Joel Cabrita is a historian of modern Southern Africa who focuses on Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and South Africa. She examines the transnational networks of the Southern African region including those which connect Southern Africans to the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Her most recent book (The People’s Zion: Southern Africa, the United States and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement, Harvard University Press, 2018) investigates the convergence of evangelical piety, transnational networks and the rise of industrialized societies in both Southern Africa and North America. The People's Zion was awarded the American Society of Church History's Albert C Outler Prize for 2019. She is also the co-editor of a volume examining the global dimensions of Christian practice, advocating for a shift away from Western Christianity to the lateral connections connecting southern hemisphere religious practitioners (Relocating World Christianity, Brill, 2017).
Cabrita has a long-standing interest in how Southern Africans used and transformed a range of old and new media forms. Her first book (Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church, Cambridge University Press, 2014) investigates the print culture of a large South African religious organization, while her edited collection (Religion, Media and Marginality in Africa, Ohio University Press, 2018) focuses on the intersection of media, Islam, Christianity and political expression in modern Africa.
Her current project (under contract with Ohio University Press) is the biography of a pioneering African feminist, Christian Pentecostal pioneer and liberation leader, Regina Gelana Twala (1908 – 1968), who co-founded Swaziland’s first political party in 1960 and introduced the Assemblies of God denomination to the region. Celebrated during her lifetime, Twala’s remarkable story is today largely forgotten, in part a consequence of her untimely death in 1968, one month before Swaziland’s independence. Cabrita’s project considers the radically new perspective a figure such as Twala affords on the contribution of women to Africa’s anti-colonial liberation movements and to evangelical history. The book will probe the politics of memory whereby certain African nationalist and religious icons have been erased from the historical record.
Cabrita did her PhD at the University of Cambridge and was subsequently a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before moving to Stanford, she held permanent posts at SOAS (University of London) and the University of Cambridge. Her research has been recognized by two major early-career research prizes, the British Arts and Humanities Early Career Research Fellowship (2015) and the Philip Leverhulme Prize (2017).