Secular Discourse in Postcolonial West African Narratives: Problems and Perspectives: A Comparative Study

Malick Coly, Purdue University


The making of modern African nations and their attendant secularistic establishment have not only altered traditional socio-political structures, this shift has equally affected the relations between individuals as well as communities. In the process leading to modern sociocultural transformations, tensions and discourse have arisen. Toyin Falola’s Violence in Nigeria: Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies, and Ousman Murzik Kobo’s Unveiling Modernity in Twentieth-Century West African Islamic Reforms highlight respectively the political and religious divide in post-Independence Nigeria and the impact of Islamic reform in Ghana and Burkina Faso. These two historical studies show the complexity of modern West African societies and the need to reappraise the identity question in the modern context. Although some studies have examined different aspects of postcolonial identity within the literature, there exists no study that examines specifically the impact and influence of secularism on postcolonial identities, or the nature of its discourse. This study analyzes the forms and uses of the secular discourse within postcolonial literary narratives. By conducting a comparative study of Francophone and Anglophone texts and authors, it becomes possible to assess whether or not, and to what degree sociocultural specificities and historical development affect the way the discourse is fashioned, and what it seeks to achieve. More spefically, this study examines a variety of texts such as epics, novels, authors’ personal narratives and critical works. The approach in this study is multidisciplinary with a strong sociological and historical emphasis. Overall, this study comprises five chapters. Chapter one discusses the concept of power in traditional West African societies. The objective of this chapter is to highlight how exercise of power follows a shared social vision, one that defines its ethics and establishes its framework. Chapter two assesses the meanings and implications of the urban space vis-à-vis the formation and negotiation of postcolonial identity. Chapter three analyzes the impact of secular education. Chapter four probes the stakes of West African writer on the secular question. Chapter five examines the ramifications between secularism and religious fundamentalism. At the conclusion of this study, it has become clear that the particular characteristics of West African societies have influenced the way modern identities are shaped, but most importantly, they affect the form and functioning of the modern secular society. Eventually, as this study shows, the context in which secularism has come to be established within African societies informs in large part its complex ramifications. Thus unlike Europe, its history and development in Africa has taken a much different turn, which, therefore, necessitates a complete and distinctive study of the topic.




Hughes, Purdue University.

Subject Area

African literature|Literature

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