“Despite the enormous richness of the literature on the history of religion in Africa, I can think of no other book which brings the insights of that literature to bear so directly and convincingly to the interpretation of modern political history.… This is a great book.”
Megan Vaughan, University of CambridgeUniversity of Cambridge
“Invisible Agents makes a major contribution to African historical scholarship….”
American Historical Review
“David Gordon makes a vital contribution to the history of religion and politics in Africa by taking seriously the idea that spirits have agency in the world of the living…. (T)he impact of this book will likely be quite visible.”
International Journal of African Historical Studies
“(Invisible Agents) clearly shows: there never was a ‘secular’ that was not contested and disturbed by spirits.”
Invisible Agents shows how personal and deeply felt spiritual beliefs can inspire social movements and influence historical change. Conventional historiography concentrates on the secular, materialist, or moral sources of political agency. Instead, David M. Gordon argues, when people perceive spirits as exerting power in the visible world, these beliefs form the basis for individual and collective actions. Focusing on the history of the south-central African country of Zambia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his analysis invites reflection on political and religious realms of action in other parts of the world, and complicates the post-Enlightenment divide of sacred and profane.
The book combines theoretical insights with attention to local detail and remarkable historical sweep, from oral narratives communicated across slave-trading routes during the nineteenth century, through the violent conflicts inspired by Christian and nationalist prophets during colonial times, and ending with the spirits of Pentecostal rebirth during the neoliberal order of the late twentieth century. To gain access to the details of historical change and personal spiritual beliefs across this long historical period, Gordon employs all the tools of the African historian. His own interviews and extensive fieldwork experience in Zambia provide texture and understanding to the narrative. He also critically interprets a diverse range of other sources, including oral traditions, fieldnotes of anthropologists, missionary writings and correspondence, unpublished state records, vernacular publications, and Zambian newspapers.
Invisible Agents will challenge scholars and students alike to think in new ways about the political imagination and the invisible sources of human action and historical change.
David M. Gordon is an associate professor of history at Bowdoin College. He is author of Nachituti’s Gift: Economy, Society, and Environment in Central Africa and numerous articles on African social, cultural, and environmental history.
Save 20% ($26.36)
US and Canada only
Availability and price vary according to vendor.
Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center
Indigenous knowledge has become a catchphrase in global struggles for environmental justice. Yet indigenous knowledges are often viewed, incorrectly, as pure and primordial cultural artifacts. This collection draws from African and North American cases to argue that the forms of knowledge identified as “indigenous” resulted from strategies to control environmental resources during and after colonial encounters.
Healing Traditions offers a historical perspective to the interactions between South Africa’s traditional healers and biomedical practitioners. It provides an understanding that is vital for the development of medical strategies to effectively deal with South Africa’s healthcare challenges.
African History · History of Science · 19th century · 20th century · Africa · Southern Africa · South Africa · HIV-AIDS · Public Health · Medicine · Monograph · African Studies · History · History of Technology
“No nation can win a battle without faith,” Steve Biko wrote, and as Daniel R. Magaziner demonstrates in The Law and the Prophets, the combination of ideological and theological exploration proved a potent force. The 1970s are a decade virtually lost to South African historiography. This span of years bridged the banning and exile of the country’s best-known antiapartheid leaders in the early 1960s and the furious protests that erupted after the Soweto uprisings of June 16, 1976.
Christianity and Public Culture in Africa takes readers beyond familiar images of religious politicians and populations steeped in spirituality. It shows how critical reason and Christian convictions have combined in surprising ways as African Christians confront issues such as national constitutions, gender relations, and the continuing struggle with HIV/AIDS.