UTA Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of Art Education Amanda Alexander, Ph.D., embarked last month on a four-week trip to Senegal in order to learn more about religion and diversity in West Africa. In April, Dr. Alexander was accepted to the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program to Senegal, which was conducted by the Boston University African Studies Center.
Fulbright-Hays scholars at Boston University’s African Studies Center before departing for Senegal
The seminar was based at the West African Research Center in Dakar, but the group also traveled to Gorée, St-Louis, Touba, Djiloor and Toubacouta in Sereer Country, and Ziguinchor and Cap Skirring in Casamance.
Dr. Alexander posing with Baye Fall outside the Great Mosque of the Mouride Sufi Order in Touba, Senegal
The Fulbright-Hays considered why religious and identity-based conflict had arisen in some countries, and the ways that Senegal had been able to maintain relative social harmony. Academics, religious leaders, politicians, and activists from diverse disciplines and organizations introduced the region’s history, reviewed its three main religious traditions, discussed the unique cultures of various ethnic groups, and explored the sources of social conflict and harmony.
Fulbright-Hays group in Toubakouta eating a typical Senegalese dish called Ceebu Jen
“The experience provided me the opportunity to learn about West African religious diversity and mixing of cultures including the four Sufi Muslim Brotherhoods, African animism (local religion/knowledge), and Christianity,” said Alexander. “It was interesting to see how people from these groups cooperate and live tolerantly among one another. It offered me the ability to learn about and study some West African artists who live in Senegal.”
Dr. Alexander with Mouride, Baye Fall patchwork artist (at Goree Island)
Lectures combined with visits to mosques and churches; historic, cultural, and political sites; civil society groups; universities; and nature preserves were part of the experience.
UNESCO World Heritage site, Goree Island
“My goal is to design academic curriculum to help UT Arlington students foster a better understanding of religion and diversity through artists’ work and responses to the artwork,” said Alexander. “I’m hoping to transfer much of this knowledge to my students as a way to promote UT Arlington’s mission to create global citizens.”
African masks at the Kermel Market in Dakar, Senegal
The Seminars Abroad Program is administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s International and Foreign Language Education office, Office of Postsecondary Education, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State.