In 2021 Dr Gibson Ncube was awarded a fellowship in the LUCAS/LAHRI Virtual Research Fellowship Scheme about African Knowledges for Global Challenges. On completion of his Fellowship we interviewed Gibson about his research on ‘Queer, Muslim and African: Abdellah Taïa’s literary work as an ethnography of the conflict between religion and non-normative sexuality in Africa’.
Please briefly introduce yourself
My name is Gibson Ncube and I hold a PhD in French/Francophone literary studies from Stellenbosch University (South Africa). My research interests are in comparative literature, gender and queer studies. I am one of the two 2021 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Distinguished Lecturers (African Studies Association UK & Royal African Society). I sit in the editorial boards of Nomina Africana, the Journal of Literary Studies and the Governing Intimacies in the Global South book series at Manchester University Press. I am also the Co-Convenor of the Queer African Studies Association (2020-2022). From June to September 2021, I was a LUCAS/LAHRI Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.
What project have you worked on during your fellowship period?
During my fellowship, I have worked on a project that discusses the work of Abdellah Taïa, the first openly gay Moroccan novelist to write his queerness, as a major contribution to an emergent queer African Islamic discourse. I read Taïa’s work alongside other literary texts from different parts of Africa. This project makes two important interventions. First, it focuses on Islam, as a resource for queer agency, creativity and subjectivity in contemporary Africa. This addresses Western (mis)conceptions of queer politics and queer rights that operate on a largely secular, if not anti-religious and specifically anti-Islamic basis. Second, it considers the marginalisation of the Maghreb in (queer) African studies. This addresses problematic historic divisions between North and sub-Saharan Africa, and acknowledges the political, cultural and intellectual unity of the continent. The project reveals that literary works make visible queer lived experiences on the continent. In this process, the literary texts create an alternative archive of African queer lived experiences.
What are the findings of your project so far?
One of the major findings made in this study is that putting literary texts by different writers and from different parts of the continent into conversation makes it possible to map emerging common themes and patterns. The texts examined in the project are rooted in their respective local contexts and histories. However, read alongside each other, they offer a rich impression of how Islam does allow for queerness in Africa, both historically as well as currently. Whilst most of the existing scholarly work on religion and queerness in Africa has focused on Christianity, often times tacitly buttressing the idea of Islam being a homophobic ‘other’, this project has helped to offer a poised image by examining the manifold ways in which queerness and religiosity in African contexts are interconnected.
How does the project speak to the overall theme of “African knowledges for global challenges”?
This project that I have been working on has addressed the question of “African knowledges for global challenges” in relation to African queer subjectivities and communities that are often marginalised in, or even excluded from, mainstream processes of knowledge production in African academic and societal circles. This project was interested in creating knowledge on queer subjectivities by drawing on spiritual and religious conflicts that underpin lived experiences of individuals who identify as African, queer and Muslim. Religious practices as exemplified in the literary work Abdellah Taïa and other writers do more than create queer subjects. These practices make it possible to imagine queer rights as important and valid. Moreover, this project has highlighted, through grounding the analysis on African ways of thinking, that belief in Allah and the practice of Islamic rituals and faith, does not have to be at odds with queer African existence, but can instead affirm it.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I have greatly benefited from this fellowship and I am indebted to my Leeds University mentor, Professor Adriaan van Klinken for his assistance in developing this project. I do hope that I will be able to apply for a grant to support continued collaboration and expand our work on this project.