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Christopher Tounsel

Assistant Professor of History and African Studies, Penn State

PhD, University of Michigan, 2015
MA, University of Michigan, 2011
BA, Duke University, 2009
I am an historian of modern Sub-Saharan Africa with research interests in South Sudan, Christianity, Race, and Imperialism. My work moves beyond the “Arab v. Black and Christianity v. Islam” narrative of Sudanese history by exploring the ways in which religious thought became an arena to define and approach race. My manuscript examines the ways in which Biblical themes and idioms were adopted to enhance arguments for Southern Sudanese self-determination and sovereignty. It considers how a wide range of actors in organizations like the Catholic Church, Anyanya guerrilla army, and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) used theology to interpret their circumstances, script action, and define a future that often conflated spiritual liberation with political reformation and revolution. I suggest that the recent explosion of ethnic factionalism in South Sudan reflects historical efforts to define and reinforce ethnicities as distinct social groups and the emergence of ‘Southern Sudanese’ as a racial and national category. In turn, my study points to the strengths and limitations of deploying racial and religious thought as instruments for nation-making.

Recent Publications:
‘Before the Bright Star: Football in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan’ Journal of Eastern African Studies [published online August 2018, print forthcoming]

“Render to Caesar”: Missionary Thought and the Sudanese State, 1946-1964’ Social Sciences and Missions Vol. 34, no. 2 (2018): 341-374.

‘Race, religion and resistance: revelations from the Juba archive’ Journal of Eastern African Studies Vol. 11, No. 2 (2017): 249-265.

‘Khartoum Goliath: SPLM/SPLA Update and Martial Theology during the Second Sudanese Civil War’ Journal of Africana Religions Vol. 4, No. 2 (2016): 129-153.

Awards and Services:
2015 Doris G. Quinn Fellowship, Doris G. Quinn Foundation
2014-2015 Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellows Dissertation Grant, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
2013 Rackham Humanities Candidacy Fellowship, University of Michigan
2012 Multi-Country Fellowship, Council of American Overseas Research Centers

Recent Courses:


  • –present
    Assistant Professor of History and African Studies, Pennsylvania State University