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Missionaries in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa


Admission requirements

Students of African Studies should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and successfully completed their second year of study.


This is a history/anthropology seminar course that is part of the BA African Studies.
The course seeks to understand the changing meanings and relevance of missionaries in colonial and post-colonial Africa. Missionaries have always been agents of social change. Missionaries who came to Africa in the 20th century were mediators between two worlds, and they brought many new ideas and skills to the societies where they landed. In the post-colonial period Africa has produced a new form of missionary, one which was not coming from the outside, but has its roots in Africa itself like the Pentecostals who also came from outside-Germany and the United states. Also, the ‘traditional’ religious missionary is increasingly part of the social dynamics of the African diaspora in Europe. We analyse these dynamics through the lens of media theory. We will understand the missionaries and their institutes as a form of technology of communication, a ‘tool’ of mediatization. Such a theoretical starting point will help us to analyze missionaries beyond religion and situate them in the analysis of social change.
In this course, we start from an understanding of the (re)construction of history at the basis of primary sources, such as archives, interviews, visuals. We combine historical and anthropological methods. The students will explore missionaries and their institute both in historical periods as can be found in archives, and in contemporary diasporic situations. Examples of the latter are retired missionaries who have worked in Africa and the “new’ missionaries such as the Pentecostal missionaries who have churches in the Hague and Rotterdam. To ‘discover’ the missionary and its institutes as mediatization processes the students will work in mission and private archives in the Netherlands (found at Oosterbeek, Lisse and Utrecht); or they conduct interviews with missionaries who are still active in the Netherlands. Another choice can be to interview and work with retired missionaries in their missionary houses (situated in Breda for instance).
The course also entails one excursion to the Catherijne Convent, which is the museum of religion in Utrecht. It is currently working on an exhibition about migration and Christianity in the Netherlands. It talks about a.o. the influence of Christians coming from Africa. During the semester if it is already on display then it will be worth visiting it. See: Catherijne Concent

The course consists of the following parts:
1. Discussion of case studies from the research of the lecturer and based on existing studies like those of Harri Englund, Birgit Meyer, Paul Ladau and Rijk van Dijk.
2. Media and communication technology: how does this apply to missionaries?
3. Methodology: archival research and the biographical method
4. Students will develop their own research that results in a paper, and archive: interviews with missionaries on audio, and archival stuff.

Course objectives

General learning objectives:
By the end of this course, the students are expected to have acquired the following:
1) Conduct and execute academic research within a defined scope, including:
a. organizing and using relatively large amounts of information
b. identifying and selecting relevant literature
c. placing their own research within the context of a scholarly debate

2) Write a problem-based essay and give an oral presentation, including:
a. using a realistic work schedule
b. formulating a realistic research question and sub-questions
c. formulating a reasoned conclusion
d. giving and receiving feedback
e. responding to the instructions of the lecturer

3) Reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based
4) Select and use primary sources in their own research
5) Analyze primary sources and place and interpret them in their historical context
6) Actively participate in class discussions

Specific learning objectives:
7) The student has knowledge of a specialization(s) to which the BA Seminar belongs; more specifically in the specialization in history and anthropology of European missionaries in Africa and African missionaries in Europe especially in the Netherlands
8) The student has knowledge and understanding of the core concepts, research methods, and techniques of the specialization, with special attention for the study of primary sources and the relativity of nationally defined histories.
Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar
By the end of this course, the student have acquired the following:
9) Knowledge of the historiography and historical anthropology of Africa
10) Knowledge of the historiography of the shared history of missionaries archival, library, and museum collections in the Netherlands
11) Can identify primary sources, select sources, critique sources, and apply sources in an academic essay.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, seminars and online depending on the circumstances demand; accompanying students in their research; excursion.

Assessment method


  • Research proposal: present a research proposal showing the aims, objectives and methodology as well as the plan of the research. It should include the theoretical and conceptual framework.

  • Active class participation

  • Presentation (10-15 minutes)


  • Written paper and research: 70%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Participation: 10%
    The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The deadlines are indicated on the corresponding Brightspace page.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Reading list will be made available via Brightspace.

  • Agebti, Kofi. West African Church History: Christian Missions and Church Foundations, 1482- 1919. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986.

  • Ajayi, J. F. Ade. Christian missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: the making of a new élite. London: Longmans, 1965.

  • Meyer, Birgit 2004. “Christianity in Africa: From African Independent to Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches” Annual Review of Anthropology , Vol. 33 (2004), pp. 447-474

  • Anderson, J. Struggle for the School: Interaction of Missionary, Colonial Government and Nationalist Enterprise in the Development of Formal Education in Kenya. London: Longman, 1970. Ayandele, Emmanuel A. “The Missionary Factor in Northern Nigeria, 1870-1918.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 3, no. 3 (1966): 503-522.

  • Baten, Jörg, and Gabriele Cappelli. “The Evolution of Human Capital in Africa, 1730-1970: a Colonial Legacy?” CEPR Discussion Paper no. 11273 (2016).

  • Cagé, Julia, and Valeria Rueda. “The Long-Term Effects of the Printing Press in Sub-Saharan Africa.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8, no. 3 (2016): 1-31.

  • Cagé, Julia, and Valeria Rueda. “Sex and the Mission: The conflicting effects of early Christian investments on the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.” Unpublished manuscript, University of Oxford, 2019.

  • Cogneau, Denis, and Alexander Moradi. “Borders that Divide: Education and Religion in Ghana and Togo since Colonial Times.” Journal of Economic History 74, no. 3 (2014): 694-729.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats