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Dr Felicitas Becker

Dr Felicitas Becker

University Lecturer in African History

25 Fitzwilliam Street

Office Phone: 01223 7 46955


I did my undergraduate work at Humboldt Universitaet, Berlin, followed by an MA in African area studies at SOAS and a PhD in African history here in Cambridge. I set out studying the economic and social history of an isolated region of Tanzania, including processes of economic and political marginalisation as well as resistance (see the article on ‘Traders, ‘big men’ and prophets’ in Journal of African History,2004). My post-doctoral work focused on the spread of Islam in the same region. It is published by Oxford University Press asBecoming Muslim in Mainland Tanzania. Before returning to Cambridge, I taught at Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, SOAS and at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

Subject groups/Research projects

World History:

African history

Departments and Institutes


Research Interests

Researching African history is very rewarding. It entails questioning concepts often taken for granted in European history (for instance, when is a social formation a state?), and encounters with diverse societies that have long been remarkably complex and resilient. I greatly enjoy the subtleties of the Swahili language, which I have used extensively for research, and have found Tanzania a very congenial place to work. My current research interests include Islamic radicalism and reform in East Africa and its relation to similar movements elsewhere; women, families and Islam; political rhetoric and performance, especially in relation to the notion of ‘development’; orality and media, the long aftermath of slavery, and alternatives to the concept of ‘power’ to describe unequal relationships.

Research Supervision

I will consider supervising PhD or MPhil theses in any area of modern African history, but especially those concerned with East Africa or the history of Islam in Africa. I am particularly interested in projects that involve rural, oral, or women's history. For enquiries about applying, please email.


I lecture and run classes for the third-year paper on Africa since 1800 (paper 29). I also contribute to the wider world history papers for part I (21 and 23), to HAP (on oral history and memory), to the Themes and Sources class on conversion and colonialism, the 'Islands and Beaches' specified and the MPhil in African Studies.

Key Publications

  • Becoming Muslim in Mainland Tanzania, 1890-2000. Oxford and London: Oxford University Press and the British Academy, 2008. ISBN-13 9780197264270.

  • Bara na pwani. Historia ya Kusini Mashariki ya Tanzania, 1880 hadi 1985. Ndanda, Tanzania: Ndanda Mission Press, 2004. ISBN 9976 63 672 5. [A Swahili version of my PhD thesis. The title translates as ‘Mainland and coast: the history of southeast Tanzania, 1880-1985.’]

Edited collections

  • AIDS and religious practice in Africa. Leiden: Brill, 2009 (with Wenzel Geissler).

  • ‘Special issue: Religious practice and AIDS in East Africa’. Journal of Religion in Africa 37, 1, 2007 (with Wenzel Geissler).

  • Der Maji Maji-Krieg gegen die deutsche Kolonialherrschaft in Tanzania, 1905-08. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 2005. ISBN 3 86153 358 8 (with Jigal Beez). [The Maji Maji War against German colonial rule in Tanzania, 1905-08]

Journal articles and book chapters

  • ‘Clashing voices: oral histories of slavery from southern Tanzania’. In Alice Bellagamba, Carolyn Brown and Martin Klein, Tales of slavery: a source reader, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (forthcoming 2012).
  • ‘Religious anxieties in two marginal regions: reformist debates on funerary ritual among Tanzanian and Acehnese Muslims in the twentieth century’. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (accepted for publication).

  • ‘Ethnic stereotypes in twentieth-century Tanzania: their persistence and change’. In Alexander Keese (ed.): Ethnic solidarity and the longue duree: the African experience.  Berne: Peter Lang Verlag, 2010, 93-126.
  • ‘Sudden disaster and slow change: the Maji Maji War and the long-term history of Southeast Tanzania’. In James Giblin and Jamie Monson, The Maji Maji War: national history and local memory. Leiden: Brill, 2010, 295-323. 
  • ‘Islamic reform and historical change in the care of the dead: conflicts over funerary practice among Tanzanian Muslims.’ Africa: the Journal of the International African Institute 79 (2009), 416-34.
  • Bad governance’ and the persistence of alternative political arenas: a study of a Tanzanian region.’ In Giorgio Blundo and Pierre-Yves Le Meur (eds.): The governance of daily life in Africa. Leiden: Brill, 2009, 73-100.
  • ‘Commoners in the process of gradual Islamization: reexamining their role in the light of evidence from Southeast Tanzania.’ Journal of Global History 3 (2008), 227-49. 

  • ‘Cosmopolitanism beyond the towns: Islam and rural-urban relations on the southern Swahili coast in the twentieth century.’ In Kai Kresse and Ed Simpson (eds.): Cosmopolitanism contested: anthropology and history in the Western Indian Ocean. London and New York: Hurst and co. and Columbia University Press, 2007, 261-90.
  • ‘The virus and the scriptures: Muslims and AIDS in Tanzania.’ Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007), 16-40.
  • ‘Rural Islamism during the “war on terror”: a Tanzanian case study’. African Affairs 105 (2006), 583-603.

  • ‘Traders, big men and prophets: political continuity and crisis in the Maji Maji rebellion in Southeast Tanzania.’ Journal of African History 45 (2004), 1-22.

  • ‘Netzwerke und Gesamtgesellschaft: Ein Gegensatz? Anregungen fuer Verflechtungsgeschichte’Geschichte und Gesellschaft. Zeitschrift fuer historische Sozialwissenschaft, 35 (2004), 314-324.[Networks and society – a dichotomy? Suggestions for the writing of intertwined histories.]