Rosalind Hackett's Home Page

Rosalind I. J. Hackett, Ph.D.

Department of Religious Studies
501 McClung Tower
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-0450

Tel: (865) 974-2466/0965 [fax]

e-mail: rhackett
















Note: the Yoruba door post and border design are taken from Diane Fox's magnificent design for our 1996 Africa Week poster.



Born in Birmingham, in the English Midlands (or ‘Middle Earth’ according to Tolkien), I attended Edgbaston High School for Girls before heading north to Leeds University. I was the first student there to take a combined honors degree in French and Religious Studies. As part of my degree, I spent one year teaching English in a school in Grenoble, France, and conducting research on France's first ecumenical church. That was where I developed a taste for fieldwork, skiing and French cooking, together with a new awareness of my liver. After obtaining a postgraduate teaching diploma in 1974 from St. Luke's College, Exeter, I moved on to King's College at the University of London to do an M.Phil in Religious Studies. This was somehow carried out part-time while I was teaching French, Religious Education, and physical education at a Roman Catholic secondary school in Reading.  It was at this school that I learnt that teaching was definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Having decided that archival research was not my cup of tea, I took off in the mid-1970s for Nigeria to conduct research there on new religious movements, and religion and social change. I ended up staying for eight life-transforming years (1975-83), during which time I taught at the Universities of Ibadan and Calabar. This research formed the basis of my two higher degrees (M.Phil London, 1978 and PhD in Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, 1986) and many publications, notably my edited book, New Religious Movements in Nigeria (1987) and Religion in Calabar: the Religious Life and History of a Nigerian Town (1989). The latter is an ethnographic and historical analysis of religious pluralism in the town of Calabar in south-eastern Nigeria. It involved a comprehensive mapping of the town's religious institutions together with discussion of more popular religious developments.

I broke into the North American scene in 1984 with a Copeland fellowship at Amherst College in 1984, followed by two years of teaching and consultancy in Washington, D.C. I was then lured further south to take up an appointment at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to serve as the resident anthropologist in the department of Religious Studies, with special responsibility for courses in indigenous, notably African, religions. Today I teach courses in Anthropology of Religion, African Religions, and New Religious Movements, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, Human Rights and Religion, and Religion and Art. I won a Research and Creativity award in 1991, an Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1995, a Lindsay Young distinguished professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences 1998-2000 and a Distinguished Professorship from 2002-2008. I am also an adjunct professor in the Department of Anthropology, and so unabashedly favor double majors in Religious Studies and Anthropology! 

My book, Art and Religion in Africa (Cassell 1996, pbk 1998) kept me busy for five years visiting museums, libraries, artists, and galleries in Europe, North America and Africa. In it I argue that given the conceptual orientation of much African art, and the study and appreciation of Africa's rich and diverse artistic traditions, remain incomplete without an understanding of the religious dimension. 

I also problematize the categories of art and religion within the African context, and their varied interconnections. My own "conversion" to taking art more seriously has led to other publications and lectures. Greater attention to the material and expressive culture in the academic study of religion is particularly revealing of gendered roles and symbolism (and vice versa). This is discussed in an article which appeared in the special issue of Religion on "Recent Research on Religion and Gender, guest edited by Sylvia Marcos and myself. I have also been interested by the roles of women in African religions, and have published a number of pieces in this regard: "Women and New Religious Movements in Africa" in Ursula King's Religion and Gender (Blackwell 1995), "Women in African Religions," in Religion and Women, edited by Arvind Sharma (SUNY 1993), and "From Exclusion to Inclusion: Women and Bible Use in Southern Nigeria" in Davies and Wollaston, eds., The Sociology of Sacred Texts (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993). Over the years I have developed a strong interest in mermaids and water spirits. For the reasons why see a semi-autobiographical piece I did for an upcoming exhibition on Mami Wata (curated by Henry John Drewal at UCLA Fowler Museum).

My interests in art, gender and religion extend beyond the academic. This is a gate I commissioned at the entrance to my (secret) garden.  It represents the Yoruba goddess of the waters, Oshun. Executed in iron, it also pays complementary homage to Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron. It was designed by the contemporary Nigerian artist Bolaji Campbell, and made by metalworker Monica Thomeczek in 1996.

Other areas I have written on include New Age religion in Africa, "New Age Trends in Nigeria: Ancestral or Alien Religion?" in Lewis and Melton, eds. Perspectives on the New Age (SUNY 1992), and the study and teaching of African religions. My earlier training as a teacher in Britain left its mark, so see in this regard the special issues I guest edited of Religion (20,4:1990) on "Images of African Religions" and Spotlight on Teaching (1,2:1993) on "Teaching African Religions." An additional piece on "Teaching African Religions through Art and Literature" appeared in Bastian and Parpart, eds. (1999).

In the 1980s Nigeria's new religious movements began to look more like transnational evangelical and Pentecostal movements. The older, independent movements began to be eclipsed by the newer, arguably American-style, born-again, spirit-filled churches often founded by well-educated entrepreneurs. I went with the flow and shifted academic focus. I not only examined different aspects of these movements, see, for example, my "The Gospel of Prosperity in West Africa" in Roberts, ed. Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism (Routledge, 1995), but also decided to track the global flows of these movements by following some of their evangelists to Asia. I was lucky enough to receive a research grant in 1993-94 from the Research Enablement Program of the Overseas Ministries Study Center funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. This enabled me to travel to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and South Korea to study the growing connections between African and Asian Charismatics (see my report in Pneuma 18,1 [spring 1996]).

Something of a paradigm shift occurred in my work when I was invited to join the Proselytization Project at Emory University's Law and Religion Program. After many years of working as a grassroots member and organizer with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International in Nigeria, Britain and the U.S., I was now encouraged to examine some of the human rights implications of my own research-namely the impact of the greater militancy of the Christian revivalist movements in Nigeria on issues of religious freedom and pluralism, notably in terms of Christian-Muslim relations (see, for example, "Radical Christian Revivalism in Nigeria and Ghana: Recent Patterns of Conflict and Intolerance." In Proselytization and Communal Self-Determination in Africa, ed. Abdullahi A. An-Na'im [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999]). Since then, I have participated in conferences pertaining to international religious freedom in Oslo, Norway, Provo, Utah, and Washington, DC.  My Utah presentation, "Conflict in the Classroom: Educational Institutions in Nigeria as Sites of Tolerance/Intolerance," appeared in the Brigham Young University Law Review, 2000, 2.   I wrote a short op ed piece on the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for Religious Studies News (Feb. 2001).  I did a lengthy review for a Soundings symposium of Martha Nussbaum's recent book, Women and Human Development: the Capabilities Approach (Cambridge UP, 2000) with a focus on the conflicts between religion and women's rights.  For some ideas and information relating to human rights, see my human rights page. For some interesting websites pertaining to religious persecution and religious freedom, click here.



One of my major ongoing projects has been to complete a book commissioned by the U.S. Institute of Peace on religious conflict in Nigeria. It will be titled Nigeria: Religion in the Balance. It is hard to finish as something always seems to be happening in Nigeria with regard to religion.  I have managed to publish a piece (2005) on the infamous, apocalyptic Maitatsine movement, an extremist Muslim group that wrought death and destruction on the city of Kano, in Northern Nigeria in December 1980. 

I have just finished co-editing a book, Religion in African Conflicts and Peacebuilding with Sakah Mahmud and James H. Smith for the University of Notre Dame Press.  The work stems from our collaboration as Rockefeller Visiting Fellows at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2003-04.  We helped organize a conference on this topic in Jinja, Uganda, in April 2004.

Another current project is the preparation of the book I am editing on Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets, and Culture Wars (London: Equinox Publishers).  It contains nearly twenty chapters from authors around the world.  It will appear in 2007.

As a result of my Rockefeller Fellowship at the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame from 2003-04, I became more interested in the role of religion in the public sphere.  See the piece I wrote for the Brigham Young Law Review “Rethinking the Role of Religion in Changing Public Spheres: Some Comparative Perspectives” (2005).  I have also explored these questions in terms of the new attention to global religious violence, and the responses of scholars of religion for a keynote address for the British Association for the Study of Religion in 2003: “The Response of Scholars of Religion to Global Religious Violence” (2004). 

In 2003 I completed a major overview of religion and human rights "Human Rights: An Important and Challenging New Field for the Study of Religion" for a significant new text, New Approaches to the Study of Religion (eds. Geertz, Antes, and Warne, Mouton de Gruyter, 2003).  My critical overview of the field of Anthropology of Religion appeared in the Penguin Companion to the Study of Religion (ed. Hinnells, 2005).

A couple of years ago I took time out to reflect upon my "fieldwork" over the years.  It is the closing piece of a set of essays for Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (2001) by mainly historians of religion, recounting and analyzing their experiences in the field.  I also consider my "Prophets, 'False Prophets' and the African State: Emergent Issues of Religious Freedom and Conflict" (for a Nova Religio (April 2001) symposium on current relationships between new religions and the state around the world) to be one of my more important pieces.  This has been updated and now forms part of a book edited by Phillip Lucas and Tom Robbins, The Future of New Religions in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2003).


I have long had an interest in the media, particularly the broadcast media--stemming from my days as a student intern at the BBC in Birmingham (I was actually offered a career opening in production, but turned it down, preferring to stay in academe). Given that the transnational, revivalist religious groups that I research have skillfully appropriated modern media technologies, and that I have written on visual religious culture, it seemed logical me to start taking the growing intersections of religion and media in Africa more seriously. I published a preliminary piece on this topic, "Pentecostal/Charismatic Appropriations of Modern Media Technologies in Nigeria and Ghana" which appeared in the Journal of Religion in Africa in 1998.   See also "Managing or Manipulating Religious Conflict in the Nigerian Media".

My current research focuses more on how the rise of religious media in many parts of Africa, particularly in the current phase of deregulation, is generating new forms of competition and conflict between religious groups.  Radio and television are fast becoming the sites where religious discourses and identities are shaped and contested.   I plan to write a full-length comparative study of religious media in Africa, and am in the early stages of planning a co-edited book, Media and Religion in Africa: Innovation, Imagination, Transformation, with Ben Soares.


Each fall I teach the African Religions course As usual, it is a challenge to do justice to the rich cultural and religious diversity of the world's second largest continent--ranging from the plethora of local and indigenous forms of religious practice through the various manifestations of Christianity and Islam to African-derived religions in the New World, namely the much-misunderstood vodou and santeria.  See, in this connection, a short piece on "Teaching African Religions through Art and Literature" which appeared in Bastian and Parpart, eds. Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa (1999) (a very useful book for any Africanist or anyone who would like to include African material in their courses).  

Each spring I teach one of my favorite courses, Anthropology of Religion.  Thanks to a mistake I made a few years ago in forgetting to order an ethnographic novel for the course, students now choose their own.  This has led us into examining more closely and critically the plethora of popular anthropological texts on the market which deal with spirituality, especially shamanism!  I also enjoy teaching the Theory and Method course in our Master’s program, when I can—although admit to my graduate students that I came to an appreciation of theory late in the game.

Spring Semester 2003 was the teaching experience of a lifetime as it was Africa Semester at the University of Tennessee!  Thanks to incredible support from the university administration and various departments we put on a variety of exhibitions, lecture series, and concerts.  The whole semester was an interdisciplinary eye-opener for all faculty involved. 

I have gleaned much from my students over the years.  Please see my JOY OF LEARNING  page for learning and studying tips.



I was elected to the post of President of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) at the 19th World Congress in Tokyo, Japan in March 2005.  The position runs until 2010.  I am a founding member and Treasurer of the African Association for the Study of Religions, and a past President of the North American Association for the Study of Religion. In 1997, I was elected to the American Association for the Study of Religion, and have served on the Executive Committee.   I helped plan the 1998 annual meeting at Carleton College, Northfield, MN on "The Scholar of Religion Responding to Situations of Controversy, Conflict, and Change." As Program Chair of the IAHR World Congress in Durban, South Africa, August 5-12, 2000, I was responsible for coordinating an international program committee and developing a comprehensive program which reflects the varied interests of a global organization (to view the program, CLICK HERE).

I also belong to the American Academy of Religion, the African Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Even though an expatriate, I still keep up my membership with the British Association for the Study of Religion. Currently I serve on two lively and intellectually stimulating steering committees at the AAR, the Religion, Media, and Culture Group, and the Law, Religion and Culture Group.  Selecting papers and panels each year is a way of staying on top of current scholarship in one’s field.



The "hats" I wear as a public scholar of religion not unnaturally reflect my personal concerns and academic trajectory. Perhaps the biggest contribution that I make to campus life and the wider community is to share my experiences of other cultures, and to encourage others to travel.  I was a longstanding member of the Council on International Education at UTK up until 2000. Now there is a major campus initiative on International and Intercultural Awareness. As a scholar who focuses on Africa, I am keen to combat the negative images of Africa in the media, as well as the general dearth of knowledge about this great and vast continent.  (See a great image which proves how large Africa is.)  I have also worked annually with the African Students Association to organize Africa Week at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This is a multi-media event which has grown from strength, seeking to promote awareness of, and interest in, African issues and cultures. I try never to miss the International Cultural Festival on our campus in April as the food is unfailingly good!

I am long-time member of Amnesty International, having helped establish the organization in Nigeria in the early 1980s.  At UT, I have served actively as a faculty advisor with the ever-thriving UT campus chapter. The "stress-reducing, world-changing Friday afternoon teas" that I used to arrange at a local coffee shop for student activists proved mutually beneficial, and paradoxically calming and energizing!

In 2003, I served as a member of the Steering Committee for the historic and highly successful Africa Semester at the University of Tennessee. It was doubtlessly one of the most ambitious Africa Semesters ever organized on a college campus! We brought to town some of Africa's best musicians, artists and scholars. For details see the Africa Semester website.  One of the big hits was the residency of one of South Africa’s leading jazz musicians, Zim Ngqawana.  He delighted the campus and local clubs with his avant-garde jazz, which draws on his traditional Xhosa roots as well as the strains of Scandinavia, Cuba, John Coltrane, Max Roach, and a host of others!  Read a rave review of his music that we were able to enjoy.

Nowadays, I enjoy talking to community or campus groups about my work and professional concerns. The requests tend to center around religious terrorism and fundamentalism, the art and religion of Africa, and the plight of the lost and invisible children caught up in the war in Northern Uganda. The piece that I wrote following my trip to Northern Uganda in April 2004, “Who Goes to Gulu?

 The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Forgotten War in Northern Uganda.”  Peace Colloquy (Kroc Institute, Notre Dame) has drawn me into broader efforts in this country to bring attention to the plight of the lost and stolen children in particular.  It was quite frankly one week that changed my outlook on life for ever, being shocked by what I saw, moved by the efforts of people to survive, and inspired by the peacebuilders, notably Archbishop John Baptist Odama and Rtd. Bishop McCleod Baker Ochola II.  I plan to take a team of faculty members from UT to teach for a month in the summer at Gulu University, once hostilities cease.  You can view some of the photos that I took in the refugee camps, the night-commuter children’s camp, and the army barracks.

In March 2006 I wrote another short piece, "Northern Uganda's War-Sick Children Move into the Media Spotlight," for Sightings, a publication of the the Martin Marty Center, the Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion.

My interests in and concerns for the suffering of the people in Northern Uganda resulted in my organizing with a team of wonderful students a benefit concert on September 1, 2006 called "Knoxville Jazz for Justice."  It was held at the World Grotto, in Knoxville, and was a huge success.  We are continuing the work to use music, especially jazz, as a source of activism and "engaged entertainment."  In early 2007, we launched a benefit compilation CD.  For details on the CD and our goals and activities, see the KNOXVILLE JAZZ FOR JUSTICE PROJECT website.






Please visit my Joy of Gardening page.  There you can read about my growing passion for gardening, and the creation of the Good Karma Gardening Circle here in East Tennessee.


Jos, Nigeria January 2004

Rosalind I. J. Hackett 

Last updated December 2008