Sylvanus Spencer (1963-2021)

Sylvanus Spencer (1963-2021)Former Member

Sylvanus conducted research in Sierra Leone focusing on the strategies and challenges of promoting freedom of expression in post-war Sierra Leone. Until his untimely death in June 2021, he was Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of History and African Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He received his Master’s (1999) and Ph.D. (2012) from the University of Sierra Leone with support from the Volkswagen Foundation through the research project “Travelling Models in Conflict Management” based at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Halle, Germany.

Current position
Until his untimely death in June 2021 he was Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of History and African Studies
University affiliation
Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone


Sylvanus was one of the Principal Investigators of the Trust in Medicine Project where he looked at the translation of Ebola prevention and control measures in Sierra Leone. In this context, his specific interest focused on how religious beliefs and practices influenced trust in biomedical measures prescribed during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

Attachment to religious beliefs and practices, mostly when perceived as fanatical, has often been viewed as one of the crucial impeding factors. Although there appears to be much credence in this, religious beliefs and practices were not simply a barrier to establishing trust in biomedical prescription but, in some cases, a source of support in the promotion of biomedical prevention and control measures. Sylvanus’ research sought to present a balanced view by critically examining how observance of religious beliefs and practices influenced people’s trust or distrust in the prescribed biomedical prevention and control measures. Apart from examining the impact of religious beliefs and practices on the different perceptions people hold about the origins and treatment of EVD, he further sought to ascertain to what extent such perceptions informed health-seeking behavior, with what consequences and with what lessons learned for any future outbreak.


  • Spencer, Sylvanus (2017) "Transcending Traditional Tropes: Autochthony as a Discourse of Conflict and Integration in Post-war Krio/Non-Krio Relations in Sierra Leone." in Politics and Policies in the Upper Guinea Coast Societies: Change and Continuity , edited by Christian K. Hojbjerg, Jacqueline Knoerr and William P. Murphy, 205-222. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Spencer, Sylvanus (2016) "Expanding the Space for Freedom of Expression in Post-War Sierra Leone." in The Upper Guinea Coast in Global Perspective , edited by Jacqueline Knoerr and Christoph Kohl, 222-240. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.
  • Spencer, Sylvanus (2015) "‘Invisible Enemy’: Translating Ebola Prevention and Control Measures in Sierra Leone." in Working Papers of the Priority Programme 1448 of the German Research Foundation, No. 13.
  • Spencer, Sylvanus (2014) "Singing for Change: Music as a Means of Political Expression for Young People in Sierra Leone and Liberia." in Travelling Models in African Conflict Management: Translating Technologies of Social Ordering , edited by Andrea Behrends, Sung-Joon Park and Richard Rottenburg, 181-204. Leiden: Brill.
  • Spencer, Sylvanus (2012) "The Use of Pop Songs by Sierra Leonean Youths in Enjoying the Space Created for Freedom of Expression after the Civil War." in Africa Today 59 (1): 71-86.