Religious Change, Identity Politics and Uncertainty in Peri-Urban Northern Mozambique

This project is an ethnographic study of new religious movements in Nampula City, northern Mozambique. Over the past decade, the Makhuwa living in the peri-urban neighbourhoods of this city have witnessed a rapid transformation of their religious landscape. Whereas religious life in the urban periphery has historically been dominated by Makhuwa ritual specialists, the Catholic Church and by Shadhiliyya and Qadiriyya Sufi Orders, reformist mosques and Pentecostal churches have recently emerged to challenge this hegemony. As elsewhere in urban Africa, these newcomers share a great deal of common ground, despite their moorings in different traditions. They unsettle existing axes of identification along similar lines by privileging religious identity as primary and exclusive. The locus of imagined belongings is shifted away from the local and the postcolonial nation state towards the global where Brazil, Angola and the Middle East replace Europe and the Indian Ocean as the respective centres. In temporal terms, reformist mosques and Pentecostal churches advocate a linear image of time that juxtaposes tradition and modernity and repudiates as backwards Makhuwa notions of matrilineal descent. The research analyses the similarities and differences between the movements within a single conceptual framework. It thereby builds on previous fieldwork in Nampula City, conducted between 2010 and 2012 on the topics of Islamic reformism, pluralism and dispute management. Among other themes, the current project explores reformist and Pentecostal identity politics, practices of piety, attitudes towards urban space and temporality, and questions of knowledge formation and uncertainty.

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