Dr Benjamin Kirby

Dr Benjamin Kirby

Profile

I returned to Leeds as a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in September 2018, having completed my AHRC-funded doctoral research project here in 2017.

My British Academy postdoctoral research project is entitled "The politics of religious infrastructure: Christian and Muslim urban worlds in Africa".

I sit on the advisory board of the Leeds University Centre for African Studies (LUCAS) and I am closely involved with the work of the Centre for Religion and Public Life (CRPL).

Research interests

My research explores religious politics and urban mutuality from the vantage point of rapidly-growing cities in the African continent. I work at the interface of religious studies, African studies, and urban studies.

As part of my postdoctoral research project, I am developing an account of “Muslim infrastructure” which draws on multi-sited fieldwork in three African cities (Dar es Salaam, Durban, Kampala).  With this concept, I explore how Muslim configurations of material arrangements (e.g. mosque complexes, endowed land) and social practices (e.g. greetings, forms of self-presentation) operate infrastructurally across these contexts. By this, I mean that these Muslim configurations—no less than mass transit and water supply systems—hold together lives, build capacities, and forge common worlds. I am specifically interested in the contestations that surround these infrastructures and the political work that they do, particularly as sites for configuring new expressions of religious subjectivity. More broadly, this project aims to develop an innovative framework for understanding everyday dynamics of mutuality and resistance across different global settings, and in doing so contribute to wider efforts to re-imagine and cultivate shared futures.

With Dr Yanti Hoelzchen (Goethe University Frankfurt), I am also co-ordinating a research project entitled “Conceptualising religious infrastructure” which is funded by DFG Programme Point Sud and the Frobenius Institute. The aim of the project is to build an international and interdisciplinary research network committed to exploring and extending the analytic potential of “religious infrastructure” as a term for studying social entanglements. Our first collection of publications—a thematic issue for a leading journal in the study of religion—is due to appear in 2022.

I am currently completing a monograph based on my doctoral research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This book draws on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kariakoo, an inner-city market district which is a regional hub for commerce and Muslim activism. As I demonstrate, Kariakoo is made and sustained by a Muslim infrastructure, one which extends the capacity of diverse residents (both Muslim and non-Muslim) to secure livelihoods, claim respectability, and mobilise against injustice and inequality. The book’s chief aim is to examine contestations around Muslim infrastructure in Kariakoo as a window into broader questions about Muslim politics and identity practices in Tanzania, with a particular emphasis on configurations of Muslim masculinity. I seek to use these insights to enrich and extend recent conversations about religious politics and urban futures in African settings.

My ongoing research in Dar es Salaam has inspired the production of an immersive documentary which has been screened at several international film festivals, and for which I acted as a consultant.

I have recently completed a research project in Durban, South Africa with Dr Francis Sibanda and Dr Fred Charway (both University of Fort Hare) funded by the British Academy. Our research explores how migrant business operators rely on Durban’s Muslim infrastructure to pursue their life-projects and construct a sense of belonging to the city amidst conditions of marginality. We also demonstrate how this infrastructure enables migrants to build relationships with Indian South African residents, bringing into view unforeseen horizons of reciprocity and resistance.

My research is published in leading peer-reviewed journals (e.g. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute; City and Society; Religion) and edited collections published by Bloomsbury and Routledge (see “Publications” below). I have also used my research to speak to contemporary issues in popular articles for The Conversation and Africa at LSE.

If you have any questions about my work, please do get in touch.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Qualifications

  • PhD Religious Studies, University of Leeds (2017)
  • MA Religion and Public Life, University of Leeds (2013)
  • BA Theology, University of Oxford (2010)

Student education

I lead and teach on various undergraduate and postgraduate modules relating to my areas of expertise, including religion, international politics, global development, and contemporary African societies and cultures.

In recognition of my professional expertise in higher education teaching, I have been awarded Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Religion and Public Life
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>