Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religion are the major religious systems being practiced in contemporary Africa. In some areas, the majority of the population is either Christian or Muslim. However, in other countries in the continent, such as Nigeria in the West and Tanzania in the East, there are combined Christian and Muslim majorities. Within those countries are various public institutions owned by Christian or Muslim groups, whose religious principles overtly shape the institutions. These faith-based institutions serve as sites for the exploration of Christian-Muslim relations and the public role of religion in Africa.
In Learning Morality, Inequalities, and Faith: Christian and Muslim Schools in Tanzania, Hansjorg Dilger explores the educational experience in Christian and Islamic schools in postcolonial Tanzania. The growth of the schools was facilitated by the deregulation and privatization of Tanzania’s educational sector in the 1990s, following the nationalization of most faith-based schools in the 1960s under the socialist policies of Julius Nyerere. Informed by archival work and secondary sources, such as photographs and articles in Kiswahili and English newspapers, Dilger collected ethnographic data over ten months between 2008 and 2010 in six schools in Dar es Salaam (22). He conducted research in two Muslim secondary schools, two Christian primary schools, and two Christian secondary schools, administering questionnaires and engaging in interviews and participant observation. Although the reader is not provided with the specific questions that guided the interviews, Dilger explains that his research questions “evolved and were refined” as he “moved from one field site to the next” (22).
Dilger combines ethnographic depth with rich theoretical discussion to produce a novel and insightful analysis of the connection between “the quest for a good life,” education, and religion in a religiously diverse African city, where colonial and post-independence forces have shaped contemporary socio-economic inequalities and other factors influencing the educational sector. He demonstrates what he terms the “ordinarisation” of value frameworks of the religiously-oriented schools by their students and staff—that is, how the schools’ values were learned, discussed, embodied, and expressed in the everyday lives of the pupils and teachers in fluid, non-conscious, and at times intentional manners, as they sought a “good” life (12). These values are related to “consciousness of the self and others; body and dress; social status and difference; the presence of, and ways of engaging with, religious difference; notions of doing good and bad; the goals of learning and work; and relationships of affect and belonging” (14). Dilger argues that the moral becoming in the faith-oriented schools should be understood in the “context of the highly unequal positions” (19) that the schools occupy, and which have been shaped by colonial and post-colonial factors.
Dilger observes that although attending government (serikali) schools was perceived by Tanzanians in the mid-late 20th century as a means to achieving personal development and success in life, it is now more common to regard Church (kanisa) schools in Dar es Salaam and other parts of the country as more efficient sources of “good education” and a “good life” (maisha mazuri). More than government schools and Islamic (kiislamu) schools, Christian private schools are associated with strong academic performance and moral development. This is partly because the church schools consistently rank highly in the annual government school ranking, which largely depends on the schools’ performance in national exams. Furthermore, besides offering the normal secular education, faith-based schools draw on their religious traditions to instill “good morals” (maadili mazuri) and produce graduates who are morally prepared to live in a rapidly changing modern world, which is believed to be “fraught with moral, economic, and spiritual challenges” (218).
Dilger presents a Muslim interpretation of the current unequal positions of Christian and Islamic schools in Dar es Salaam, suggesting that Muslims and their educational institutions have been historically marginalized in colonial and post-independence Tanganyika/Tanzania. In chapter 2, he illustrates how state policies in German and British-led Tanganyika and post-colonial Tanzania wittingly or unwittingly favored Christian organizations more than Islamic ones. I must add that this claim of historical marginalization is contested in Tanzania, and Dilger’s presentation of this issue could be broader and more critical. In any case, it is crucial to note that the perception of historical marginalization was not equally present in the two Muslim seminaries that Dilger studied (see chapter 5), even though the schools and their owners were “part of the same network of Islamic revivalist organisations” (228). According to Dilger, the differences in the perceptions of the teachers and students about the positions of the different “Christian” and “Islamic” schools show how the educational hierarchies or stratification “were experienced in more nuanced ways in particular educational settings” (229).
I agree with Dilger that the contemporary realities in Dar es Salaam’s and Tanzania’s educational sector, as well as Christian-Muslim encounters in these regions more broadly, have implications for “the study of religiously diverse settings more widely” (4). Although the book mainly focuses on Tanzania, it shows that the debates about “Christianization,” “Islamization,” and equal representation that exist and affect Christian-Muslim coexistence in other African countries, such as Nigeria, also exist and shape processes of religious “institutionalization” in Dar es Salaam. Christians and Muslims in Dar es Salaam have accused each other of aiming to dominate. While Muslim revivalists in the city have alleged that a “Christian State” is being constructed, neo-Pentecostal Christians have claimed that there is government bias against Christians in the country and that they have resisted alleged Islamic monopolization (chapter 3). Dilger suggests that Christian and Muslim schools in Dar es Salaam have been established as part of the mediums through which competing Christian and Islamic actors establish themselves in the public sphere and “expand their spiritual, moral, and geographical territory” in the city (66). This text is recommended for students, teachers, researchers, and leaders interested in religion and education, Christian-Muslim relations, and the public role of religion in Tanzania, Africa, and beyond.
Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai is a postdoctoral research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University for the CHANSE-funded project Religious Communities in the Virtual Age (Recovira).
Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai
Date Of Review:
May 8, 2023
Hansjörg Dilger is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin. His research interests include the anthropology of religion and religious diversity, critical medical anthropology, and the study of global and transnational processes. He is co-editor of Affective Trajectories: Religion and Emotion in African Cityscapes (2020).
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