Shobana Shankar

“Missions and the Production of World Histories

For non-Westerners and Westerners alike, the invocation of religion
solicits or defies temporal and otherworldly powers. Talal Asad considers
this process in Genealogies of Religion (1993) to argue that religion
'authorizes' certain kinds of history-making. This paper explores how
proselytism and conversion in missions engage questions of time and space
that are central to the history of religion. It focuses on evangelism and
conversion in Northern Nigeria, which has been a field for Muslim and
Christian missionaries for many centuries. I argue that proselytizing
religions and testimonials of faith, in ritual, written, and oral forms,
represent historical claims that realize an important tension between the
local present and developments in the material and spiritual worlds. In
Northern Nigeria, these developments conveyed an historical sensibility.
This sensibility dealt with the future in Christian and Muslim
millennialism, the past in associations of Christianity with colonialism and
Islam with the pre-colonial Northern Nigeria, and the present in the
European spirits added to the pantheon of the region's bori
spirit-possession cult during the colonial era (1900-1960). This research
examines the reaches of 'world religions' and questions assumptions about
their relationships to political authority.