Right rites, faith and the corporate good: Anglican Christianity and social change in Western Kenya

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Deborah Pellow


Faith, Corporate good, Anglican, Christianity, Social change, Kenya

Subject Categories

African Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


This thesis documents one contemporary congregation that is a product of this encounter between missionaries, the Bantu-speaking people who now live in the village, and subsequent revival movements that continue to sweep through the area. St. Andrew's Anglican Congregation is a product of the work of the Church Missionary Society in Western Kenya. It provides an example of how early mission policies affected the people, land and beliefs. And just as importantly, how a community lives this history amidst ongoing opportunities to find meaning through encounters with the new material and cultural ideas that they encounter.

My research focused on several questions: why do members of the congregation remain Anglican Christians; at what point are members able to synthesize Christianity and Bunyre worldview; and at what point is synthesis impossible, and why? To answer these questions I turned to the members of the modern congregation as well as Kenya National Archives and the Church Missionary Society.

I used standard ethnographic research methods to identify both Bunyore and Anglican socio-cultural activities, paying special attention to instances where Anglican orthopraxy was retained, modified or discarded in relation to village life. In the archives I looked to situate the village within the colonial period, the Church Missionary Society, as well as early converts, evangelists, pastors and other church leaders.

I found that congregational members carefully follow the prescribed patterns of worship, prayer, organization, and order of Anglicanism all the while incorporating other socio-cultural resources that have been introduced into their community, including other ways of thinking about themselves, others and God. In some instances the community has creatively combined Anglican praxis with village life, specifically in the burial of the dead, the sharing of resources, and obligation to others. In other instances the synthesis is less defined, forcing members to live betwixt and between (marginal liminality) Christian conversion dogma and village spirits.

In the end, members of this congregation, while remaining rooted in a denomination associated with the historic mission, continue to creatively incorporate socially imbued resources, finding meaning in response to the challenges they face each day.


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