Missions, Education and Conversion in Colonial Africa

  • Felix Meier zu SelhausenEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Economic History book series (PEHS)


This chapter traces the origins and long-term development of African mass education in colonial sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, it addresses the unique role of Christian missions in prompting a genuine schooling revolution and explores the comparative educational expansion across colonies and between genders. While the initial expansion of missions was motivated by a global competition for new church members, the development of African mass education essentially depended on local conditions. It highlights the importance of African agency in the process toward mass education that depended on local demand for formal education and the supply of African teachers who provided the bulk of mission schooling. The chapter also assesses potential pitfalls when those realities are not considered by studies, investigating historical missionary legacies on present-day African education and social mobility.


Christian missionaries Education Africa African agency School enrollment Gender Colonialism Religion Conversion Human capital 



Felix Meier zu Selhausen gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the British Academy (Postdoctoral Fellowship no. pf160051) as part of his project “Conversion out of Poverty? Exploring the Origins and Long-Term Consequences of Christian Missionary Activities in Africa.” For detailed comments, I would like to thank Michiel de Haas, Felipe Valencia Caicedo and Gabriele Cappelli and David Mitch, the two editors of this volume.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of SussexFalmer, BrightonUK

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