Joel Cabrita is a historian of modern Southern Africa who focuses on Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and South Africa. She is also the Susan Ford Dorsey Director of the Center for African Studies at Stanford and holds a position as a senior research associate in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
Cabrita’s work focuses on religion, gender, and the politics of knowledge production in Africa and globally. Her latest book is Written Out: The Silencing of Regina Gelana Twala (Ohio University Press and Wits University Press, 2023). The book tells the story of Twala, an unjustly neglected literary and political figure in apartheid South Africa and colonial Swaziland. Cabrita shows that Twala’s posthumous obscurity has been no accident, charting how White scholars and politicians used racial and gendered prejudices to erase Twala’s work and claim her uncompensated intellectual labor for themselves.
Cabrita has also investigated the transnational networks of the Southern African region including those which connect Southern Africans to the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Her 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.
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). In 2023, Cabrita was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Uppsala.
Cabrita’s work has been featured in The Guardian, The Conversation, Lit Hub, History Today, the BBC World Service, and NPR, amongst other venues.