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Evangelical Africanist

A visit with Robert Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

By LuAnne Roth
Published: - Topics: religion religious studies indigenous religion fieldwork Africa

Fieldwork in Senegal

Topics: research community

In 1974, Baum received a Thomas J. Watson fellowship to study Diola religion in Senegal. He lived in a southern Diola community, learned the language, gained the community’s trust, and has returned there over the years to conduct historical and ethnographic research. “I learned the language, learned how to wrestle, how to work in the rice paddies, how to climb palm trees, how to harvest palm wine, [and do] some of the dances.” Baum never used an interpreter. Only after participating in the community for a year, and learning the language, did he feel ready to begin doing interviews. Baum recollects the process: “I kept going back, and by that time I’d been adopted by my family and was considered part of the community. I had a Diola name and nicknames, I publicly danced sacred dances, I wrestled, and was thrown to the ground—which is certainly a way of winning acceptance in a community and defying certain stereotypes of what it means to be white or European in an African culture.”