Professor David Maxwell

Photo of Professor David Maxwell

BA (Manch) DPhil (Oxon)

Professorial Fellow; Director of Studies in History
Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History


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 research grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (x2); the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and most recently a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2016-18).

I have served as a trustee of the Southern African Book Development Education Trust and am currently a trustee of a Zimbabwean Theological College. I have acted as Vice-Chairman of Britain-Zimbabwe Society, served as President of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (2014-16) and was longtime editor of The Journal of Religion in Africa.

Teaching Interests

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 Religion and Nationalism in the Making of Zimbabwe, 1948 - the Present.
  • Divinity Part II, Paper D2E (Themes in World Christianity);
  • M.Phil. African Studies/ Divinity, World History: Religious Movements and Politics in 19th and 20th Century Africa & Christianity, Identity and Social Change in Africa

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. with Ingrid Lawrie) Christianity and the African Imagination. Essays in Honour of Adrian Hastings (Leiden, E.J.Brill, 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 Empire, The Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp.285-306.
  • ‘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, pp.401-421.
  • ‘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.


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. 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 examined the missionary and African contributions to the creation of so-called ‘colonial knowledge’ in Belgian Congo/DRC. I also have an interest in religion and the media, particularly religious print and photography. I am currently working on a broad study of church, state and society in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Research Supervision

I am particularly interested in supervising graduate work in 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;
  • Zimbabwe & Democratic Republic of Congo. And more generally the social and cultural history of central and southern Africa