Followers of the Marabout: Spiritual Hierarchy and the Economy of Knowledge in a Muslim Pilgrimage Center in Niger


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Scholarship on Islam, especially on Sufism in Africa, has tended to focus on leaders. This dissertation takes a broader approach by emphasizing interaction and the role of followers. Relationships between Muslim holy persons (marabouts) in Niger and their followers show that significant transformations are taking place. Historically, marabouts have depended on gifts from followers, but followers are increasingly re-conceptualizing their relationships with marabouts in commodified ways. They are beginning to understand marabouts less as leaders and more as specialists in the technology of knowledge. Thus, followers are instrumental in reshaping not only the structure of their relationships with marabouts, but also the economic underpinnings of spiritual hierarchy.