 3  Scriptural, theological and traditional grounding

The third day of the conference will explore the texts of Christians and Muslims, presenting readings of Christian texts in the context of Islam and readings of Islamic texts in the context of Christianity. The focus will be on texts and traditions relevant to questions of sharing territory, demonstrating how Christians and Muslims learn from their texts and from each other. The day will end with a reflective plenary that brings together the discussions of contemporary and historical issues facing relations between Muslims and Christians, and the texts that have informed the practicalities.


Call for Papers

The Sanneh Institute: Research, Religion & SocietyAt the University of Ghana, Legon
 Re: Inaugural Conference and Ceremony – Call for Papers.

The inauguration of The Sanneh Institute has been scheduled for February 26-29, 2020, in Accra, Ghana. The inaugural ceremony, which is planned for Saturday, February 29 at the Great Hall, on the campus of the University of Ghana, will be preceded by an international academic conference. The theme of the conference is “Territoriality and Hospitality: Christians and Muslims learning to live together”. Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Prof. Farid Esack of the University of Johannesburg, a leading South African Muslim scholar and anti-apartheid campaigner will deliver the inaugural lectures. The conference will bring together Christian and Muslim scholars from Africa, Asia and the West, for three days for an interdisciplinary study related to interaction between Muslims, Christians and their traditions. Conference papers will focus on the theme of territoriality and hospitality from Christian, Islamic and traditional African perspectives. The Sanneh Institute is working collaboratively with the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies in Oxford (CMCS) to convene the conference and invite a group of international participants who are committed to the advanced study of Christianity and Islam in their regions.

The theme of the conference is intended to foster reflection on the life and work of Prof. Lamin Sanneh (d. 2019) for whom the Institute is named, and who embodied and articulated the intersections between the two religious traditions. The panels, presentations and roundtables of the conference will serve as nodes of interaction among historians theologians, translators, educators, inter faith specialists, textual scholars and others whose research and academic interests focus on the intersections of Christianity and Islam. Papers presented at the conference will be selectively considered for publication in an edited volume as a festschrift for the late Prof. Lamin Sanneh.

Territoriality, Hospitality and the West African context

The theme of ‘territoriality’ reflects the view that tensions between Christians and Muslims – and, indeed, between other societies – have mainly to do with the question of who is in control in a particular place. The Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies has identified territoriality as an important theme of a major research project which will aim to identify and understand the territorial elements underlying current issues.[1]  This conference will seek to explore the theme of territoriality from the Islamic, Christian and Traditional African perspectives with the view of setting the tone for conversations around key topics and issues identified for research by The Sanneh Institute.  

The theme of ‘hospitality’ reflects the contention that inter-religious tensions tend to be considerably less where there is active practice of hospitality across religious lines. In particular, the African continent has often demonstrated that the harmonious co-existence of Christians and Muslims even within families is related to African traditions of hospitality. Such themes of tolerance and accommodation have been explored by Lamin Sanneh; not least the idea that indigenous religions played host to the incoming religions of Christianity and Islam in Africa. But, with Christians and Muslims vying for territory and limited resources with each other, and with traditional African communities, accommodation is trumped by acrimony. Tensions between herders and farmers in West Africa is a case in point. How far, we might ask, could the concept and practice of hospitality in the various traditions address issues of settlement, migration and border crossings in other parts of the world?

 In the contemporary world, religion and the relationship between adherents of different faiths are debated on multiple platforms. The discussion sometimes relies on simplistic portrayals of Christianity and Islam and presents the two faiths in oppositional terms without considering regional, cultural and doctrinal differences between and within religious traditions. For example, in western circles, Christianity is largely discussed in relation to secularism and rising atheism, whilst Islam is mostly discussed in terms of current affairs and debates about multiculturalism. It is also seen as an issue of recent migrations, despite a millennium of interaction between Europe and the Islamic empire which ended only in 1924 with the dissolution of the Ottoman sultanate.

 The life and work of Prof. Lamin Sanneh points out that on the African continent, in contrast to much of the West, religion is seen as integral to humanity, so that Christianity and Islam are expressions of an essential aspect of humanity.[2] In West Africa, there are daily contacts between the two faith groups which have been termed a ‘dialogue of life.’ The pacifist histories and tendencies of traditional religions, Christianity and Islam are, however, not uniform across borders and communities. Geo-political issues and extremism dominate public debate, and regional conflicts are often expressed in terms of conflict between religions, making our questions relevant and urgent.

 Call for Papers

The Sanneh Institute offers a new context which seeks to challenge the polarities of current discourse:  this exploration of territoriality and hospitality promises not only to develop fresh understandings for a rapidly changing Africa, but also to contribute new insights to global conversations and to point the ways forward for study and future engagement world-wide. The planning team herewith issues a call for abstracts to be submitted by August 31st, 2019 to Georgina Jardim at ghanaconf@cmcsoxford.org.uk. Abstracts with a title of the presentation, should be written in English, of 500 words maximum, and include the name and institutional affiliation of the author. Submissions will be subject to a selection process for presentation at the conference to ensure a balance of perspectives that address the theme of the conference in terms of historical and contemporary experiences, as well as scriptural and theological grounding of hospitality and territoriality.

[1] This typically involves a triangle of people (be they a family, a tribe, a religious group or another ethnic group), power (decision makers) and land (the place where they live)--see Ida Glaser, The Bible and Other Faiths, IVP/Langham, 2005,     

[2] As he notes about his own West African upbringing, “Society here is not just the sublimation of sacred, binding customs, but the commissary of God”, Summoned from the Margin, p. 12