Benedikt Pontzen


Benedikt Pontzen is an anthropologist and writer. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Freie Universität Berlin. In his research, he focuses on lived Islam, so-called ‘African Traditional Religions’, religious diversity, and religious encounters in West Africa. He is conversant in Asante Twi and has been carrying out ethnographic and historiographic research in Ghana’s Asante region since the early 2000s. He is the author of Islam in a Zongo: Muslim Lifeworlds in Asante, Ghana (Cambridge University Press, 2021; Ghanaian edition forthcoming). He has co-edited a special issue on religious minorities in Muslim Africa (Islamic Africa, 2022) and an edited volume on religious plurality and encounters in Africa (forthcoming with James Currey). His essays have been published in edited volumes and various journals including Africa, Islamic Africa, The Journal of Religion in Africa, and Religions.

Personal website: 

MIASA project: Traditional Religion and Urban Life in an African City: The Akonnedi Shrine in Accra
Africa has one of the fastest urbanization rates in the world. It is hence central to understand urban life and urbanization processes on the continent in their full complexity for the sustainable governance of African cities. Religions are a central factor in these processes as African cities are home to diverse religious actors who must find ways to practice their different religions and live with one another in shared urban settings. Given their multi-layered presences in people’s lives, African religious traditions are an important part of city life and urbanization processes on the continent. Investigating how Accra’s Akonnedi shrine is an integral part of people’s lives in this city and, in turn, affected by its urban dynamics, my project investigates an important aspect of urban life in an African city. Thereby, I add to a better understanding of this city and its urban life and explore ‘traditional’ modes of coexistence.

Selected publications
2021. Islam in a Zongo: Muslim Lifeworlds in Asante, Ghana. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2022. ‘The Formation of Religious Minorities in Muslim Africa’, Islamic Africa 13 (2): 115-132 (co-authored with Terje Østebø).
2022. ‘Bōkā or How One Religion Sees Another: Islamic Discourses on “African Traditional Religion” in West Africa’, Religion 52 (1): 67-85.
2022. ‘People’s Quest for Well-Being: Tracing Islamic Healing Practices in Africa’, in Terje Østebø (ed.). Routledge Handbook of Islam in Africa. London: Routledge, 239-251.
2020. ‘What’s (Not) in a Leather Pouch? Tracing Islamic Amulets in Asante (Ghana)’, Africa 90 (5): 870-889.
2018. ‘“Caring for the People”: ZuriaFM – An Islamic Radio Station in Asante (Ghana)’, Islamic Africa 9 (2): 209–231. 
2017. ‘“Speaking for Islam” and Religious Authority in Zongos in Asante (Ghana)’, Journal of Religion in Africa 47 (1): 42-71.

Senior Individual Fellow, June - September 2023