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Title:God gave women power: Intersections of faith, gender, agency, and well-being in Christian East Africa
Author(s):Williams, Beth Ann
Director of Research:Brennan, James R
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Brennan, James R
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Barnes, Teresa; Burton, Antoinette; Hoganson , Kristin
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Women, Christianity, Kenya, Tanzania, church, oral histories
Abstract:Set among Protestant communities of central Kenya and northern Tanzania, this project argues that East Africans’ beliefs in God and spiritual powers have deeply informed their engagement with and understanding of empowerment, responsibility, and morality throughout the second half of the twentieth century. I use the lens of gender to trace major intersections of East African social history and Christian ideas, institutions, and practices that shaped daily life in the region. Religious life disciplined and defined East African womanhood in multiple ways. At the same time, by strategically maneuvering Christian norms of spiritual virtue and social respectability, women in these communities worked to create better, more meaningful lives for themselves and their families. Rooted in oral histories, my analysis interrogates how East Africans’ own concepts and ideas can guide our academic questions and efforts to understand that region’s history. To get at the internal worlds and social discourse of East African Protestant communities, I rely primarily on a collection of 118 oral interviews I conducted in the region with the support of my host families and research assistants. The oral archive I built allows me to explore how spiritual life has been an integral component of East Africans’ social, political, economic, and familial relationships. This set of life histories is historicized through attention to generation and through the inclusion of document-based research from four church-based collections. My focus on everyday people and their use of spirituality is critical to our understanding of African history as scholars wrestle with the myriad ways Christianity has been adopted and adapted around the continent. Deriving from my commitment to writing East African histories grounded in the world view of my interlocutors, this project pushes back against modernist binaries of secular and spiritual life. These insights are valuable not only for understanding East African communities but also for wrestling with how historians explain social and structural historical changes worldwide.
Issue Date:2020-04-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Beth Ann Williams
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-10-07
Date Deposited:2020-08

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