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Department of Social Anthropology


Current campaigns for racial equality implore White people to learn from racialized others. Professor Harri Englund’s new book Visions for Racial Equality: David Clement Scott and the Struggle for Justice in Nineteenth-Century Malawi (Cambridge University Press) presents a little-known historical case of listening and learning in a racialized encounter. A missionary from the Church of Scotland in Central Africa, David Clement Scott developed a vision for racial equality that set him on a collision course with the Church, colonial government, and the White commercial interests spearheaded by Cecil Rhodes.

Visions for Racial Equality is a study of justice in its epistemic as well as moral-political dimensions. In Scott’s theology of reversals, teacher became learner and had no monopoly over knowledge. It was not a reversal of roles, as if various hierarchies could simply be wished away, but a theology of reversals for the way in which the figure of the risen Christ inspired Scott to envisage the race relations. The risen Christ was a stranger demanding the recognition of one’s own limitations in understanding. Africans confronted the Scottish missionary with knowledge that was not confined to their ‘tribal’ cultures but stood to enrich humanity as a whole.

From linguistic translation to matters of land and labour, Scott pursued with African collaborators spiritual and practical innovations that ultimately resulted in the demise of his vision as the White colonial and commercial interests tightened their grip on the region. For the twenty-first century reader, Visions for Racial Equality poses the challenge of doing epistemic justice to Scott’s vision – how can we allow a White male Protestant missionary in the nineteenth century enrich our contemporary debates on racial equality?

Visions for Racial Equality arises from Professor Englund’s Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2017-20.