Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter/innen










Prof. Dr. Kai Kresse

Academic Degrees | Honours and Prizes | Publications | Further Links

Kai Kresse
is Vice-Director for Research at ZMO, and Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin. He recently joined ZMO and FU from Columbia University, where he was Associate Professor of African and Swahili Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS). He received his PhD from SOAS, University of London, in Anthropology and African Studies in 2002, after studying Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics (MSc 1997) and Philosophy, African Studies and German Literature at the University of Hamburg (MA 1996). He was Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, and formerly already a Fellow and Vice-Director for Research at ZMO (2006-2012). In 2005, he was Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford. He is also a Principal Investigator at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS) at FU Berlin.


He has conducted anthropological fieldwork on the Swahili coast, working on local thinkers (poets, scholars, activists), the transmission and negotiation of knowledge, and the production and interpretation of texts, with a focus largely on internal debates among coastal Muslims in post-colonial Kenya. His research engages with philosophy, history, and religion, and begins to explore the trans-regional Indian Ocean connections that have shaped East African coastal society. His monograph 
Philosophising in Mombasa (2007) was shortlisted for the Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association; a second monograph, Swahili Muslim Publics and Post-colonial Experience, was published in 2018 at Indiana University Press.

Among his further research interests are hermeneutics, social theory, African philosophy and intercultural philosophy. He has also published on Ernst Cassirer, and on African philosophers, such as Henry Odera Oruka, V.Y. Mudimbe, Kwasi Wiredu and Okot p’Bitek. His academic translations from Swahili include Uwongozi (Guidance), a selection of Islamic educational essays written by Sheikh al-Amin Mazrui (together with Hassan Mwakimako), and the pamphlet 'Kenya: Twendapi?' (Kenya: where are we heading?) by Abdilatif Abdalla. Translations from English to German include articles by Henry Odera Oruka, Ali A. Mazrui, and Amartya Sen, for the online journal Polylogy.

He is a member of the editorial collective of the journal Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Duke University Press), and has served on the editorial advisory boards of Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (Cambridge University Press), Islamic Africa (Brill), Polylog: Zeitschrift fuer Interkulturelles Philosophieren (Vienna, continuing) and the book series Welten der Philosophie (Alber Verlag, continuing).

His teaching experience includes courses in Social and Anthropological Theory, Anthropology of Religion, East African Ethnography, Research Methods, Religion in Africa, Continental and African Philosophy, Anthropology and Philosophy, and Swahili Culture and Society. He has supervised undergraduate and postgraduate students in Anthropology and African Studies, and he has acted as internal and external examiner for doctoral dissertations in the UK, USA, Germany, and South Africa.


Academic Degrees nach oben


PhD, Anthropology  & African Studies, SOAS, University of London
Dissertation: ‘Approaching philosophical discourse in a Swahili context: theory, knowledge, and intellectual practice in Old Town Mombasa, 1998– 1999’


MSc, Social Anthropology, LSE, University of London
Dissertation on Zulu praise poetry and its socio-regulative functions


Magister Artium (M.A.), Philosophy, University of Hamburg
Minors: Afrikanistik (Swahili), German Literature
Dissertation on Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms and its relevance for the project of an intercultural philosophy (183pp)


Honours and Prizes (selected) nach oben


Senior Visiting Fellowship, Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS), Freie Universitaet Berlin

December 2009

Honourable Mention, in Elliot Skinner Award competition by the African Anthropology section of the American Anthropology Association (AAA) for the best anthropological monograph published in 2007-8, for Philosophising in Mombasa

September 2008

Honourable Mention, Herskovits Award
for the best monograph on Africa published in 2007, by the African Studies Association (ASA) Committee

November 2005

Evans-Pritchard Lectureship, All Souls College, Oxford; presented six lectures on ‘Swahili intellectual practice and everyday life: discourses of Islam and Muslim identity in postcolonial Mombasa’


Selected Publications nach oben



Swahili Muslim Publics and Postcolonial Experience in Coastal Kenya. Indiana University Press.


(Editor & translator) Guidance (Uwongozi) by Sheikh al-Amin Mazrui. Selections from the first Swahili Islamic newspaper. A Swahili-English edition. Translated with Hassan Mwakimako. Foreword by A. Mazrui and H. M.K. Mazrui. Series ‘African Sources for African History,’ Leiden: Brill.


(Editor, with Rose Marie Beck) Abdilatif Abdalla: Poet in Politics. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki wa Nyota Publishers.


(Editor, with Trevor Marchand) Knowledge in Practice: Expertise and the Transmission of Knowledge. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


(Editor, with Edward Simpson) Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean. London: Hurst/New York: Columbia University Press.


Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam, and intellectual practice on the Swahili coast. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.


(Editor) Reading Mudimbe, special issue of Journal of African Cultural Studies, vol. 17/1 (with articles by W. van Binsbergen, N. Lazarus, L. Brenner, K. Kresse).


Editor, with A. Graness. Sagacious Reasoning: H. Odera Oruka in memoriam. Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang. 1999. African edition, by East African Educational Publishers, Nairobi.


Selected peer-reviewed Articles and Bookchapters


‘Kenya: Twendapi? Re-reading Abdilatif Abdalla’s pamphlet fifty years after Independence’ (with a translation of the Swahili original), Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 86(1), 1-32. (Read here)


“On the skills to navigate the world, and religion, for coastal Muslims in Kenya“, in Magnus Marsden and Kostas Retsikas (eds), Articulating Islam: Anthropological Approaches to Muslim Worlds, Amsterdam: Springer Press, 77-99. (Read here)


“Interrogating ‘cosmopolitanism’ in an Indian Ocean setting: Mombasa and the Swahili coast”, in D. Maclean and S.K. Ahmed (eds), Cosmopolitanism in Muslim Contexts: Models from the Past. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 31-50. (Read here)


“Auf dem Weg zu mehr Interdisziplinarität und Zusammenarbeit bei der Erforschung der philosophischen Traditionen in Afrika”, in: Polylog: Zeitschrift fuer interkulturelle Philosophie, Vol. 25, 115-131. Vienna. (Read here)


“Muslim politics in postcolonial Kenya: Negotiating knowledge on the double-periphery”, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI). Special issue on anthropology of Muslim politics, edited by B. Soares and F. Osella, 76-94. (Read here)


“Knowledge and intellectual practice in a Swahili context: ‘wisdom’ and the social dimensions of knowledge”, in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, vol. 79/1, 148-167. (Read here)


Selected further Publications


‘Between Africa and India: thinking comparatively across the western Indian Ocean’, ZMO Working Papers 5, 1-15. Co-authored with Edward Simpson. (Read here)


“Enduring relevance: samples of oral poetry on the Swahili coast”, in Wasafiri: Journal of Contemporary Writing, special issue on Indian Oceans oral literatures (edited by Stephanie Jones), vol. 26/2, 46-49. (Read here)


"'Swahili Enlightenment?' East African reformist discourse at the turning point: the example of Sheikh Muhammad Kasim Mazrui", Journal of Religion in Africa Vol.33 (3), special issue on Islamic thought in Africa, 279-309. (Read here)


"Towards a postcolonial synthesis in African philosophy - conceptual liberation and reconstructive self-evaluation in the work of Okot p'Bitek", in O. Oladipo (ed), Issues in African Philosophy. Essays in honour of Kwasi Wiredu. Ibadan: Hope Publishers, 215-232. (Read here)


"Izibongo - the political art of praising: poetical socio-regulative discourse in Zulu society", in Journal of African Cultural Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 171-196. (Read here)


A complete list of publications is available here (December 2018)

Further Links nach oben


History of Philosophy without any Gaps #26: Kai Kresse on the Anthropology of Philosophy


Baraza-Events: Documentation of the series organized by Kai Kresse at the ZMO Link


Terms of Analysis in African Studies: do we need 'Conceptual Decolonisation’? PdfLogo Roundtable Discussion with Kwasi Wiredu (Tampa), J.D.Y. Peel (London), Ute Luig (FU-Berlin), Katrin Bromber (ZMO-Berlin), Andreas Eckert (HU-Berlin), and Presentation by Kai Kresse (ZMO)
- Audiodocumentation of the Complete Discussion MP3


Swahili scholars, poetry and politics“, Link documentation of an evening organised by Kai Kresse at ZMO with Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir, an Islamic scholar and former politician, and the poet Ustadh Ahmad Nassir.