Thomas Spear

Thomas Spear received his doctorate in history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has written histories of Zwangendaba’s Ngoni, the Mijikenda (The Kaya Complex), eastern and central Kenya (Kenya’s Past), The Swahili (with Derek Nurse); and the Meru and Arusha peoples of Tanzania (Mountain Farmers). Formerly at La Trobe University and Williams College, he is professor of history emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Listed in: Christianity · Sociology · African History · Anthropology · African Studies




Christianity has been spread in Africa by Africans. It is the story of peoples seizing control of their own spiritual destinies—rather than the commonplace notion that the continent's Christian churches represent colonial and capitalist powers that helped subdue Africans to European domination. In short, once introduced, Christianity took on a powerful life of its own and spun out of the control of those who would retain ownership of doctrine and practice.

“An important contribution to the field. Its emphasis on the examination of Christianity as a religious phenomenon is an important one, and one increasingly recognized as of central significance for an understanding of Africa’s history and society.”

Kevin Ward, University of Leeds




Being Maasai · Ethnicity and Identity In East Africa
Edited by Thomas Spear and Richard Waller

Everyone “knows” the Maasai as proud pastoralists who once dominated the Rift Valley from northern Kenya to central Tanzania. But many people who identity themselves as Maasai, or who speak Maa, are not pastoralist at all, but farmers and hunters. Over time many different people have “become” something else. And what it means to be Maasai has changed radically over the past several centuries and is still changing today.

“The editors have succeeded in assembling a remarkably integrated set of essays that is at once the most historical study of the Maasai yet published and a significant contribution to the growing volume of literature on ethnicity and identity in Africa.”

Charles Ambler, University of Texas, El Paso