Professor David Maxwell

Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History
Professor David Maxwell

I studied for my BA in History at Manchester University.  This was followed by 3 years teaching in a rural secondary school in Manicaland, Zimbabwe before returning to St Antony’s College, Oxford to take a D. Phil in African History.  After a Fellowship in the Social Anthropology Department at Manchester University I was appointed Lecturer in International History at Keele University in 1994.  I was made Professor of African History at Keele in 2007 before joining the History Faculty in Cambridge.

I have held Visiting Fellowships/Residencies at the University of Western Australia, Basel University, Switzerland and the Rockefeller Center, Bellagio, Italy.  I have also been Honorary Fellow at the University of Zimbabwe; Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and the Département des Sciences Historiques, University of Lubumbashi, DRC.  I have been awarded major reseach grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (x2); the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and most recently a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2016-18).

I am an historian of African Christianity who has written on mission history in colonial and post-colonial settings; the religious encounter of Christianity with African traditional religion; indigenous African Christian movements; Pentecostalism, transnationalism and religious globalisation.  I also have an interest in religion and the media, particularly religious print and photography. My first monograph considered the religious encounter in Zimbabwe and my second book was the history of a Southern African transnational Pentecostal movement.  The third book, Religious Entanglements, examined missionary and African contributions to the creation of so-called ‘colonial knowledge’ in Belgian Congo/DRC.  I am currently working on a broad-based study of Church, State and Society in post-colonial Zimbabwe. 

I am particularly interested in supervising graduate work in any of the following areas:

 The 19th and 20th century missionary movement;

Pentecostalism and religious transnationalism;

Religious movements and politics;

The history of colonial science;

World Christianity;

The missionary encounter in southern and central Africa;

And more generally the social and cultural history of central and southern Africa

My main teaching contributions are:

History Part I: Paper 23 (World History Since 1914);

History Part II: Paper 29 (History of Africa since 1800);

History Part II: Special Subject O  Missionary science, ethnic formation and the religious encounter in Belgian Congo, 1908-60

Divinity Part II, Paper C4 (Themes in World Christianity);

M.Phil. African Studies Options: Religious Movements and Politics in 19th and 20thCentury Africa & 

‘Christianity, Identity and Social Change in Africa’

Member of the editorial boards of Critical African StudiesThe Journal of Ecclesiastical HistoryThe Journal of Southern African StudiesThe Journal of Religion in AfricaSocial Sciences and MissionsStudies in Christian Mission, (E.J. Brill). 

 President of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (ASAUK), 2014-16


Tags & Themes


Emmanuel College
St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AP

Office Phone: 01223 334258


Key Publications

Christians and Chiefs in Zimbabwe: A Social History of the Hwesa People c.1870s-1990s (International African Library/Edinburgh University Press, 1999).

(ed.) Christianity and the African Imagination. Essays in Honour of Adrian Hastings (E.J.Brill, Leiden [with Ingrid Lawrie]  2002).

African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement (Oxford, James Currey, 2006)

(ed. with Patrick Harries) The Spiritual in the Secular.  Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 2012)

(ed. with Joel Cabrita & Emma Wild-Wood) Relocating World Christianity: Interdisciplinary Studies in Universal and Local Expressions of the Christian Faith (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 2017)

Religious Entanglements. Central African Pentecostalism, The Creation of Cultural Knowledge and the Making of the Luba Katanga, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 2022.

Other Publications

Select Articles and Chapters:

 ‘The Spirit and the Scapular: Pentecostal and Catholic Interactions in Northern Nyanga District, Zimbabwe in the 1950s and early 1960s’ in Journal of Southern African Studies, 23 2, 1997.

‘Delivered From the Spirit of Poverty?:  Poverty, Pentecostalism and Modernity’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 28, 3, 1998.

‘Historicizing Christian Independency: The Southern African Pentecostal Movement ca 1908 – 1960’, Journal of African History, 39, 2, 1999.

‘"Catch the Cockerel Before Dawn": Pentecostalism and Politics in Post-colonial Zimbabwe’ Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 70, 2, 2000.

‘Sacred History, Social History: Tradition and Text in the Making of a Southern African Transnational Religious Movement’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 43, 3, 2001.

‘The Durawall of Faith: Pentecostal Spirituality in Neo-Liberal Zimbabwe’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 35, 1, 2005.

‘Decolonisation’ in Norman Etherington (ed.) Missions and EmpireThe Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

‘Post-colonial Africa’ in H. McLeod (ed.) The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 9, World Christianities c.1914-c.2000, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

‘Writing the History of African Christianity’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 36, 4, 2006.

‘“The Soul of the Luba”: W.F.P. Burton, Missionary Ethnography and Belgian Colonial Science’, History and Anthropology, 19, 4 2008.

‘Photography and the Religious Encounter: Ambiguity and Aesthetics in Missionary Representations of the Luba of South East Belgian Congo’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 53/1 2011.

‘Freed Slaves, Missionaries and Respectability: The Expansion of the Christian Frontier from Angola to Belgian Congo’, Journal of African History, 54, 1, 2013.

‘Social Mobility and Politics in African Pentecostal Modernity’ in Robert Hefner (ed.) Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 2013.

‘Christianity’ in J. Parker & R. Reid (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Modern African History, Oxford, OUP, 2013.

‘The Missionary Movement in African and World History: Mission Sources and Religious Encounter’, The Historical Journal, 58, 4, 2015 pp.901-930.

 ‘The creation of Lubaland: missionary science and Christian literacy in the making of the Luba Katanga in Belgian Congo’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 10, 3, 2016, pp. 367-92. 

‘Continuity and Change in the Luba Christian Movement, Katanga, Belgian Congo c.1915-50’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, August, 2017, pp.1-19.

'Remaking Boundaries of Belonging: Protestant Missionaries and African Christians in Katanga, Belgian Congo’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 52, 1, 2019, pp.59-80.