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(iii) Religious conversion and colonialism


mexicoThis course investigates the experience of religious conversion as a fundamental part of the rise and expansion of colonialism on a global scale between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. The first segment of the course will consider the concept of religious conversion as it has been analysed by historians and anthropologists, as well as the political and intellectual context surrounding the emergence of the missionary projects. However, the bulk of the course will be made up of case studies which will show the diverse reception these missionary movements encountered. The use of specific cases from Africa, Spanish America, the Middle East, and Asia, will require students to get to grips with deep cultural variety and the question of conceptual translation, as well as the political logic of European expansion.

Students will be asked to consider the role of the ruling classes in the process of religious conversion, and why Christianisation efforts were successful in some regions (as in Spanish America) while having only modest effects in other areas (such as Asia). And we shall consider the different role played by the state in driving religious conversion in areas such as the Americas and the Ottoman Empire. The course has a theoretical component, which should stimulate students to take a critical approach to the historiography and develop their own perspective on issues such as religious boundaries, the state, and cultural change through sustained comparison. Yet it will also be rooted in particular moments of encounter as illuminated by a diverse range of primary sources. These sources will include chronicles, travel diaries, correspondence, sermons, reports of ecclesiastical visits, music, and images.


Class 1 : The Concept of Conversion in History and the Social Sciences

Dr Gabriela Ramos

This class will discuss historical and anthropological approaches to religion and the concept of conversion.

Hefner, Morris and Vilaça (available on Camtools) are compulsory reading for this class.

Asad, Talal, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam, 1993, and ‘Comments on Conversion’ in Conversion to Modernities: The Globalization of Christianity, edited by Peter van der Veer, New York: Routledge.

Bellah, Robert N. ‘Religious Evolution’, American Sociological Review 29 (1964), 358-74.

Berend, Nora (ed.) Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus' c. 900–1200 (CUP, 2007).

Berger, Peter. “Religion and World Construction.” In: The Sacred Canopy. New York: Doubleday, 1967. In particular, pp. 21-34.

Fisher, Humphrey J. 'Conversion Reconsidered : Some Historical Aspects of Religious Conversion in Black Africa'. Africa 43:1 (1973), 27-40 [JStor] or "Many deep baptisms: Reflections on religious, chiefly Muslim, conversion in Black Africa", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 57:1, 1994, pp. 68-81. [Jstor]

Geertz, C.. "Internal conversion" in Contemporary Bali' and ‘Person, Time and Conduct in Bali’. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973, Basic Books, New York).

* Hefner, Robert W. (ed.). Introduction. Conversion to Christianity. Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on a Great Transformation. (1993) Berkeley.

*Morris, Brian, Anthropological Studies of Religion: An Introductory Text. Cambridge: CUP, 1987.

Nock, A.D. 1933. Conversion.

Peel, J. D.Y. - ‘Syncretism and Religious Change.’ History 10

Schreuder, Deryck and Geoffrey Oddie (1989) What is ‘Conversion’? History, Christianity and Religious Change in Colonial Africa and South Asia’, Journal of Religious History, Volume 15 Issue 4, pp. 496-518.

Strathern, Alan (2007b) ‘Transcendentalist intransigence: why rulers rejected monotheism in early modern Southeast Asia and beyond’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 49.

*Vilaça, A. ‘Christians without faith: some aspects of the conversion of the ‘Wari’ (Pakaa Nova)’ in Ethnos vol 62:1-2 1997.


1.Defining kinds of ‘religion’

What are the problems with the categories of ‘traditional’ and ‘world religion’?

2. Conversion

What are the different ways we can define conversion?

What counts as a true conversion?

3. Religious change

Does conversion always mean wholesale changes to religious belief and practice?

4. The Vilaça article: an anthropological case study

Why did the Wari convert and why did they give up Christianity?

Did the Wari have a concept of ‘belief’?

Is religion something one does or something one thinks?


Class 2. Christianity and Early Modern Colonialism

In this class we study the political and intellectual context of early modern colonialism, and its association with the spread of Christianity. We analyze the arguments advanced by the Catholic Church, theologians, missionaries and politicians to justify European expansion and the conquest and colonisation of the ‘New World’.

Primary Sources:

Alexander VI. Bull Inter Caetera (1493). In: Charles Gibson, ed. The Spanish Tradition in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1968, 35-39.

‘Royal Instructions to Ovando.’ (1501) In: Charles Gibson, ed. The Spanish Tradition in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1968, 55-57.

Paul III. Bull Sublimis Deus Sic Dilexit (1537). In: Charles Gibson, ed. The Spanish Tradition in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1968, 104-105.

Acosta, José de. De Procuranda Indorum Salute. Book I, Chapter VI, “God is now calling Indians to the Gospel”21-23; Chapter VII, “How to treat the Indians in order to win them for Christ.”, 24-28; Book III, Chapter II, “Indians who receive the faith come under the care and jurisdiction of Christian Princes”, 100-102; Book V, Chapter III: “Against the opinion of those that feel that one can be saved without the knowledge of Christ.” 63-68; “The unsuitability of the barbarians for the gospel does not spring as much from their nature as from their way of life.”27-28; Chapter VIII “Fear of the difficulty of the language ought not to hinder the propagation of the gospel.” 29-30.

Las Casas, Bartolomé de. A Selection of His Writings. “The Meanings of ‘Barbarous’”, 142-136; “The ‘Only Method’ of Converting the Indians”, 157-163.

Motolinía, Toribio de. Motolinías History of the Indians of New Spain. Translated by Francis Borgia Steck. Washington DC: Academy of American Franciscan History. Third Treatise, Chapter III, “Numerous Indians Baptized. Missionary Methods…”, 244-248.

Sandoval, Alonso de. Treatise on Slavery. Selections from De Instauranda Aethiopium Salute. Edited by Nicole Von Germeten. Hackett Publishing, 2008. Book 3, Chapter 3, “Of the blacks’ potential to understand our holy faith.”105-110; Chapter 4, “How the blacks are baptized in their lands and in the ports from whence they came.”111-116; Chapter 5, “The value of these baptisms.” 117-122.

Secondary Sources:

Auden, Davril. 1996. The Making of an enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, its empire and beyond. 1540 - 1750.

Boxer, C. R. (1960-1) ‘A note on Portuguese missionary methods in the east’, Ceylon

Historical Journal 10: 77-90.

(1978) The Church Militant and Iberian Expansion.

Burkhart, Louise. The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, chapters 1-2.

Correia, Pedro Lage Reis, ‘Alessandro Valignano’s attitude towards Jesuit and Franciscan Concepts of Evangelization in Japan (1587-1597)’ in Bulletin of Portuguese/Japanese Studies, June 2001, vol. 2,

Cummins, J. Christianity and Missions, 1450-1800 (1997).

Jesuit and Friar in the Spanish expansion to the East (Variorum Reprints, London, 1986), in particular the essay (pp. 33-108), ‘Two Missionary Methods in China: Mendicants and Jesuits’.

Luebke, David M. The Counter-Reformation: The essential readings. Oxford: Blackwell.

MacCormack, Sabine. “The Heart has its Reasons: Predicaments of Missionary Christianity in Early Colonial Peru.” Hispanic American Historical Review 65/3, 1985, 443-466.

*Muldoon, James P. The Americas in the Spanish World Order: The Justification for Conquest in the Seventeenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994, 1-37.

Nimmo, D. Reform and Division in the Medieval Franciscan Order (1987)

Po-Chia Hsia, R. The World of Catholic Renewal. 1540 – 1770 (1997)

A Companion to the Reformation World (2006)

*Poole, Stafford. “Some Observations on Mission Methods and Native Reactions in Sixteenth-Century New Spain.” The Americas, vol. 50, n.3 (Jan. 1994), 337-349.

Schwaller, Frederick, ed. The Church in Colonial Latin America. Wilmington: SCR Books.

Wright, A.D Counter-Reformation: Catholic Europe and the non-Christian world (1982)


Class 3. Conversion in Southeast Asia


This class will explore the spread of Islam and Christianity to Southeast Asia during the early modern era. Religious diversity has often been seen as a defining characteristic of this region: both Islam and Christianity were brought to societies with Hindu-Buddhist as well as animist beliefs. Our examples will be

  1. the Malay kingdom of Melaka (Malacca), where the process of conversion to Islam (how, when, who) is still hotly debated in modern historiography
  2. the so called ‘Spice Islands’ , where Christianity arrived with Catholic missionaries brought by Portuguese traders
  3. the Philippines, where the Spanish administration early became dependent on the support of converted subjects.

As both Islam and Christianity were introduced by foreign traders, it will be possible to take a comparative approach to early modern conversion. We will consider some of the political and economic motivations for rulers to convert, and how far Islam and Christianity penetrated into the various layers of social strata. We will also evaluate the extent to which the new religions changed social structures, promoting some groups and marginalising others, such as women in the Philippines. Here, it will also be possible to see how conversion strategies appropriated and accommodated indigenous religious beliefs, language and rituals. We will further examine how the sources examined here were used and understood in Europe, in particular how they fed arguments for increased colonial involvement in the region. Lastly, we will examine how the economic, social and political impact of conversion has been evaluated in the historiography of the region, with a special focus on the role of religion in what has been called Southeast Asia’s ‘Age of Commerce’, a period of economic prosperity which lasted until the end of the seventeenth century.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What did certain groups in indigenous society gain from converting to Christianity? How did conversion affect the social fabric of indigenous societies?
  2. Did Islam ever become a conversion ‘from below’?
  3. To what extent did the Christian religious orders accommodate animist beliefs in the Philippines?
  4. How can missionary writing act as empirical sources for ‘indigenous’ histories? Is it possible to write the history of Southeast Asian societies in the early modern early era without ‘Christian’ sources?
  5. What were the differences and similarities between conversion to Islam and Christianity in Southeast Asia?

General introductory reading

  1. Reid, Anthony, Southeast Asia in the age of commerce, 1450-1680, Vol. 2: Expansion and crisis (1993), Chapter 3.
  2. Pearson, M. N., ‘Conversion in South-East Asia: evidence from the Portuguese records’, Portuguese studies, 6 (1990), pp. 53-70.
  3. Andaya, Barbara, ‘The arrival of Christianity’, in Nicholas Tarling (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, vol. 1, pp. 527-34.
  4. Brewer, Carolyn, ‘From Animist ‘Priestess to Catholic Priest: The Re/gendering of Religious Roles in the Philippines, 1521-1685’, in Barbara Watson Andaya (ed.), Other pasts. Women, gender and history in early modern Southeast Asia ( 2000), pp. 69-86.


  1. Extract from the Sêjara Mêlayu (Malay Annals).
  2. Two letters from Francis Xavier.
  3. Antonio de Morga, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, translated and edited by J. S. Cummins, The Hakluyt Society, 1971, two excerpts, pp. 271-77, 287-302.

Suggested further reading

Andaya, Barbara Watson, ‘Religious developments in Southeast Asia, c. 1500-1800’, in Nicholas Tarling (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, vol. I (1999).

Brown, C. C. (ed. & transl.), Sêjara Mêlayu, or Malay Annals. With a new introduction by R. Roolvink (Kuala Lumpur, 1970).

Casparis, J. G. de & Mabbett, I. W., ’Religion and popular beliefs in Southeast Asia before c. 1500, in Nicholas Tarling (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, vol. I (1999).

Hall, D. G. E., The History of Southeast Asia (1981 edition), chapters 10 (Malacca and the spread of Islam), 13 (The coming of the European), 15 (The Portuguese and Spaniards in Southeast Asia).

Jones, A. H., ‘Islam in Southeast Asia: problems of perspective’, in C. D. Cowan and O. W. Wolters (eds.), Southeast Asian history and historiography. Essays presented to D. G. E. Hall (1976).

MacGregor, I. A., ‘Some aspects of Portuguese historical writing of the sixteenth and seventeenth century on South East Asia’, in D. G. E. Hall (ed.), Historians of Southeast Asia (1961).

Reid, Anthony, ‘The Islamization of Southeast Asia’, in Muhammad Abu Bakar, Amarjit kaur and Abdullah Zakaria Ghazali (eds.), Historia: Essays in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Department of History, University of Malaysia (1984).

Rafael, Vicente L, ‘Confession, conversion, and reciprocity in early Tagalog colonial society’, in Nicholras B. Dirks (ed.), Colonialism and Culture, University of Michigan Press, 1992, pp. 65-88.

Rafael, Vicente L., Contracting colonialism: translation and Christian conversion in Tagalog society under early Spanish rule, Cornell University Press, 1988.


Class 4. Race, religious conversion, and colonialism

This class will examine the question of race in religious conversion in colonial contexts, drawing from a range of sources from the medieval and early-modern periods. It will begin by examining the sorts of ideas about difference and racialised difference that Europeans, and specifically Iberians, had developed by the end of the Middle Ages, which formed a conceptual framework that shaped their perception of the peoples they would encounter in their colonial expansion. The class will consider the factors that led early-modern Europeans to make radically different valuations of non-Europeans, using Jesuit reports on the people of Japan, India, and West Africa as a case study. It will then focus on the Spanish conceptualisation of the indigenous population of the Americas, and its significance in Spain’s colonial project. Finally, it will explore how such ideas were integral to the creation of an additional category in colonial society, that of the ‘mestizo’, and through it the significance of ideas of racial difference for religious conversion and colonialism.

Secondary reading:

Braude, Benjamin. ‘The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods.’ The William and Mary Quarterly 54.1 (1997): 103-142.

* Burns, Kathryn. ‘Unfixing Race.’ Rereading the Black Legend : The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires. Ed. Margaret Rich Greer, Walter Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 188-202.

* Estenssoro Fuchs, Juan Carlos. 'El Simio de Dios: los indigenas y la Iglesia frente a la evangelizacíon del Peru, siglos XVI-XVII.' Bulletin de l'institut Francais d'études andines 30.3 (2001): 455-474. (Extracts translated into English in source pack.)

* Mignolo, Walter D. ‘What does the Black Legend have to do with Race?’ Rereading the Black Legend : The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires. Ed. Margaret Rich Greer, Walter Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 312-324.

* Nirenberg, David. ‘Race and the Middle Ages: The Case of Spain and Its Jews.’ Rereading the Black Legend : The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires. Ed. Margaret Rich Greer, Walter Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 71-87.

Pagden, Anthony. The Fall of Natural Man : The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology. Vol. Cambridge Iberian and Latin American studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Sicroff, Albert A. Los estatutos de limpieza de sangre: controversias entre los siglos XV y XVII. Madrid: Taurus, 1985. (Extracts translated into English in source pack.)


Class 5. Andean and Mexican Catholicism

Although there is enough evidence suggesting that the Spanish missionaries were quite successful throughout the New World, there has been much debate over how sincere was conversion among the indigenous people. At the heart of the question are the themes of adaptation and interpretation. Through the study of examples of colonial song, myth, and painting, this class will approach missionary strategies of conversion and indigenous adaptation of Catholicism in the Andes and Mexico.


Anonymous. The Huarochiri Manuscript: A Testament of Ancient and Colonial Andean Religion. Translated and edited by Frank Salomon and George Urioste. Austin: University of Texas Press, chapter 28, 130-131.

Pérez Bocanegra, Juan de. ‘Hanap Pachap Cusicuinin.’ (A 17th-century Quechua hymn dedicated to the Virgin Mary). Translation from Quechua into English by Bruce Mannheim in: “A Nation Surrounded.” In: Native Traditions in the Post-conquest World, Elizabeth H. Boone and Tom Cummins, eds. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 1998, pp. 393-396.

Rishel, Joseph J. and Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt. The Arts of Colonial Latin America, 1492-1820. Philadelphia: PMA, 2006.


*Burkhart, Louise. “Pious Performances: Christian Pageantry and Native Identity in Early Colonial Mexico.” In: Native Traditions in the Post-conquest World. Elizabeth Boone and Tom Cummins, eds. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1998, 361-81.

*Durston, Alan. “God, Christ, and Mary in the Andes.” In: Pastoral Quechua. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2007, 246-270; “Performance and Contextualization”, pp. 271-302.

*Mannheim, Bruce. ‘A Nation Surrounded.’ In: E. Boone and T. Cummins, eds. Native Traditions in the Post-conquest World, 383-401.

*Mujica Pinilla, Ramón. Commentary to “The Last Judgment.” By Diego Quispe Tito (1611-1681). In: Rishel, The Arts of Colonial Latin America, 425.

Commentary to “Nuptials of Martín de Loyola with the Ñusta Beatriz and of don Juan de Borja with Doña Lorenza Ñusta de Loyola.” In: Rishel, J. The Arts of Colonial Latin America, 440-441.

Commentary to “The Christ Child Wearing the Imperial Inca Crown and Catholic Priestly Robes.” In: Rishel, J. The Arts of Colonial Latin America, 460-461.

Ramos, Gabriela. Death and Conversion in the Andes, chapters 4 and 5, Conclusion.

*Wuffarden, Luis Eduardo. Commentary to “The Child Virgin at the Spinning Wheel.” In: The Arts of Colonial Latin America, 463.


Class 6. Conversion in the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern Period

This class will consider motivations for conversion, the attitude of the state towards its orthodox population and the fluidity of religious interpretation by state institutions.

General for Ottoman background

Imber, Colin, The Ottoman Empire 1300-1650: The Structure of Power (Basingstoke, 2002).

Braude, Benjamin and Bernard Lewis (ed.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire (New York, 1982).

*Zhelyazkova, Antonina. “Islamization in the Balkans as an Historiographical Problem: The Southeast-European Perspective”, in Fikret Adanir and Suraiya Faroqhi, eds., The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography (Leiden, 2002), pp. 223-266

General for Ottomans and Europe

Bisaha, Nancy, Creating East and West. Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks (Philadelphia, 2004).

Dimmock, Matthew, New Turkes. Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England (Aldershot, 2005).

Conversion and the Ottomans

Baer, Marc C. David, Honoured by the Glory of Islam. Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe (Oxford, 2008).

*Ménage, V.L., “The Islamisation of Anatolia”, in Nehemia Levtzion (ed.), Conversion to Islam (New York, 1979), pp. 52-67.

Minkov, Anton, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahası Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670-1730 (Leiden, 2004).

Valensi, Lucette, “Inter-communal relations and changes in religious affiliation in the Middle East (17th to the 19th centuries)”, in Comparative Studies in Society and History 39/2 (1997) 251-69.


Busbecq, Ogier Ghiselin de, The Turkish Embassy Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Edward Seymour Forster (trans.) (Oxford, 1968).

Georgievitz, Bartholomeus, The Rarities of Turkey Gathered by One that was Sold Seven Times as Slave in the Turkish Empire… (London, 1661).

Heberer, Michael, Osmanlıda Bir Köle. Brettenli Michael Heberer’in Anıları 1585-1588, Türkis Noyan (trans.) (Istanbul, 2003).

Menavino, Giovanantonio, I cinque libri della legge, religione, et vita de’Turchi: et della corte, et d’alcune guerre del Gran Turco: di Giovanantonio Menavino Genovese da Vultri (Venice, 1548).

Mihailović, Konstantin, Memoires of a Janissary, Benjamin Stolz (trans.) (Ann Arbor, 1975).

Velkov, A. et at. (ed.), Sources ottomans sur les processus d’Islamization aux Balkans (Sofia, 1990).

[NB I will provide translations of the pieces necessary]

*copies available on Camtools


Class 7. Christian Conversion and Personal Sanctification in Colonial South Africa

Many twentieth-century Africans committed themselves to a form of evangelical Christianity that taught conversion was only the first step of a life of faith. It was not enough merely to be baptized into the faith as a child, nor did one remain a life-long Christian through force of habit. Instead, many African Christians understood conversion to be a dynamic, ongoing act, necessitating the daily recommitment of the self to God, and in this way, resulting in a state of personal holiness also known as sanctification. An important example of this intentional commitment to a life-long journey towards personal holiness was the ‘Divine Healing’ movement in South Africa. Adherents eschewed medicine and doctors and instead proclaimed that bodily and spiritual health and sanctification should be sought in Christ the Healer. This class examines the origins of Divine Healing in the Anglophone world of the late nineteenth century, its circulation throughout imperial networks and its immense popularity in the Transvaal amongst Boers, Britons and Africans at the time of the South African War (1899-1902). The class will consider why recently colonized Boers and especially Africans were drawn to these Holiness techniques of self-improvement and self-purification. The class will examine how Africans’ cultivation of personal holiness through Divine Healing became a route to advance towards modernization, progress and Western-style civilization. Africans used conversion and its twin – sanctification – to lay claim to rights that colonial regimes were increasingly denying them amidst a period of hardening racial segregation.

Primary Sources
Selected Extracts from Leaves of Healing (US-published Divine Healing periodical that circulated widely in the Transvaal, South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century)
Selected Extracts from William Burton, When God Makes a Pastor: A Biography of Elias Letwaba (Victory Press, 1934)
Selected Extracts from Gordon Lindsay, John G. Lake: Apostle to Africa (Christ for the Nations Publishing, 1972)

Secondary (starred indicates recommended reading)
*Joel Cabrita, ‘The People of Adam: Divine Healing and Racial Cosmopolitanism in the early twentieth-century Transvaal, South Africa’, Comparative Studies in Society and History (2015) – article is still forthcoming, but will be uploaded to CamTools
James Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
Heather D. Curtis, Faith in the Great Physician: Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860-1900 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)
*David Maxwell, ‘Historicizing Christian Independency: The Southern African Pentecostal Movement’, Journal of African History Vol. 40, No. 3 (1999): 243-264.
James Williams Opp, The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880-1930 (McGill-Queens’ University Press, 2005)
Bengt Sundkler, Bantu Prophets in South Africa (Lutterworth Press, 1948), Chapter 7 ‘New Wine in Old Wineskins’.
*Bengt Sundkler, Zulu Zion and Some Swazi Zionists (Oxford University Press, 1976), Chapter One.


1) What was the role of racial ideologies in the Divine Healing movement? For example, many practitioners were committed to a form of Anglo-Saxon ethnic chauvinism known as ‘British Israelism’ – what was this? What were the more progressive and cosmopolitan racial ideologies that also undergirded divine healing? What was the supposed link between a healthy body and a healthy race?

2) What did Divine Healing mean for Boer adherents in the Transvaal, South Africa? What did the backdrop of the South African War (1899-1902) which pitted Boer against Briton mean for the success of Divine Healing in this period? How did Divine Healing provide a platform to articulate a new white South African identity, in which Boer and Briton were reconciled?

3) How did the emergence of this white South African identity simultaneously exclude black South Africans from full citizenship? In this context of increasing racial segregation, why was Divine Healing so successful? For example, for black South Africans what were the progressive implications of Divine Healing? How did these techniques of bodily perfection promise full citizenship and equality within the British Empire? How did miraculous healing come to imply African modernity and progressive self-advancement? What were the other (possibly competing) idioms of African uplift and progress circulating in the Transvaal in this period?

4) Where did Africans understand Divine Healing to sit in relation to their own existing healing therapies? How did Divine Healing transform existing local perceptions of health and sickness? How did its practices build upon and reprise indigenous healing repertoires?


Class 8. Literacy and Conversion in Africa

This class will examine the attitudes of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Protestant

missionaries in Africa to the translation of religious texts, and the challenges they faced in translating key religious concepts into indigenous languages. What role did indigenous translators play in the translation process, and how does examining their role change our view

of the relationship between conversion and colonialism? But literacy acquired in the context of conversion did not only offer the potential for a new relationship with the sacred, it also provided a new means with which to engage in the colonial world. This class will also

therefore consider how converts used their literacy both to work with colonialism, as clerks or elected chiefs, and to critique aspects of colonial rule.

Primary Sources, Secondary Sources and Questions

Primary Sources:

Salomo Nkya: ‘The story of my childhood’, in Klaus-Peter Kiesel, Kindheit und Bekehrung in Nord-Tanzania, University of Leipzig Papers on Africa, History and Culture Series No. 12 (2005), p. 128

Extracts from British and Foreign Bible Society Archives: BFBS/BSA/E3/3/78 Chaga

Extract from Mtui, Nine Notebooks of Chagga History

Extracts from: ‘The first year of the Chagga Mission’, Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1886

Extract from W.J.W. Roome, Through Central Africa for the Bible, (London, 1929)

Karl Roehl, ‘The Linguistic Situation in East Africa’, Africa, 3: 2 (1930), 191-202

G.W. Broomfield, ‘The Re-Bantuization of the Swahili Language’, Africa, 4:1 (1931), 77-85

‘Greetings of our spokesman Kenyatta’, in Wangari Muoria-Sal, Bodil Folke Frederiksen, John Lonsdale and Derek Peterson (eds.), Writing for Kenya: The Life and Works of Henry Muoria, Leiden: Brill, 2009

Secondary sources:

John Lonsdale, ‘“Listen while I read”: Patriotic Christianity among the young Gikuyu’, in Falola (ed.), Christianity and Social Change in Africa, pp. 563-593

Derek Peterson, ‘Translating the Word: Dialogism and Debate in Two Gikuyu Dictionaries’, in The Journal of Religious History, 23: 1 (1999), 31-50

R.E.S. Tanner, ‘East African Ethical Ideas and Translation. Some Possible Consequences of a Bilateral Process’, Anthropos, 8d. 88 (1993), 29-37

Questions to think about:

Why was translation an important issue for Protestant missionaries in Africa?

When and why did missionaries have to shift their position on translation in response to conditions on the ground?

How far were missionary attitudes to Bible translation shaped by the religious context in which missionaries operated in East Africa?

Is the concept of ‘the colonization of consciousness’ helpful in analysing the process of Bible translation in Africa and its consequences?

How did African converts understand the power of the Bible?

To what extent did the Bible shape political consciousness under colonial rule?

Further Secondary reading

Jean and John Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, (Chicago, 1991 and 1997), esp. Volume 2, Introduction and Chapter Two

Matthew Engelke, ‘Review: The Book, the Church and the ‘Incomprehensible Paradox’: Christianity in African History’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 29: 1 (2003), 297-306

Patrick Harries, ‘Missionaries, Marxists and Magic: Power and the Politics of Literacy in South-East Africa’, Jsas, 27: 3 (2001), 405-427

Thomas G. Kirsch, Spirits and Letters: Reading, Writing and Charisma in African Christianity, Berghahn Books, 2008, esp. Chapters 1, 4, 5 and 8.

Paul Landau, Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400-1948, (Cambridge, 2010), Chapter 3

Birgit Meyer, Translating the Devil, (Edinburgh, 1999)

Aloo Osotsi Mojola, ‘The Swahili Bible in East Africa from 1844 to 1996: A Brief Survey with Special Reference to Tanzania’, in Gerald O. West and Musa W. Dube, The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories and Trends, (Leiden, 2000), pp. 511-523

Kirsten Rüther, ‘Sekukuni, Listen!, Banna!, and to the Children of Frederick the Great and Our Kaiser Wilhelm’: Documents in the Social and Religious History of the Transvaal, 1860-1890’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 34: 3 (2004), 207-234

Konrad Tuchscherer, ‘African Script and Scripture: The History of the Kikakui (Mende) Writing System for Bible Translations’, African Languages and Cultures, 8 (1995), 169-188

Dmitri van der Bersselaar, ‘Creating ‘Union Ibo’: Missionaries and the Igbo language’, Africa, 67: 2 (1997), 273-295

William Worger, ‘Parsing God: Conversations about the Meaning of Words and Metaphors in Nineteenth-Century Southern Africa’, Journal of African History, 42:3 (2001), 417-447