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Articles Tagged with Senegal

Evangelical Africanist

An interview with Robert Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Being a religious studies professor means that Robert Baum is frequently asked about his own religion, to which he responds cheerfully, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist,” a remark that reveals his “deep commitment to make sure Africa is included whenever we talk about the world.” Running through all of Baum’s work—whether teaching, research, or outreach—is a value on religious literacy, the desire to promote a better understanding of the world’s major religions.

Audio and Video Tagged with Senegal

Fieldwork in Senegal

From an interview with Robert Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies
In 1974, Baum received a Thomas J. Watson fellowship to study Diola religion in Senegal. He lived in a southern Diola community, learned the language, gained the community’s trust, and has returned there over the years to conduct historical and ethnographic research. “I learned the language, learned how to wrestle, how to work in the rice paddies, how to climb palm trees, how to harvest palm wine, [and do] some of the dances.” Baum never used an interpreter. Only after participating in the community for a year, and learning the language, did he feel ready to begin doing interviews. Baum recollects the process: “I kept going back, and by that time I’d been adopted by my family and was considered part of the community. I had a Diola name and nicknames, I publicly danced sacred dances, I wrestled, and was thrown to the ground—which is certainly a way of winning acceptance in a community and defying certain stereotypes of what it means to be white or European in an African culture.”

From Male-Centered to Female-Centered

From an interview with Robert Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Asked why the Diola prophet shifted from a male-centered system to female-centered one, Baum was willing to offer his preliminary thoughts. “I think it has a lot to do with the discrediting of male authority [during] the colonial conquest,” he says, as well as a series of failures, including the failure of male military victory, the failure of men to resist forced labor, and the failure of male spirit shrines and priests to repel the French, Portuguese, and British colonizers. The female spirit shrines were seen as being extremely powerful in protecting women and, moreover, women tended to stay at home with the children, becoming a source of cultural continuity. “The erosion of respect for male leadership,” concludes Baum, “had a lot to do with the coming forward of a generation of women prophets, and the lack of opportunity in the new religions of Islam and Christianity.”