Kai Kresse is Associate Professor of African and Swahili Studies in MESAAS.

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, Past Present Continuous: Swahili Muslim Publics and Post-colonial Experience, is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

His translations from Swahili include Uwongozi (Guidance), a selection of Islamic educational essays written by Sheikh al-Amin Mazrui, and the pamphlet ‘Kenya: Twendapi?’ (Kenya: where are we heading?) by Abdilatif Abdalla. Other research interests are hermeneutics, social theory, African philosophy and intercultural philosophy. Kresse has also published on Ernst Cassirer, and on African philosophers, such as Henry Odera Oruka, V.Y. Mudimbe, Kwasi Wiredu and Okot p’Bitek.

He received his PhD from SOAS, in Anthropology and African Studies in 2002, after studying Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics (MSc 1997) and Philosophy at the University of Hamburg (MA 1996). Before joining Columbia, he was Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, and Vice-Director for Research at Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. In 2005, he was Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford.


Selected publications – books

2007 Monograph. Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam, and intellectual practice on the Swahili coast. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.

2017. 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.

2016. Editor, with Rose Marie Beck. Abdilatif Abdalla: Poet in Politics. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki wa Nyota Publishers.

2009. Editor, with Trevor Marchand. Knowledge in Practice: Expertise and the Transmission of Knowledge. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

2007/8. Editor, with Edward Simpson. Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean. London: Hurst/New York: Columbia University Press.

2005. 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).

1997. 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 book chapters:

2016. ‘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)

2013. “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)

2012. “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)

2011. “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)

2009. “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)

2009. “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)


Select further publications:

2011. ‘Between Africa and India: thinking comparatively across the western Indian Ocean’, ZMO Working Papers 5, 1-15. Co-authored with Edward Simpson. (Read here)

2011. “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)

2003. " '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)

2002. "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)

1998. "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.