Transnational Histories, Nodes of Encounter, and Belonging in Africa

Images from here, here, and here.

Mougoué’s second book project, Transnational Histories, Nodes of Encounter, and Belonging in Africa, uses the conversion of thousands of Africans to the Baha’i faith in the 1950s and 1960s to illuminate new transnational histories. Drawing on oral histories and archival research, Mougoué argues that through Baha’ism, a religion with roots in Iran that teaches the unity and equality of all religions and peoples (including gender and racial equality), these converts forged new spaces of belonging. They earned elevated positions in the Baha’i administrative system and PhDs at major universities, married into families abroad, and built transnational businesses. The social mobility and affective networks of African Baha’is, including with Black American converts, facilitated global Pan-African intellectual activism and distinct global black cosmopolitan identities.

In tracing the movements of people, cultures, and ideas across diverse spaces, this project attends to transnational mobility on the macro and micro levels. Mougoué will employ the use of “transnational biographies” (Hannerz 1996) and what she terms “nodes of encounter”—face-to-face, long-lasting affiliations, and fleeting coalitions. Mougoué weaves distinct and complex narratives about decolonization in Africa, depicting encounters through various perspectives, traversing temporal and spatial dynamics to privilege individual experiences. These encounters act as branches that sprout vibrant stories, illustrating diverse connections between Black Americans and Africans and revealing the flowering of a unique postcolonial identity grounded in racial solidarity.