Dr. Benedikt Pontzen (HONORS 2015-16)

Pontzen Benedikt

Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures & Societies (BGSMCS)

Benedikt Pontzen received his Magister Artium (MA equivalent) in Social and Cultural Anthropology and African Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin and the Humboldt Universität Berlin in 2009. In 2010, he became part of the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies where he completed his PhD in Anthropology under the supervision of Kai Kresse (University of Columbia) in 2014. His thesis, entitled “Islam in the Zongo. An Ethnography of Islamic Conceptions, Practices, and Imaginaries among Muslims in Asante (Ghana).”, is an ethnography of lived Islam in its diversity as encountered among Muslims in Asante, Ghana, where Benedikt Pontzen has conducted long-term stationary fieldwork and spend several research sojourns. His postdoc project focused on “African Traditional Religion” in the same region whose changing presence and history shall be described in an ethnography.

Profile at academia.edu.

Focus of Research

Benedikt Pontzen is an anthropologist working on West Africa, particularly Ghana and Asante. His main area of research are the ethnography and historiography of Asante, the Anthropology of Islam, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Anthropology of Religion. He has conducted long-term stationary fieldwork on Muslim minorities and their lived religion in Asante and carried out some preliminary fieldwork on “African Traditional Religion” in the same region. His postdoc project will focus on the changing history and presence of “African Traditional Religion” in Asante and its transregional entanglements. With these ethnographic case studies, Pontzen wishes to supplement the otherwise largely Christianity centered literature on religion(s) in the region and to contribute to a comparative understanding of the lifeworld of the people living in Asante. A further research topic is to challenge and to rethink the implicit Eurocentric assumptions of the concept named “religion.”

Postdoctoral Research Project

I propose a rethinking of “African Traditional Religion” (“ATR”) in Asante, Ghana, and the people's active involvement in this sphere as an interface of the local and the global, “tradition” and “modernity,” and as a space to (re)negotiate one's outlook on the world, one's values, and one's encounter with an “other” however conceived. As argued by Paulin Hountondji, we have to recenter Africa, if we wish to study the lifeworlds of this continent. This has also been argued by other authors writing on Sub-Saharan Africa who have pointed out that “the spiritual” – taken either as possession, as religion, or as witchcraft – is not only highly adaptable to change, but quite a central sphere for the communal (re)negotiations, narrations, and sense-makings of the people across the continent. Through these, they (re)connect with their traditions and the wider world, integrating the one into the other. Thus, I do not suggest an essentialization or a reification of these religious phenomena as “African” or an understanding of them as petrified “traditions;” on the contrary, they are anything but homogeneous or unchanging. My approach rather stresses the (re)contextualization of these phenomena within their specific setting and a close attention to their changing dynamics, internal differences, and the ongoing contestations around them. “ATR” in Ghana is part and parcel of people's “being-in” and making sense of the world and as such as much affected by as affecting it in turn, and the resulting dynamics shall be the research topic of this project.

(outline by Dr. Benedikt Pontzen)

REVIEW: Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes, An Anthropology of Everyday Religion – Edited by Samuli Schielke & Liza Debevec. October 2014.

Accessible under: http://allegralaboratory.net/review-ordinary-lives-and-grand- schemes-an-anthropology-of-everyday-religion-edited-by-samuli-schielke-liza- debevec/