Menue phone
all research fellows

Dr. Peter Kneitz

Senior Research Fellow


Areas of interest

  • Processes of socio-cultural change and transformation in Madagascar and the western Indian Ocean
  • Modernity, normativity and conflict solution
  • Neo-traditional units and negotiating of religion

Negotiating the Boundaries of the Secular State Project on Madagascar: The Trend towards Institutionalization and Heritagization of fihavanana gasy (Malagasy solidarity) since Independence

The introduction of European secular practices on Madagascar since 19th century has provoked, among others, the development of a deep conservative impetus, effecting the socio-cultural production in many ways. One important aspect is the establishment of a morality based upon what is seen nowadays as "truly" Malagasy values, with special emphasis given to the idea of Malagasy solidarity and respect (fihavanana gasy). The long-standing fear that these fundamental values might be lost and should therefore be strengthened and re-integrated has led to a process of negotiating the boundaries of the secular state project on the island. Secular practices were (and are) interpreted in an emic Malagasy view as power not under the control of transcendental forces, and by consequence as fundamentally different from religiously based power concepts in precolonial periods. While the diverse attempts to re-integrate secularity within a transcendental Malagasy world view, and to control it, necessarily failed due to the autonomy and speed of secular movements, they have contributed to establish a distinct form of Malagasy secularity.

The projects aims to uncover the characteristics of this process, and of the emerging kind of secularity, by elaborating the more recent dynamic towards institutionalization and heritagization of the concept of Malagasy solidarity, with the 2013 created constitutional entity "Council of Fampihavanana Gasy" (Council of Malagasy Solidarity) as the most visible result. The tasks of this unique institutional structure ace including the mediation of present conflicts and political amnesty, or to work towards the refoundation of the nation. The case study reframes the socio-political dynamic of Madagascar since 20th century as essentially driven by a new and competitive dynamic between secular and religious related work views, shaping a Malagasy vision of secularity, and of society.


2016 – 2020

Senior Researcher, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and Department of History, University Antananarivo, Madagascar, funded by the European Union (Global Fellow of the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie-Program). Project on normativity and the negotiation of political conflicts on Madagascar.

2010 – 2013

Research Assistant, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology (DFG funded project on normativity and conflict solution (western Madagascar), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

2005 – 2008

Research Assistant, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology (DFG funded project on processes of religion and secularity in Western Madagascar (Sakalava kingdoms)), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany


PhD, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Cologne, Germany. Thesis on the Boeny kingdom (western Madagascar) within the Malagaswy republic.

Relevant Publications

  • Kneitz, Peter (in press). "A magic momentum: Negotiating authority in the Bongolava region, Madagascar." In Challenging authorities: Ethnographies of legitimacy and power in Eastern and Southern Africa. Edited by Arne S. Steinforth and Sabine Klocke-Daffa. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Kneitz, Peter (in press). "The quest for solidarity and reconciliation in Madagascar." In Peace Review.
  • Kneitz, Peter (in press). "Charm battels: Vigilantes, magic, and the state in middle Western Madagascar." In Small Wars & Insurgencies 32no. 2 (2021).
  • Kneitz, Peter. "The Lords of the Muskets. Influx and Integration of Firearms in Precolonial Madagascar. Insights from Robert Drury’s Account." Anthropos 114, no. 1 (2019): 119-44.
  • Kneitz, Peter. "The Sakalava Pilgrimage as a Royal Service (Western Madagaskar)." In Approaching the Sacred: Pilgrimage in Historical and Intercultural Perspective. Edited by Ute Luig, 239–76. Berlin: Edition Topoi, 2018.
  • Kneitz, Peter. Fihavanana – La vision d’une société paisible à Madagascar. Perspectives anthropologiques, historiques et socio-économiques. Halle: Universitätsverlag Halle-Wittenberg, 2016.
  • Kneitz, Peter. Die 'Kirche der Sakalava' und die vier heiligen Brüder Andriamisara. Ein dynastischer Kult und seine gesellschafspolitische Bedeutung auf Madagaskar. Stuttgart: WiKu, 2003.