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Dr. Kai Kresse

Academic degrees | Honours and Prizes | Publications | Further Links

Kai Kresse
is Vice-Director for Research. He joined ZMO in 2006, initially as a Research Fellow while on leave from the University of St Andrews where he was Lecturer in Social Anthropology between 2002 and 2009 (tenured in 2005).

He studied Philosophy, Anthropology, African Studies and German Literature in Hamburg, Vienna and London, and taught at Hamburg and SOAS before joining the Anthropology Department at St Andrews. His ethnographic research focuses mainly on East Africa and the Swahili coast in contemporary Kenya, with a view to wider African and Indian Ocean contexts. Conceptually, he has developed a general approach for the anthropology of philosophy, in his book ‘Philosophising in Mombasa’ (2007), RevSiews PdfFile.



His current main research project is entitled Shifts of meaning: Muslim discourses of reform and the practice of everyday life in postcolonial Mombasa. Link It engages with the anthropology of Islam and Muslim societies and takes on recent debates about postcolonial Africa. Other research strands involve the investigation of historical axes and social networks across the Indian Ocean, Swahili texts in social and historical context, Islam in East Africa, African literature, knowledge and intellectual practice, African philosophy, cultural philosophy and philosophical anthropology. He has published widely in these fields. Weblink

He is a co-editor of the book series ‘Society and History in the Indian Ocean’ (Hurst and Columbia University Press), a co-editor of the online journal polylog: journal for intercultural philosophy ( Weblink), and is on the advisory board for the journals Islamic Africa (Evanston University Press), Africa: Journal for the International African Institute (Cambridge University Press) and the book series ‘Welten der Philosophie’ (Alber Verlag).

His teaching experience includes courses in Social Theory, Anthropology of Religion, East African Ethnography, Research Methods, Religion in Africa, continental and African philosophy, Anthropology and Philosophy, and Swahili. He has supervised undergraduate and postgraduate students in Anthropology and African Studies, and he has acted as internal and external examiner for doctoral dissertations.


Academic degrees nach oben

2002 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’
1997 MSc, Social Anthropology, LSE, University of London
Dissertation on Zulu praise poetry and its socio-regulative functions
1996 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

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’


Publications (selected) nach oben

Books and edited volumes


Editor, with T. Marchand, “Knowledge in Practice: Expertise and the Transmission of Knowledge in Africa“, Link special issue of Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 79 (1).


Editor, with E. Simpson, Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean. Link London and New York: Hurst and Columbia University Press.


Philosophising in Mombasa. Link Knowledge, Islam and Intellectual Practice on the Swahili Coast. International African Institute and Edinburgh University Press.


Editor, “Reading MudimbeLink 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 R. Behrens & R. Peplow (eds), Symbolisches Flanieren. Kulturphilosophische Streifzüge. Link Hannover: Wehrhahn Verlag.


Editor, together with A. Graness, Sagacious Reasoning. Link H. Odera Oruka in Memoriam. Frankfurt, New York et al.: Peter Lang.
African edition published in 1999, by East African Educational Publishers, Nairobi.

Selected articles


“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.


„Auf dem Weg zu mehr Interdisziplinarität und Zusammenarbeit bei der Erforschung der philosophischen Traditionen in Afrika“ (translated by Anke Graneß), in: Polylog. Zeitschrift für interkulturelles Philosophieren 25, 115-131.


"Muslim politics in postcolonial Kenya: negotiating knowledge on the double-periphery", in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI). Special issue on Islam, Politics and Anthropology, 15 (1), 76–94.


“Can wisdom be taught? Kant, sage philosophy, and ethnographic reflections from the Swahili coast”, in M. Ferrari and G. Potworowski (eds), Teaching for Wisdom. Amsterdam: Springer, 189–206.


"The ‘persistence of myth’? Cassirer and Anthropology", in P. Bishop and R.H. Stevenson
(eds), The Persistence of Myth as Symbolic Form. Leeds: Maney, 130– 149.


"Philosophie, ethnographisch gesehen: Dichter und Denker in Mombasa (eine Fallstudie zur
Anthropologie der Philosophie) ", in H. Paetzold and W. Schmied-Korwazik (eds), Interkulturelle Philosophie. Weimar: Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität, 88– 115.


"Practising an anthropology of philosophy: general reflections and the Swahili context", in Mark Harris (ed), Ways of knowing: anthropological approaches to crafting experience and knowledge. Oxford: Berghahn, 42– 63.


"Reading Mudimbe, applying ‘Mudimbe’, turning an insider out:
Problems with the presentation of a Swahili poet", in  Journal of African Cultural Studies, 17(1), special issue on Reading Mudimbe,,   103– 129.


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


"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.


"Philosophischer Diskurs und philosophische Forschung in Afrika", in Information Philosophie. Loerrach: Moser Verlag, May issue, 20– 27.


"The problem of how to use African language for African thought. On a multilingual perspective in African philosophy", in African Philosophy, 11(1), 27– 36.


"Izibongo - the political art of praising: poetical socio-regulative discourse in Zulu society", in Journal of African Cultural Studies, 12 (2), 171– 196.

Complete List of Publications PdfFile

Online Texts


"Thought and practice and the Kenyan experience",  in Polylog. Forum for Intercultural Philosophizing 1(2), 1-11. Online: Link


„Dichtes Verhältnis im besten Wissen. Anthropology of Knowledge und interkulturelle Philosophie“, in  Polylog. Forum for Intercultural Philosophizing, No. 1, 89– 94. Online: Link


"Still in the making", an Interview with Kwasi Wiredu (held 30.3.1996 in Maastricht), in Issues in Contemporary Culture and Aesthetics, No.6, Maastricht (October), 37– 44.
- German translation, by Kai Kresse, "Afrika: Philosophen ohne Sprache? Ein Gespräch zwischen Kwasi Wiredu und Kai Kresse", in der blaue reiter. Journal fuer Philosophie, No. 6. Stuttgart (December), 99– 102.
- both reprinted in Polylog: Forum for intercultural philosophy, No. 2 (December 2000): Link and Link


"Zur afrikanischen Philosophiedebatte. Ein Einstieg.", in WIDERSPRUCH. Zeitschrift fuer Philosophie, Nr.30 (Summer ), Tuebingen: Attempto Verlag, 11– 27. Reprinted in Polylog: Forum for intercultural philosophizing, No. 2 (December 2000): Link

Interviews (in Swahili) nach oben


in conversation with Miraji Othman MP3 (Radio Deutsche Welle, Swahili Service), Berlin, July 2008


interviewed on Radio Salaam, MP3 Mombasa, April 2007; with Ahmed Sheikh Nabhany

Further links nach oben


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.