The Spirit of Progress: Islamic Education, Development, and Modernity in Zanzibar


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




For many aid recipients, religion is a vital part of their lives. Yet in development programming it is largely sidelined, seen as an obstacle, or used simply as a tool to create program buy-in. This project is an ethnography of the contested terrain of Islam and development in Zanzibar, a site at the nexus of multiple projects of improvement and reform from British and Omani imperialism, Western development, and Islamic organizations with ties to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Drawing on 20 months of ethnographic and archival research among Islamic organizations in Zanzibar and the Gulf, it argues that contrary to dominant development frameworks that marginalize religion, these organizations utilize Islam as a transformative agent. Through a central focus on Islamic education, such organizations engage with and redefine dominant development approaches, utilize Islam to counter capitalist inequalities, and chart alternative trajectories of modernization in which religion is central—thereby redefining the project of development itself.