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SOAS scholar collaborates with Nigerian photographer to exhibit ‘prayer cities’ of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

26 March 2014

Dr Marloes Janson, Lecturer in Anthropology at SOAS, University of London and Akintunde Akinleye, prize winner in the prestigious World Press Photo awards have collaborated on a photographic exhibition of the ‘prayer cities’ on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Nigeria.

The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in Megacity Lagos will open at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS on 9 April until 21 June 2014. The exhibition is a result of the work that Akinleye and Dr Janson produced as part of a project to explore and record centres of religion along the Expressway.

The Spiritual Highway No Hawking

'No Hawking' With congregations of 10's of thousands the MFM Prayer City is an attraction to those trying to make money, Lagos, August 2013. Credit: Akintunde Akinleye

The scholars concentrated on two of the prayer cities: The Christian Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries or MFM Prayer City and the Muslim Nasrul-Lahi-Fatih Society of Nigeria, which translates as ‘There is no help except from Allah’ and is abbreviated to NASFAT.

These prayer cities are huge in scale with congregations of tens of thousands, all of which are competing with each other for new converts by offering a range of facilities and services ranging from faith healing, to education and health care.

Challenging conventional assumptions of Christianity and Islam as bounded and distinct traditions, this project focuses instead on the convergence between the two religious traditions, thereby crossing boundaries and blurring sharp distinctions.

The Spiritual Highway pic2 - NASFAT night vigil

'NASFAT night vigil' After the dawn prayer, the participants return home, Lagos, August 2013. Credit: Akintunde Akinleye

Dr Janson said: “The 120km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is considered the most important and busiest road in Nigeria. While it has failed as the artery linking the north and the south of Nigeria, the Expressway has succeeded as a stage for the performance of public religiosity to the extent that it can be described as a ‘Spiritual Highway’. It owes this name to the fact that since the late 1980s numerous Christian and Muslim movements have cropped up along the highway.”

Dr Janson has a special area of interest in the intersection of anthropology and religion in West Africa, and recently published the monograph Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jamaʻat. Akinleye, who is also an award fellow of the National Geographic Society, was nominated for the Prix Pictet Photography award in 2012, and has exhibited in Washington, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Lagos, Amsterdam, Graz, Bamako, Madrid, Munich and Pordenone in Italy.