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World Christianities Pathway in the Theology and Religious Studies MPhil

World Christianities Pathway

[This pathway and its modules will not be offered in the 2018-19 academic year.]

Course Conveners

Dr Joel Cabrita and Professor David Maxwell 

Crowd at Boga
Henry Martyn Centre: RID 19/2/9 Anglican church centenary celebrations, Boga, Zaire, 1996

Course Overview

This course takes an historical and anthropological approach to World Christianity, with a special emphasis upon African Christianity. It examines this religious tradition's complex relations with changing social and political context in Africa and beyond. The emphasis of the course is placed upon Christianity’s popular expression rather than formal theology.

A number of themes predominate:

  • the relation between Christianity and other world religions, the increase in social and political scale, and the differentiation of power structures that accompanied colonialism
  • Christianity’s enduring concern with the search for power, prosperity and fertility
  • the creation of alternative religious models of liberation achieved through prayer, healing, community-building and personal renewal
  • Christianity as a source of political legitimacy and means of popular mobilisation
  • religious conversion as a route to modernity, particularly through new forms of knowledge, literacy and schooling
  • the contribution of religious ideas, practices and texts to the formation of new identities of class, gender, ethnicity, nation and religious communities that extend beyond the nation-state

Specific Topics Addressed

The course will be taught by studying shifting debates about religious movements in Africa and beyond. In the 1960s-80s scholars were concerned with the relationship between religion and nationalism. They examined the role of Christian independency in resistance to colonial rule and its involvement in nationalist mobilisation. In the 1990s and 2000s, the focus shifted to consider the contribution of Christian groups to the formation of civil society and the rise of a public sphere, examining it as a source of democratisation, development and new rights-based discourses.

Other scholars have viewed so-called fundamentalist movements, Born-again Christianity/Pentecostalism, as vehicles of conservative American influence, or sought to examine them rather as creative local deployments of trans-regional ideologies that address social problems in post-colonial Africa. Most contemporary commentators have observed the increasing salience of religious idioms and ideas in political discourses as African populations and political leaders seek out new sources of legitimacy.

Research Methods Training

The course will introduce students the unique range of primary source materials available in Cambridge, London and online pertinent to the study of World Christianities. These include letters, diaries, mission society reports, photographs and film material in the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, the University Library, and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Basic methodologies in archival work will be discussed, as well as the importance of attending to written, visual and aural material.


The course will be assessed through two long essays (5, 000 words each), an exercise, and a dissertation in the broad area of World Christianities. 


Applicants should have at least a very good 2:1 degree in Theology and Religious Studies, History, Anthropology or any other broadly relevant undergraduate degree in the Humanities. For applicants from the United States, we require an excellent GRE score, usually a percentile of 90% or above for the verbal reasoning component of the test.

For further information, please refer to MPhil Applications. Email Dr Joel Cabrita ( with any further questions.