Fellow Spotlight: Dr. Rabiat Akande

This interview is part of our Fellow Spotlight series. This series features interviews with current and previous PIL Fellows, highlighting their work with the Program, their path getting here, and the road going forward. For more information on our Fellows, visit our website

Can you tell us a little bit about your background – where are you from, where did you pursue your education? And why?

I’m Nigerian and studied law (as an undergraduate degree) at the University of Ibadan and subsequently at the Nigerian Law School. Thereafter, I came to the US for graduate studies where I enrolled at Harvard Law School, first for the Masters program and subsequently for the SJD. I always wanted to be an academic and I was naturally drawn to graduate programs that offer rigorous programs as measured by the quality of their faculty, students, and overall research output. With those indices at the top of my mind, Harvard Law was, of course, an easy choice. 

What was your doctoral dissertation about? And your current book project? 

My dissertation explored the history of the struggles over religion-state relations in Colonial Nigeria, tracing the emergence of secular governmentality as a colonial technique of managing religion and religious difference. I examine the ways in which colonial secular governmentality not only transformed religious and specifically Islamic law and institutions but also heightened the legal and political significance of religious difference and in the process deepened cleavages. Right now, I’m concluding a book manuscript based on the dissertation, which is to be published by Cambridge University Press.

What are your current research interests? How did you first get interested in this research?

My research interests span the fields of legal history (Islamic legal history, comparative legal history, and British colonial legal history), law and religion, constitutional law, and African law and society. I’ve always been interested in the complex connections between law, faith, identity, and power, especially as that interplay has generated struggles that travel across space and time and that thread across the different fields I’ve highlighted above.

Why did you apply to become a PIL Research Fellow?

I wanted to be a part of a community of scholars thinking about Islamic law both historically and in its modern manifestations and the PIL provided a wonderful opportunity for that. 

What project did you focus on as a Fellow at PIL?

I worked on a project that digitized legislation and judicial decisions on Islamic criminal law on Northern Nigeria. Beyond digitizing the primary materials, the project required summarizing the rationale of the judicial decisions and in some cases illuminating the background to the case. The project was a perfect fit given that at the time, I was writing a dissertation that drew on some of those primary materials.

What PIL resources did you draw on for your research?

It was particularly great working with and learning from Prof. Rabb. It was also a pleasure working with Phil Ostien. The SHARIAsource Portal was also very user friendly, which made the process far less exacting than I had thought it would be.

What do you find most exciting about the work? 

It was exciting to have the opportunity to take a step back and take stock of that body of primary materials and to figure out how to present it to the average non-specialist researcher or even non-expert member of the public.

Where did your research take you after your fellowship?

After the fellowship, I took on a residential fellowship at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and subsequently joined the Osgoode Hall Law School faculty.

Any overall principle or saying that you draw on for inspiration or drive?

I’d say that it is faith, more than any other thing, that powers me.

What is a fun fact about you? 

Not so much a fun fact but non-‘work’ fact about me is that I’m a mum of two (a six, almost seven, year old son and a three year old daughter). That keeps me really busy.

Leave a Reply