Junior Research Fellow in Religion and the Frontier Challenges, Pembroke College, University of Oxford
am an anthropologist whose work examines religious transformations in the context of struggles over gender, sexuality, and the environment in Southern Africa. My research focuses on Zimbabwe and the entanglement of multiple religious traditions, specifically ancestral spiritual practices, mission Christianity, and Pentecostalism. In a context in which colonialism forcefully upended ideas about personhood, spirituality, and ties between people and place, I investigate how people navigate a diverse religious landscape and participate in lively debates about pressing contemporary social and theological questions. My first project, which I am revising as a book, explores how young queer Zimbabweans bring Christian and ancestral religious practices into dialogue with the categories of the global gay rights movement and reject the pathologising discourses of local political and religious leaders. I argue that through their religious practices, queer Zimbabweans draw on the archives of African and Christian theology and metaphysics to express distinctively African queer subjectivities and create novel forms of kinship and intimacy. My second project, which I am pursuing at Pembroke, explores everyday struggles over the meanings and effects of rainmaking rites among ordinary Zimbabweans against the backdrop of increasing water scarcity in Southern Africa. Broadly, this research considers how climate change is affecting religious epistemologies in Southern Africa, and how religious beliefs and practices are shaping responses to environmental catastrophe in the region.
I completed a joint PhD in Anthropology and Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago in 2022, where I was a Fulbright Scholar and received the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. At Chicago, I was a Martin Marty Junior Fellow in the Divinity School, a Residential Fellow at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, and a Dissertation Fellow at the Center for International Social Science Research. My thesis was awarded the Association for Feminist Anthropology's Dissertation Award. I have an MA in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago and a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology from King’s College, Cambridge.
My teaching encompasses the study of religion, anthropology, and gender and sexuality studies. I introduce students to perspectives drawn from across these disciplines, particularly those that investigate how we think of ourselves as actors in the world, how we make meaning, and how we form bonds with others — both humans and spirits, the divine and the world around us.
I have been conducting research in Zimbabwe since 2012 and I am deeply committed to building collaborative partnerships with scholars and researchers in Zimbabwe. I am currently planning collaborations based on my second project — on the intersection between religious life and climate change — and working towards a conference in Zimbabwe in 2024. I am always interested in building connections with students and researchers in Zimbabwe, and welcome being contacted by anyone who would like to get in touch.
Please visit Raffaella's page on the Pembroke College website for more information.