African Studies Seminar: Urban spirituality in Central and Southern Africa

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Conveners: Andrea Purdeková and Miles Larmer

Speakers: Naomi Haynes (University of Edinburgh), Stephanie Lämmert (University of Oxford), Emma Wild-Wood (Cambridge), Reuben Loffman (QMUL), Ramon Sarró (Oxford), Miles Larmer (Oxford)

In conjunction with the Oxford Centre for Global History. For information on this event, including how to register, please refer to the event page on the Comparing the Copperbelt' project website. This event is 1:20-4:40pm. 


This event, ‘Urban spirituality in Central and Southern Africa’, is the second research seminar of the ERC project ‘Comparing the Copperbelt’ based at the University of Oxford. It will focus on expressions of spirituality that emerged in urban twentieth-century Central and Southern Africa. Much has been said on the history of missions in Africa’s rural areas, but little research has so far been done on the role of Christian missions or African indigenous churches in urban areas. This workshop deals with the production, expression and performance of spiritual knowledge and spirituality in the urban environment. It seeks to understand the ways in which mission Christianity was transformed through local cultural concepts in the context of an urban industrialized environment.


To highlight the agency of African evangelists, priests and ordinary believers, this seminar seeks to trace the role that local actors played in knowledge production and the travelling of spiritual ideas. All mission societies relied on African evangelists, and newly founded African churches were partly inspired by mission Christianity. These processes of knowledge production and the spiritual ideas they produced were often a joint project of missionaries and Africans, and at times a purely African enterprise. In addition, the seminar looks at the ‘art of preaching’ and possible connections to older forms of praise-singing as well as the specific urban phenomenon of interdenominational fluidity and shifting affiliation. Despite its focus on urban industrial towns, the seminar also seeks to transcend the ‘rural-urban’ opposition by documenting the flows and travels of concepts, texts and persons within rural-urban networks.