Northwestern Events Calendar


Mosques, Culture Clubs, and Embodied Ritual Debates: Re-making Islam in a New African Diaspora (Michelle Johnson)

When: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rebecca Shereikis   (847) 491-2598

Group: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Co-Sponsor: Program of African Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


Mosques, Culture Clubs, and Embodied Ritual Debates: Re-making Islam in a New African Diaspora

Join ISITA for a talk by Michelle Johnson (anthropology, Bucknell University).

Moderated by Zekeria Ahmed Salem, ISITA director and associate professor of political science, Northwestern University.


In this lecture, which is based on her book, Re-making Islam in African Portugal: Lisbon – Mecca – Bissau, Michelle Johnson explores how Muslim immigrants from Guinea-Bissau are revising their religious identity and ritual practices in Portugal. When Guinean Muslims leave their home in West Africa and make their way in and around Lisbon, they re-negotiate their relationship with their former colonizers and encounter two new diasporas: Luso-African immigrants from Portugal’s other former colonies and a transnational community of Muslims from the Middle East and South Asia. Members of this latter group have been the most influential for Guinean Muslim immigrants, inspiring them to interrogate their own Muslim beliefs and practices – rooted in “traditional” ritual practices – and their place in the global Muslim community.

Specifically, Johnson traces her research participants’ engagement in the sometimes converging and other times conflicting cultural spaces of mosques and culture clubs, and highlights debates focused on “proper” Islamic practice as expressed in two ethnographic examples: the writing-on-the hand ritual and Muslim healing-divining. Johnson argues that debates about embodied ritual practices are the primary way in which Guinean Muslims in Lisbon negotiate what it means to be simultaneously African and Muslim in an increasingly globalized world.  

About the speaker

Michelle C. Johnson is professor of anthropology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A cultural anthropologist specializing in religion and ritual in Africa and the contemporary African diaspora, she has conducted extensive fieldwork in Guinea-Bissau and with Guinean immigrants in Portugal. She has held grants from the Social Science Research Council, the U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays), and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Religion in Africa, the African Studies Review, Anthropology Quarterly, and Food and Foodways. Dr. Johnson is author of Re-making Islam in African Portugal: Lisbon – Mecca – Bissau (Indiana University Press, 2020) and co-editor of Reciprocity Rules: Friendship and Compensation in Fieldwork Encounters (Lexington Books, 2021). In 2019, she was awarded Bucknell University’s 1956 Lectureship for Inspirational Teaching. 

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