I am in Tsukuba, Japan, this week, teaching a seminar on contemporary Senegalese Sufism. A former student of mine, Matsubara Kosuke, is now a professor of urban planning at the University of Tsukuba. This Japanese university and Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane have a solid partnership, one part of which consists of short-term faculty exchange. Two AUI professors, Dr. Jack Kalpakian and Dr. Ahmed Rhazaoui, have come here in the past. This year it is my turn.
I am delighted to be here on several counts. First, being invited by a former student who is now a professor himself is a milestone of sorts in my career. Secondly, I actually teach about Tsukuba in my Economic Geography course. Created through the merger and relocation of several older institutions in 1973, Tsukuba is the original “techno-pole,” an R & D “science city” where government, academia and private enterprise collaborate in both fundamental and applied research. To give readers of this post some idea of the place, in my time off I have been given a tour of JAXA, Japan’s space agency, and have been outfitted with a Cyberdyne robot exoskeleton in a shopping mall. Thirdly, I rarely get a chance to discuss my Senegalese research in the classroom. Being invited to do so in a week-long seminar half way around the world only adds to the pleasure.
Tsukuba is much as I expected it would be. A true college-town, the university campus and the city merge seamlessly into each other. The place offers a textbook example of post-war high-modern architecture and urban planning. Leafy green parkland dotted with lakes and ponds twists through the urban fabric. Pedestrian and bicycle flows are segregated above the automobile traffic. University buildings are grouped around open plazas with fountains. The campus is bicycle-friendly, handicapped-friendly and wheelchair-accessible throughout.
I am presenting my work on Senegal to a diverse group of students: a mix of Japanese and internationals, some undergraduates and a few graduates, some studying Urban Planning, others majoring International Studies. The order of my presentations has been as follows:
- Monday: introductory presentation on Senegalese history and the socio-cultural development of Islam there.
- Tuesday: development of the “pénc and grid” urban design model from the 17th century till today. Read more about this here and here.
- Wednesday: The role of the Sufi arboreal archetype in the urban design of Touba and the legacy of Senegambian palaver trees. Read more about this here and here.
- Thursday: The development of the Catholic figure of Jesus within the practices of the Layène Sufi order of Cape Vert. Read more about this here.
- Friday: The globalization of Touba through the practices of expatriate Murid disciples. Read more about this here.
University of Tsukuba students will now have one week to respond to this material.
Eric Ross, cyborg academic