As an aside to the Crossroads project, I am really happy to say that the two UK research councils running the Religion and Society project – the ESRC and the AHRC, namely Economic & Social Research and Arts & Humanities – are funding our new project to engage with schoolchildren in Norwich and Zinder, building on the findings of a project Dr Benedetta R and I ran in 2008, called Being and becoming Hausa.
The idea back in 2008 was to bring researchers together to discuss what it means to be Hausa today, and how this sense of identity and belonging has emerged over time (read it all here). Now, with the aid of teachers at City Academy Norwich and the Lycée Ahmadou Kourandaga in Zinder (Niger), we will be discussing ideas of religion and identity with pupils aged 11-15. We’ll encourage pupils to reflect on two fronts: the way in which their identity is historically constructed, and whether their notions of West Africa are shaped by stereotypes of changeless societies and radical Islamism, often promoted by the media. Specifically, we will think with them about what it means to be Hausa, from the North Earlham estate, from Norwich, from Birni; Muslim, Anglican, atheist – how they feel the media portray them, and what factors shape their sense of self. We want to have a strong historical dimension to all of this, because although today religion plays a major role in defining, and often dividing, communities, the Being and becoming Hausa project showed this is not an historical inevitability.
Ultimately there will be a blog charting our collective learning process, and a teaching resource that we will disseminate to other schools and place on the ESRC’s Social Science for Schools website. The aim is to make a wider impact on the cultural awareness of UK youth by breaking down stereotypes about identity and religion, both in West Africa and in the UK, and to improve pupils’ thinking skills and creative output. Through its cross-curricular slant linked into Key Stage 3 of the recently revised National Curriculum, the project will also support UK schools in implementing an integrated project which will enable students to make links between different subject areas.
This project is part of the efforts by the AHRC and the ESRC to publicise the undeniable impact that research in those fields makes to society today and its contribution to wider knowledge beyond academia.