SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Colonialism and Christian Missions in Africa: Readings from the Archives

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

The course challenges assumptions about Christian ‘mission’ to the African continent by taking a close look at the cultural dynamics between European and African agents. It will consider the wide range of mission societies and their relationship to colonialism, the role of Africans in shaping missionary perceptions and spreading the Christian faith, as well as their marginalisation in missionary archives . Students will learn to read and critically assess missionary archives in the context of 19th century colonialism.
In particular, the course will provide:
• A detailed reflection of the role that Africans played in aiding or resisting European missionaries and in shaping their perceptions about African cultures and
• An understanding of the religious, social, political and economic motivations underlying the Protestant missionary movement of the 18th century onwards
• A broad overview of the work of missionary societies in Africa from this period to the present day, with a special emphasis on Africans’ reception of the missionary enterprise
• An appreciation of the role of missions in colonialism, and resistance to colonialism
• An in-depth knowledge of at least two geographical areas and/or missionary societies.

The course also contains a teaching session in the SOAS Archives, which includes a tour behind the scenes, a hands-on encounter with various material available in missionary archives, and a practical induction into using missionary archives for research.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

• A good understanding of the main themes and issues surrounding African reception of Protestant and Catholic missionaries in Africa
• An appreciation of the role that Africans played in the missionary enterprise – theologically, linguistically, culturally, politically and socially.
• An ability to identify, compare and contrast the main scholarly approaches (historical, anthropological, theological) to the study of mission in Africa
• Their ability to critically assess mission society archive material in the SOAS archives, and to skilfully use primary sources in constructing a research essay.
• Sensitivity to the challenges of locating African Christian agency in mission archive material


One hour lecture and one hour seminar each week.


Method of assessment

One 5,000 word essay (worth 100%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules