Modernity, Islam and Peace in Independent Senegal: The dynamics of the role of Islamic authorities in peace building and conflict handling (1962 - 2012)


Aboubakr Tandia

Research Area:


The Senegalese social contract as it has been unfolding since independence provides for specific relationships between the religious and the political power. Those relationships are mediated by the principles of equilibrium, cordiality and reciprocity, in moral, political and economic domains, between those two orders of power. As a means of a multilayered decolonization based on the ideologies of “African socialism”, “secularism” and “spiritualism”, the role of religion in Senegal during the process of state-building has been characterized “as a driving force of modernization and development of a new secular nation-state in Senegal” (Diagne 2009:2). This was the content of the modernity project formulated by the first leaders of newly independent Senegal. Following and contrary to what has been observed from the regimes of Senghor and Diouf, the regime of President Wade has laid the ground for a partisan expression of religious and confessional affiliations in the public sphere. This I call the “generalized fetishization” of religious identities. What is more, behind this lies the promotion of a politics of identity that seem to threaten the republican principles of secularism, i.e. the strict separation of the religious and the political (public) spheres, and the validity of the social contract as it emerged during Senegal’s founding period. Many conflicts and tensions have resulted from this configuration, not only between religious groups and institutions, but also between the latter and political powers.


The main objective of this study is to revisit the project of modernization described above. The central question the research will address is: to what extent do the interventions of religious institutions in peace building and conflict management evoke and contribute to the (de) construction of modernity in independent Senegal?


My research aims at contributing thus to the debate over whether there is one modernity everywhere to which all cultures contribute, or whether there are several ‘modernities’, each culture producing its own one. One of the main interests of this research proposal is that it addresses the questions of how modern societies are facing complex challenges to establish peace, stability as well as mutual understanding and dialogue and how they respond to violence and conflict. The configuration in Senegal, as shortly described above, seems to hint at innovative discourses and practices of conflict management and peace building, beyond the monopolization of violence by the modern state. This study seeks to cross-fertilize theories of peace, conflict and social contracts. In doing so, it aims at contributing to the theoretical and conceptual debates in this field. The methodology is interdisciplinary and comprises archival and qualitative social science research methods and fieldwork.