US Professor of Religion Delivers Lecture on Yoruba Gospel Music at UI Institute of African Studies

The African Music Unit of the Institute of African Studies (IAS), University of Ibadan held a one-day seminar on the 3rd of July, 2024 at the Lady Bank-Anthony Hall of the Institute. Hosted by the Acting Director of IAS, Dr. Molatokunbo Olutayo, and Head of the Africa Music Unit, Dr. K.M. Samuel, and chaired by the Head of the Department of Religious Studies, Prof. O. O. Familusi, the seminar was delivered by Dr. Vicki L. Brennan, Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Global Studies, University of Vermont, USA.

Also in attendance were the President of the African Studies Students Association, Michael Awoyemi, members of the Institute, members of the Faculty of Arts, both Faculty and students (undergraduate and postgraduate).

The event commenced at 11:15 am with opening remarks by the event chair, after which the Guest Lecturer was invited to the podium to speak. The lecture she delivered, titled “Yoruba Gospel Music: Media Celebrity & Everyday Pentecostalism in Contemporary Nigeria”, was a concise account of findings from her research work on Yoruba Gospel Music with a focus on the role of sound in contemporary Yoruba Pentecostalism and the everyday life experience of its adherents.

Following from her earlier research which began over two decades back and culminated in her book titled “Singing Yoruba Christianity” (published in 2018), she related how the setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic led her to re-strategize and refocus her research trajectory, which precipitated the contextual and analytical recollection of ideas she shared in the lecture and formed the basis of her current project.

Dr Brennan holding her previous book “Singing Yoruba Christianity” (Photo credit: Subomi Adediji and Timileyin Ojeyinka)

During the lecture, she shed light on her ethnographic analysis of the Yoruba Gospel Music phenomenon, its production and circulation, its effects within the context of Pentecostal religious experience (e.g., the affective role in “praise and worship”) and engagement by the broader society, ethical considerations and controversies (especially among prominent figures in the Gospel Music space), the influence of indigenous African religious practices, recent developments, and so on.

She concluded by affirming her role as an anthropologist in considering the multifaceted and dynamic interplay between culture and religion, particularly with respect to how aesthetic media (such as music, dance) impact religious experience and how ideas of morality, ethics, and spirituality are made real in performance, represented materially, and learned through the means of embodiment.

Cross-section of participants (Photo credit: Subomi Adediji and Timileyin Ojeyinka)

The lecture was well received by participants both on-site and online, as it was followed by a series of thoughtful questions which the speaker did justice to. Two renditions were also given by a choir from the Department of Music. The event ended at 1:13 PM after a vote of thanks by the host.

Speaking to our correspondent on how she felt about the event, Dr. Brennan said, “It was an honour to be invited to give this talk here. UI was a place of learning for me, and now to be able to contribute my own knowledge to the place is really wonderful. The audience really helped me to think and to sharpen my argument; the questions were all really excellent and dynamic, and [although] as I mentioned earlier, I was insecure about my ideas, the enthusiastic response helped me to feel better about my book and to get back to writing with a renewed focus. [Also], the choir was just beautiful; I’m so glad they added music to the presentation.”

Igdaliah Otitoola

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