Expanding the Bounds of Christianity and Feminism

Mabel Shaw and the Women of Mbereshi, Zambia, 1915–1940

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
Rebecca C. Hughes Seattle Pacific University Seattle, WA USA

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As headmistress of the London Missionary Society’s Girls’ Boarding School from 1915–1940 in Mbereshi, Zambia, Mabel Shaw (1889–1973) created an innovative educational programme that embraced local culture and empowered women. Shaw drew from theological, anthropological, and feminist perspectives to guide her understanding of Bemba culture. Shaw built upon fulfilment theology with its premise that all religions had an element of God’s truth in them. In doing so, Shaw differentiated Western culture from Christian culture, creating space to accommodate practices such as ancestor veneration and polygamy. While scholars have been reluctant to label Shaw as a feminist, this author argues she must be recognized as one. Shaw actively collaborated with Bemba women and raised them as Christian saints. Moreover, Shaw was unique in that she urged her British audiences to listen to African voices and to consider the value of adopting aspects of African worship.

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