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Introduction of our Substitute Professor - Dr. Katharina Wilkens

20. April 2020

Let me introduce myself – though I am so sorry I can only be present virtually during the Corona crisis. My name is Katharina Wilkens and I teach and work at the University of Munich where I grew up and where my family lives now. But I have known the University of Bayreuth since my undergraduate and graduate studies here under the supervision of Prof. Berner. I look forward very much to meeting you all in my seminars – and hopefully, eventually, also personally! You can always reach me via e-mail and we may arrange a phone or videocall conversation.

Growing up, encounters with people in Nigeria, Niger and Tanzania (where I lived for a short time with my parents) awakened my interest in African cultures and religions. In my academic work, I focus on aspects of Islamic and Christian religions. Entanglements with one another and with (neo-)traditional religions as well as with other societal fields fascinate me and inspire my research questions. I conducted ethnographic field research in Tanzania for my doctoral dissertation on exorcism in a group called “Marian Faith Healing Ministry”. A little gem among my current projects focusses on travelogues which were written around 1900 by East Africans with Sunni, Shi’i, Christian and Zoroastrian backgrounds. The narratives allow fascinating glimpses into the multilingual and multireligious contact zone of colonial East Africa. A recurrent theme in my work in aesthetics of religion and history of religion revolves around spirit possession. From a comparative perspective I study practices ranging from Voodoo through zar to exorcism. The conjunctions of therapy, of narration, of performances of cultural history, of gender politics and of identity formation are fascinating, not least in their ability to resist all straightforward classifications typical of differentiated modernity. Recently, my research interest has shifted towards the category of ancestor spirits, which assert their place in ritual practice despite Christianisation, secularisation and modernisation. What do ancestors mean for lineages and families under conditions of urbanisation, labour migration and the anonymity of social security systems?

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