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Joel Cabrita

Joel Cabrita

Assistant Professor of History
Ph.D., University of Cambridge

Joel Cabrita is a historian of modern Southern Africa who focuses on Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and South Africa. She examines the transnational networks of the Southern African region including those which connect Southern Africans to the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Her most recent book (The People’s Zion: Southern Africa, the United States and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement, Harvard University Press, 2018) investigates the convergence of evangelical piety, transnational networks and the rise of industrialized societies in both Southern Africa and North America.  The People's Zion was awarded the American Society of Church History's Albert C Outler Prize for 2019  She is also the co-editor of a volume examining the global dimensions of Christian practice, advocating for a shift away from Western Christianity to the lateral connections connecting southern hemisphere religious practitioners (Relocating World Christianity, Brill, 2017).

Cabrita has a long-standing interest in how Southern Africans used and transformed a range of old and new media forms. Her first book (Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church, Cambridge University Press, 2014) investigates the print culture of a large South African religious organization, while her edited collection (Religion, Media and Marginality in Africa, Ohio University Press, 2018) focuses on the intersection of media, Islam, Christianity and political expression in modern Africa.

Her current project (under contract with Ohio University Press) is the biography of a pioneering African feminist, Christian Pentecostal pioneer and liberation leader, Regina Gelana Twala (1908 – 1968), who co-founded Swaziland’s first political party in 1960 and introduced the Assemblies of God denomination to the region. Celebrated during her lifetime, Twala’s remarkable story is today largely forgotten, in part a consequence of her untimely death in 1968, one month before Swaziland’s independence. Cabrita’s project considers the radically new perspective a figure such as Twala affords on the contribution of women to Africa’s anti-colonial liberation movements and to evangelical history. The book will probe the politics of memory whereby certain African nationalist and religious icons have been erased from the historical record. 

Cabrita did her PhD at the University of Cambridge and was subsequently a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before moving to Stanford, she held permanent posts at SOAS (University of London) and the University of Cambridge. Her research has been recognized by two major early-career research prizes, the British Arts and Humanities Early Career Research Fellowship (2015) and the Philip Leverhulme Prize (2017).

Selected Publications & Projects

Joel Cabrita
In The People’s Zion, Joel Cabrita tells the transatlantic story of Southern Africa’s largest popular religious movement, Zionism. It began in Zion...
Joel Cabrita
Felicitas Becker, Marie Rodet
In recent years, anthropologists, historians, and others have been drawn to study the profuse and creative usages of digital media by religious...
Joel Cabrita
David Maxwell, Emma Wild-Wood
Existing scholarship on World Christianities tends to privilege the local and the regional. In addition to offering an explanation for this tendency...


More Information


The People’s Zion: South Africa, the United States and a Transatlantic Faith Healing Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018)
Religion, Media and Marginality in Africa (edited with F. Becker and M. Rodet) (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2018)
Relocating World Christianity: Interdisciplinary Studies in Universal and Local Expressions of Christianity (edited with D. Maxwell and E. Wild-Wood) (Leiden: Brill, 2017)
Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Guest-Edited Special Issues

'New Histories of Christianity in Southern Africa' (edited with N. Erlank), South African Historical Journal, Vol. 70, No. 3 (2018)

‘Africa in the Indian Ocean’ (edited with F. Becker), The Journal of African History, Vol. 55, No. 2 (July 2014)