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The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast

Iconoclasm Done and Undone

Ramon Sarró

Hardback (Printed to Order)

Winner of the 2009 Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology.

The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast offers an in-depth analysis of an iconoclastic religious movement initiated by a Muslim preacher among coastal Baga farmers in the French colonial period.

With an ethnographic approach that listens as carefully to those who suffered iconoclastic violence as to those who wanted to 'get rid of custom', this work discusses the extent to which iconoclasm produces a rupture of religious knowledge and identity, and analyses its relevance in the making of modern nations and citizens.

The book will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those with an interest in the anthropology of religion, iconoclasm, the history and anthropology of West Africa, or the politics of heritage.

  • This book examines the historical complexity of the interface between Islam, tradition religions and Christianity in west Africa, and how this interface links with dramatic political changes
  • It gives a detailed ethnographic approach through which such complex history is unveiled and analysed
  • It presents a dialogue between the field findings, a long tradition of anthropology and the most recent anthropological debates
  • About the Author

    Ramon Sarró is Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon. He read social anthropology at University College London PhD 1999). In 2000-2002 he was the Ioma Evans-Pritchard Research Fellow at Saint Anne's College, Oxford. Since 1992 he has conducted extensive field research in Guinea. His other works include Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches (with David Berliner). He is based at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, where he leads an EU project on African Christianities in Europe.


    This is a wonderfully subtle account of social change among the Baga-speaking people of coastal Guinea, centred on dance and iconoclasm as modes of religious and inter-generational contestation. Broad in scope, erudite, and yet elegant in presentation, Sarro’s book has wide significance for debates about conflict as performance, while being a pleasure to read.
    - Paul Richards
    Under the successive mid-twentieth century urgings of Muslim iconoclasm and state socialism, it seems as if some coastal Baga of Guinea became willing accomplices in the destruction of their own revered customs, chiefly authorities, and material culture. The great achievement of Ramon Sarró’s nuanced ethnography is to reveal the truth of this view of the past while simultaneously exploring its limitations, seen from contemporary Guinea in which Baga ethnicity and custom are re-emerging as contested territories. Beyond this specific instance, Sarró demonstrates why modernizing processes have been fractured, fractious and fracturing in the experience of African people.
    - Richard Fardon
    Ramon Sarró’s book on religious and political changes among the Baga of Guinea is a richly documented contribution to the anthropology of modernity... [His] historical ethnography attests to an impressive historical scholarship written with strong empathy... This book is a standing contribution to the historical and cultural knowledge of the Upper Guinea Coast and will be fully acknowledged by coming generations of regional scholars.
    - CHRISTIAN HØJBJERG, Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale

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