Negotiating Moral Life: Intra-Religious Conflict and Everyday Ethics in Ghana

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Arab and Islamic Studies


This proposed research explores intra-religious conflict in Ghana. Through a critical engagement with current debates in the anthropology of Islam, it will challenge homogenous categorisations of Muslims,
and destabilise privileged frameworks, proposing a novel framework that will pay more attention to ethical complexity.

The scholarship of Islam and moral life, whilst expansive and reflective, unduly privileges the role of modernity in determining and understanding moral life. Questions concerning loyalty towards Islamic
movements, the role of resonance with the unseen, and notions of what it means to live a good life against a background of negotiating legitimacy and conflict, are essential in destabilising this privileging.
These questions are central for understanding the moral lives of Muslims in contexts in which they are generally seen as (1) responding to modernity through a process of "radicalisation", and (2) impacted
primarily by ethical norms determined by the values of modernity. This thesis will argue that new and more nuanced perspectives concerning moral life and Islam can be obtained by decentring this axis of
modernity. Broadening the question of moral life in this way, the proposed research aims to consider the ways in which intra-religious conflict plays a primary role in shaping the everyday interactions of Islamic moral life, through dynamics which are not principally bound by modern values. Therefore, the key research question this thesis seeks to address is, "How is moral life shaped in the experience of intra-religious conflict?"

The Covid-19 situation permitting, primary research will be gathered through ethnographic fieldwork. The aforementioned questions lend themselves to ethnography, as observations of everyday discourses, religious ceremonies, practices and lectures, and local media, will play an essential role in uncovering the lived realities of everyday ethics. For example, Thurston notes that canonical splits in the Salafi community often occur during Friday sermons. Therefore, it will be essential to attend Friday sermons (usually performed in Arabic and repeated English), along with classes and lectures, and interact with participants within and outside mosques.

Fieldwork will be carried out in Accra and Tamale, as they will provide localities of axis and engagement to examine intra-religious interactions and the contextualisation of politics and power, and a base to
access participants and spaces of the everyday. Specific institutions include the Accra Furqan National Mosque, which houses the Office of the National Chief Imam (the Tijaniyya central hub and Islamic
representative of Muslims in Ghana), and the Afa Ajura Mosque in Tamale (a key location of the ASwJ movement, named after the eminent Ghanaian Salafi imam). These institutions, the primary sites of Friday sermons and lectures, are public and generally accessible. Mosque imams will be contacted, and if consent is given, would act as gatekeepers once the details of the fieldwork are explained and discussed. Further, if institutional access is granted on the grounds of transparency, regular mosque-goers will be asked to participate in interviews and observation, if consent is given after participant
confidentiality is assured.

Although English is the national and most spoken language in Ghana, beginners' Dagbani classes will be taken through the free online initiative prior to fieldwork, as it is widely spoken alongside English as the local language of Tamale.



Arthur Dart (Student)


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2596061 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Arthur Dart