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Christianity, identity and social change in Africa

Course Co-ordinator: Dr Emma Wild-Wood ( with Dr Jesse Zink ( ) and Michelle Liebst (

Seminars will take place six times a term on Monday, 2-4 pm

Venue for Michaelmas term: Room 7, Faculty of Divinity

Venue for Lent tern: Centre of African Studies Meeting Room, Alison Richard Building


This option takes an historical and anthropological approach to Christianity in Africa and beyond, examining its complex relations with changing social and political contexts.  Emphasis is placed upon Christianity’s popular expression rather than formal theology.  A number of themes predominate: 1) the relation between Christianity and other world religions, the increase in social and political scale, and the differentiation of power structures that accompanied colonialism; 2) Christianity’s enduring concern with the search for power, prosperity and fertility; 3) the creation of alternative religious models of liberation achieved through prayer, healing, community-building and personal renewal; 4) Christianity as a source of political legitimacy and means of popular mobilization; 5) religious conversion as a route to modernity, particularly through new forms of knowledge, literacy and schooling; 6) the contribution of religious ideas, practices and texts to the formation of new identities of class, gender, ethnicity, nation and religious communities that extend beyond the nation-state.


The option will be taught by studying shifting debates about religious movements in Africa.  In the 1960s-80s scholars were concerned with the relationship between religion and nationalism.  They examined the role of Christian independency in resistance to colonial rule and its involvement in nationalist mobilization.  In the 1990s and 2000s, the focus shifted to consider the contribution of Christian groups to the formation of civil society and the rise of a public sphere, examining it as a source of democratization, development and new rights-based discourse.  Other scholars have viewed so-called fundamentalist movements, Born-again Christianity/Pentecostalism, as vehicles of conservative American influence, or sought to examine them rather as creative local deployments of trans-regional ideologies that address social problems in post-colonial Africa.  Most contemporary commentators have observed the increasing salience of religious idioms and ideas in political discourses as African populations and political leaders seek out new sources of legitimacy.



Michaelmas Term:

Key Debates, Sources and Methods in the Study of Christianity in Africa


Seminar 1:10th October

Introduction: Approaches to the Study of Christianity – Emma Wild-Wood


Seminar 2: 17th October

Mission Archives outline: Word and Image (University of Southern California Mission Photography Archive and MUNDUS Gateway) – Michelle Liebst


Seminar 3: WEDNESDAY 26th October morning.

SOAS Archives: Official Missionary Archives – Michelle Liebst


Seminar 4: 31st October

Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (CCCW): Archives – Personal Missionary Papers – Jesse Zink


Seminar 5: 14th November

Debates about Conversion in Africa: Indigenous vs Alien Faiths – Emma Wild-Wood


Seminar 6: 28th November Debates about Religious Authenticity: Mission Christians vs Independents – Emma Wild-Wood



Lent Term:

Themes and Topics in the Study of Christianity in Africa


Seminar 1: 23th January

Christianity and Resistance Politics: Colonial states in Sub-Saharan Africa and popular Christian movements – Emma Wild-Wood


Seminar 2: 30th January

Missionary Science and Medicine: Knowledge formation and indigenous interlocutors – Michelle Liebst



Seminar 3: 13th February

Literacy and Christianity: Missionary translations, vernacular grammars and the formation of ethnic and national identities – Emma Wild-Wood


Seminar 4: 27th February

Transatlantic Christianities: The Ethiopian movement and AME church; early Pentecostal movements in Africa and emergence of ‘spirit’, ‘praying’ and healing churches – Jesse Zink


Seminar 5: 6nd March

Church and Decolonization in Africa: The creation of an indigenous clergy and conflicts between church and state – Emma Wild-Wood


Seminar 6: 13th March

Theology, Global Christianity in post-Colonial Africa: The role of Pentecostal Christianity in a post-independence and increasingly globalized African continent – Jesse Zink