Emmanuel College & Centre of African Studies
Fellow in Social Anthropology and African Studies
My research focuses on religion and popular culture in post-genocide Rwanda. In particular I explore how the new born-again churches and the reconstruction of the local music industry are creating new ways for young people to come to terms with their country’s difficult past and envision new futures for themselves in a political context governed by, as one informant aptly described it, “quiet insecurity”. Both of these new social movements are significant because they are working against very specific histories: the complicity of the Catholic Church during the genocide and the use of ethnicised musical propaganda to incite genocidal violence. I conducted 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Rwanda attending countless church services, concerts, and cultural events, and interviewing pastors, believers, singers, journalists, and rappers. Although Rwanda has attracted a large amount of scholarly attention, this research has tended to focus on the genocide or transitional justice processes. I argue that by taking young peoples’ faith and music seriously – and, by extension, considering the capital city of Kigali as a dynamic, if contested, site of cultural production – we can gain new insights into their lives and the innovative ways the “new” generation is engaging with and even pushing back against an authoritarian state and its policies. As I am now interested in conversion testimonies, song lyrics, and Kinyarwanda slang, my background in literature has served me well. My next research project will focus on the creation of cultural archives in Rwanda that are not focused on the genocide.