Enriching fiction and film: Gambian youth and the Tablighi Jamaʻat
Professor Marloes Janson’s fieldwork in The Gambia investigated the fate of the Tablighi Jamaʻat, a transnational Islamic missionary movement that originated in India. The research shows that, unlike in South Asia, in The Gambia the Jamaʻat has grown into a powerful youth movement. Many Gambian youths, and women in particular, have adopted the movement to carve out a space for themselves in Gambian society in the perceived absence of alternative means of reaching social maturity and a fulfilling life.
The research shaped the depiction of Gambian Muslim youth in the 2016 novel Swing Time by best-selling author Zadie Smith. Smith stated Professor Janson’s research was “invaluable, bringing context where I had impressions, possible answers when I had questions” and that it helped to “create the feel and texture of certain scenes in the novel”.
Swing Time sold over half a million copies and was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2017, and has been translated into 24 languages. Its publication coincided with the presidential elections in The Gambia, and in 2016-17 Professor Janson was invited as an expert on the country to speak on its political situation on television, radio and in newspapers.
Janson’s own book of in-depth research on the topic, Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jama'at, was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology in 2014, and shortlisted for the BBC Radio 4 ‘Thinking Allowed’ Ethnography Award.