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Research Masterclass: “Sacred Urbanism Entrepreneurial Religion, Infrastructure and the New Urbanism in Nigeria”

From Monday 19th to Friday 23rd of June 2017, a Research masterclass jointly organized by Sciences Po, Columbia University, the University of Ibadan and IFRA Nigeria was held. It brought 18 junior doctoral students from all over Nigeria to the University of Ibadan for an intensive workshop designed to train students in the intellectual questions, methods, and writing strategies relevant for their future careers. Students engaged in reading seminars around the topic of Sacred Urbanism, developed intellectual questions around that topic, and engaged in primary research at a field site.

About the Masterclass

The masterclass examined arguments about the ways in which religious movements are increasingly coming to shape the future of urbanism in Nigeria. It has long been true that urban studies has viewed religion as something that happens in cities but not as a producer of urban space. In response to this, recent scholarship examines the ways that faith-based movements are increasingly coming to take on a role formerly played by the state in shaping the infrastructures, residences, schools, economies, and cultural practices of urban life. This is spectacularly the case in the prayer cities that have formed along the Lagos-Ibadan corridor in which massive gated communities represent a distinct form of gated urbanism complete with electricity supply, road building, education and health facilities, and water supply all provided by religious institutions rather than the state.

In discussions, our group posed the question, is this so and if it is, how does it take place? For instance, one can argue that religious marked areas are not new in Nigeria but were engineered into the modern urban fabric through the colonial production of Sabon Garis as legally, ethically and religiously segregated communities. The existence of gated compounds with their own infrastructural organization has, for decades been also been the de facto living arrangement for many foreign workers and oil compounds. The class discussed whether the emergence of ‘Prayer Cities’ is something radically distinct or merely an intensification of long held practices. It was decided that rather than speak of ‘religious space’ as a monolithic category it is better to conceptualise this as a range of differing types of religious space each with their own modalities.

Students developed three intellectual questions to guide their primary research:

  1. How do religious groups alienate and control land?

  2. What are the forms of governance and sovereignty that emerges in these spaces and how do these interact with the state?

  3. For those who live within religiously demarked urban space, why do they do so? What does living in a religious space mean for these residents?

On Wednesday 21st of June, students were split into three groups and engaged in primary research in three different religious sites in order to answer these questions. The sites were: Sabo, the famous Muslim Hausa enclave within Ibadan; Gospel Town, 30 acre large gated compound of the Gospel Faith Ministry International (Gofamint); and the Ashram of the Mahari-Ji Sat Guru. These represent a range of differing types of religious space.


  • Prof. Olufunke ADEBOYE (University of Lagos)

  • Prof. Saheed ADERINTO (Western Carolina University)

  • Dr. Elodie APARD (IFRA-Nigeria)

  • Prof. Laurent FOURCHARD (Science Po)

  • Prof. Brian LARKIN (Barnard College, Columbia University)

  • Dr. Yomi OGUNSANYA (University of Ibadan)

Masterclass E-Papers

Read "Sacred Urbanism Entrepreneurial Religion, Infrastructure and the New Urbanism in Nigeria" e-papers

2017 06 research masterclass 1
Masterclass students ready to embark in field research in the Gospel Faith Ministry International (GOFAMINT)
2017 06 research masterclass 2
Dr. Apard addressing students on fieldwork methodology
2017 06 research masterclass 3
The Sabo Team conducting an interview in the surroundings of the Central Mosque
2017 06 research masterclass 4
The Satguru Maharaj Ji Village where Masterclass participants are about to enter


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