SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Preaching, Prayer and Politics: Independent Christians in Southern Africa

Module Code:
Module Withdrawn
Unit value:
0.5 unit
Year of study:

Southern African Independency was a Christian movement that began in South Africa in the late 19th century, spreading throughout the country and into neighbouring territories, and is today one of the largest Christian ‘denominations’ in Southern Africa. Adherents are characterized by their commitment to the Christian scriptures, their belief in Africa as a new holy ‘Zion’, the efficacy of healing prayer and the purifying power of the Holy Spirit in setting them apart as God’s chosen people. This course examines the origins of Independent Christians: believers who distinguished themselves from mission-derived churches and their modernizing values, yet were nonetheless intimately linked to them. The course will go on to examine the activities and thoughts of these African Christian prophetic entrepreneurs who built up organizations from scratch, devised new varieties of religious orthodoxy and imagined fresh collective identities. In seminars, discussions, small-group presentations and individual research, the course will explore how the contribution these Christians made to political, social and economic life of Southern African throughout the 20th century.  The course focuses on five geographical areas most influenced by Christian Independency: Natal and Zululand; the Eastern Cape; the Limpopo Province (South Africa); the townships of the Witwatersrand; Swaziland and Zimbabwe. As source material, the course will use converts’ hymnals, catechisms, record books, church certificates, constitutions, church curriculum, biographies and ecclesial archives. 20th century state archival material will also be a major primary source. Students will use the material on African Independent Churches in SOAS’s archive holdings. I will also provide transcripts of oral interviews conducted with Southern African Independents that I and other scholars have conducted.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should have:

  • Understood the regional and ecclesial diversity of Southern African Independent Christianity
  • Assessed and evaluated the varying social contributions of these Christians
  • Surveyed the range of popular debate surrounding Independent Christianity in the region
  • Identified and compared different scholarly approaches to Independent Christianity
  • Developed their critical research skills through use of primary source material, including texts produced by Southern African Christians and state archival documents


2  hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

The course will cover key areas (South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia) and themes, including:

  • The origins of the Southern African Independent Church Movement, with special emphasis on the influence of Pentecostal missionaries
  • Rivalries between Independent Christians and Mission Congregations
  • Debates over Civilization, Literacy and Progress
  • Independent Christians and Apartheid
  • Kings, Chiefs, Headmen, and African Independent Christians
  • Textual Entrepreneurship and Ecclesial Bookkeeping
  • Healing Rituals and Political Engagement/Acquiescence

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 5,000 word essay. Assessment: essay 90%, oral presentation 10%.

Suggested reading

  • Bengt Sundkler ‘Bantu Prophets in South Africa’ (London, 1948)
  • Sundkler, ‘Zulu Zion and Some Swazi Zionists’ (Oxford, 1976)
  • Hastings, Adrian ‘A History of African Christianity, 1950-1975’ (Cambridge, 1979)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules