Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor Marloes Janson

Key information

Department of Anthropology and Sociology Professor of West African Anthropology
MA, PhD (Leiden University); SFHEA
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address
Telephone number
+44 (0)20 7898 4345
Support hours
Wednesdays 11:00am-12.30pm, in person and online. See link in Bio to book appointment




Link to book support hours appointment: Office Hours Term 3.docx (




Research interests

Since 1996 I have been conducting ethnographic research in the Gambia, West Africa. During my PhD research I lived with the griottes, female bards, of a Mandinka community in eastern Gambia for more than a year and was trained by them as an apprentice. From this perspective I have described how the penetration of capitalism and changes in spatial organization in a semi-urban town, resulting in economic pressure on women, transformed the bardic profession.

My later research focused on the relationship between local traditions and religious reform in the Gambia and Senegal. My previous research explored the expansion of the Tabligh Jamaʻat, a transnational Islamic missionary movement that originated in India, and its impact in the Gambia. The Jamaʻat offers Gambian youth, women in particular, new opportunities to express their religious identity. This research resulted in the monograph Young, Modern and Muslim: The Tablighi Jamaʻat in the Gambia (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which explores how Gambian youth have incorporated the South Asian Tablighi ideology into their daily lives and adapted it to the local context in which they operate. My monograph, which was published in paperback in 2017, has been awarded the RAI Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology. In 2016 my monograph was endorsed by best-selling novelist Zadie Smith as she was writing her novel Swing Time, which is partly situated in the Gambia.

In 2010 I switched my research field from the smallest country in Africa – the Gambia – to the biggest one – Nigeria – to investigate the emergence of Chrislam, a set of religious movements mixing Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices. Nigeria’s former capital Lagos, characterised by rapid population growth, eroding socio-economic structures, scarcity of resources, corruption and increasing violence between Christians and Muslims, proved to be a challenging avenue for exploring the spiritual and pragmatic means Chrislam provides its worshippers to shape their daily lives in interaction with their urban environment. In a nutshell, my forthcoming monograph argues that in order to fully understand how religion is professed in a multi-faith setting such as Lagos, we must tackle the compartmentalization of the study of religion by taking religious pluralism as starting point.

I have curated the exhibition The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in megacity Lagos, with photographs taken by World Press Photo winner Akintunde Akinleye, which opened at the Brunei Gallery in 2014.

In addition to religious reform, I also have a strong research interest in development issues. I am currently Co-I on the DFG-funded project ‘Religious Reform, Faith-Based Development and the Public Sphere in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (Lagos, Dar es Salaam and Cape Town). The project explores how the recent integration of faith-based initiatives into transnational developments is embedded in the wider reconfiguration of the public sphere in Nigeria and the resurgence of both Pentecostal Christianity and reformist Islam.

My research is at the intersection of anthropology and religion. West Africa (the Gambia, Senegal and Nigeria) are my ethnographic areas of specialization. I have conducted ethnographic research in the Gambia since 1996 on various research projects relating to popular culture, oral history, Islamic reform, gender and youth. In 2010 I switched my research field to Lagos, Nigeria, where I am exploring the emergence of Chrislam, a religious movement that fuses Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices. My research interests are reflected in my teaching. Before joining SOAS in 2012, I have been a researcher at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin.

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Ayisha Ahmed
Dalia El Ariny Re-conceptualisations of religious identity among London-based converts to Islam with a mixed-faith heritage
Priyanka Hutschenreiter Being Muslim in Dhaka: Dhormo, Ethics and Ambiguity in the Everyday
Adam Rodgers Johns Mapping the impact of gentrification on the religious practices of the Yoruba diaspora in south east London.


Contact Marloes