In Niger, where girl’s education is a fraught issue, schoolgirls are occasionally possessed by spirits said to have become homeless when, some time ago, the trees they dwelled in were cut to build new schools or expand existing ones. Situated at the intersection of religion, ecology, and education, this project considers what happens when schools emerge as both crucibles where futures are forged and sites of spiritual attacks that draw students back to some ancestral space-time. Through a focus on haunted schools, it explores 1) narratives of loss, displacement, subjection, and appropriation; 2) the wider claims about the past that these narratives authorize; and 3) how these claims reframe the present and ultimately call into question seemingly established futures. Far from distancing adolescent girls from a religious heritage that many have rejected, schools become entry points for the past to come rushing in, thereby endangering the very futures opened up by education. By derailing the progressive trajectories that schooling enables, possession lays bare existing struggles in the victims’ lives as well as larger constraints on future-making, forcing them to recalibrate their aspirations
Adeline Masquelier is an anthropologist who has worked in Niger, West Africa, for over thirty years. Her research centers primarily on religion. She has written about spirit possession, gender and purity, the Islamic revival, and Muslim youth, among other issues. She is the author or editor of several books, including, most recently, Fada: Boredom and Belonging in Niger (forthcoming), and the edited volume Critical Terms for the Study of Africa, with Gaurav Desai (2018).
Haunted Schools: Schooling, Possession, and Ecology in Niger
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01 Oct 2018 – 30 Sep 2019