Dr Leslie Fesenmyer

Dr Leslie Fesenmyer

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Assistant Professor in Social Anthropology and African Studies

Contact details

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a social anthropologist whose research interests include transnational migration, kinship, belonging, and religion (especially Pentecostalism).I have pursued these interests in the United Kingdom and Kenya and in the context of migration between the two countries.  


  • DPhil in Social Anthropology (University of Oxford)
  • MPhil in Social Anthropology (University of Oxford)
  • BA in Sociology-Anthropology (Middlebury College)
  • Associate Fellow, Higher Education Academy


I joined DASA in September 2018. Prior to that, I held several research and teaching posts at the University of Oxford, including an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellowship at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. While at Oxford, I taught and supervised postgraduate (MSc, MPhil, and DPhil) students in Social Anthropology and in Migration Studies, as well as taught undergraduates in Human Sciences and Archaeology and Anthropology. I received my MPhil and DPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford.  Prior to my doctoral research, I spent ten years working on social justice, poverty, and gender issues in San Francisco and New York City.  


  • Religion and Ritual
  • Anthropology of Migration
  • Perspectives on Africa
  • Research Skills and Methods in African Studies

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome enquiries from students interested in the anthropology of migration and diasporas; religion, particularly Pentecostalism; and kinship and care.

Find out more - our PhD African Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Through various research projects, I am pursuing two strands of interest:


1) Religion, mobility, and the urban


With their promise of socioeconomic mobility, cities are spaces where many people converge, by choice and circumstance, in pursuit of their aspirations. Consequently, they are increasingly diverse spaces, where cohabitation and encounters with ‘others’ are inevitable. Much research on cities and on diversity focuses on issues of race, ethnicity, nationality, and migration and legal status, but less so on religion. 


My current research looks at multi-religious encounters and cohabitation in urban Kenya. In particular, I am interested in how people who identify with different religions (have come to) coexist in Nairobi and how their pursuit of social mobility may generate mixing and borrowing across religious lines that are otherwise taken to be incommensurate.  This research is part of a larger collaborative and comparative project funded by the European Research Council (2019-2025) – Multi-religious encounters in urban settings (MEUS) – with Ammara Maqsood (University College London) and Giulia Liberatore (University of Edinburgh). MEUS adopts a different theoretical and empirical starting point to urban cohabitation.  While most research on religious pluralism has been conducted within the framework of secular-liberal democratic states, it explores multi-religious encounters in three sites not typically seen as possessing secular-liberal civil societies; in addition to Kenya, the sites include Pakistan and Italy. MEUS aims to make a significant intervention by demonstrating the possibilities and potential of multi-religious encounters to overcome the monistic tendencies evident in the anthropology of religion, and by challenging the normativity of secular-liberal ideals of tolerance that dominate current academic perspectives on plurality and theorising alternative modes of coexistence.


My research on urban cohabitation and religious coexistence grows out of research I conducted in pluralist East London, which was supported by the ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme. Kenyan Pentecostals between home, London, and the Kingdom of God took as its empirical starting point Kenyans’ conversion to Pentecostalism after migration to the United Kingdom. In this research, I explored the linkages between migration and religion during a period of tightening immigration laws and increasing diversity in London. The project considered such questions as, in what ways do migration and religion stimulate and shape people’s imaginings about the future and the ways in which they go about trying to secure it? And, how does religion help migrants locate themselves within and navigate between different spatial and social scales? 




2) Kinship and care


Relative distance: Kinship, migration, and change between Kenya and the United Kingdom (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2023) is a multi-sited ethnography of transnational kinship between Kenya and the United Kingdom. Rather than focusing on changing modes of economic production, ‘push-pull’ factors, and globalization as drivers of familial change and transformation, the kinds of structural explanations demographers, economists, family sociologists, and globalization theorists favour, the book focuses on the micro-spaces of transnational familial life, revealing how, through quotidian interactions, exchanges, and practices, those who move and those who stay contribute to the ongoing transformation of kinship. It traces how migrant and nonmigrant kin stayed engage in what I refer to as moral economies of transnational kinship. It argues that the distance migration opens up between kin is where they express, negotiate, and transform what being related entails. Highlighting the phenomenological dimensions of negotiating relatedness transnationally, the book shows that changes in kin relations cannot easily be attributed to the so-called inevitable nuclearization of families as a result of migrating to a western country.  Instead, it demonstrates how kin navigate their respective circumstances, reconfiguring the meaning of relatedness as they do so, and at the same time how wider forces mediate the social reproduction of families. In asking who is responsible for whom, the book reveals how questions of care and responsibility are not only family matters, but are also central to relations between individuals, societies, and states.


Building on this research, I am interested in issues of ageing and practices of care between Africa and Europe against the backdrop of global ageing, neoliberal restructuring, and the entanglement of care regimes through migration.

Other activities

I serve on the editorial board of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. Outside of academia, and drawing on my experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in the United States, I have advised Kenyan diaspora organisations on such topics as women’s empowerment initiatives and applying for external funding.  As part of my research on African Pentecostal churches in East London, I have engaged with civil society organizations, local councils, and policymakers on issues of migration, social cohesion, and religion. 


Recent publications


Fesenmyer, L 2023, Relative Distance: Kinship, Migration, and Christianity between Kenya and the United Kingdom. The International African Library, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009335096


Fesenmyer, L 2022, 'Ambivalent belonging: Born-again Christians between Africa and Europe', Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 52, no. 1-2, pp. 119–145. https://doi.org/10.1163/15700666-12340221

Fesenmyer, L, Liberatore , G & Maqsood, A 2020, 'Introduction: crossing religious and ethnographic boundaries - the case for comparative reflection ', Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 386-401. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12779

Fesenmyer, L 2020, '‘Living as Londoners do’: born‐again Christians in convivial East London', Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 402-417. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12770

Fesenmyer, L 2019, 'Bringing the Kingdom to the city: mission as placemaking practice among Kenyan Pentecostals in London', City and Society, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 34-54. https://doi.org/10.1111/ciso.12196

Fesenmyer, L 2018, 'Pentecostal pastorhood as calling and career: migration, religion, and masculinity', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 749-766. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12915

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Fesenmyer, L 2016, 'Assistance but not support': Pentecostalism and the reconfiguring of related between Kenya and the United Kingdom. in J Cole & C Groes-Green (eds), Affective circuits: African migrations to Europe and the pursuit of social regeneration. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 125-145. <https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo24663172.html>


Liberatore, G & Fesenmyer, L 2018, Diaspora and Religion: connecting and disconnecting. in R Cohen & C Fischer (eds), Routledge Handbook of Diaspora Studies. Routledge.

Fesenmyer, L 2017, Place and the (un-)making of religious peripheries: Weddings among Kenyan Pentecostals in London. in D Garbin & A Strhan (eds), Religion and the Global City. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 189-201.

Fesenmyer, L 2016, Deferring the inevitable return 'home': Contingency and temporality in the transnational home-making practices of older Kenyan women in London. in K Walsh & L Nare (eds), Transnational Migration and Home in Older Age. Routledge, London and New York.

Book/Film/Article review

Fesenmyer, L 2023, 'A Spirit of Revitalization: Urban Pentecostalism in Kenya, written by Mugambi, Kyama M.', Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 100–102. https://doi.org/10.1163/15700666-12340276

Fesenmyer, L 2023, 'In the Hands of God: Evangelical Belonging Transforms Migrant Experience in the United States by Johanna Bard Richlin,0 by Johanna Bard Richlin, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2022, x + 262 pp., appendix, notes, bibliography, index, (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-691-19498-1.', Anthropological Forum. https://doi.org/10.1080/00664677.2023.2217703

Fesenmyer, L 2018, 'Ethnic church meets megachurch: Indian American Christianity in motion by Prema Kurien', Migration and Society, vol. 1, pp. 216-217. <https://www.berghahnjournals.com/view/journals/migration-and-society/1/1/arms010120.xml>

Other report

Fesenmyer, L 2017, African-initiated Pentecostal Churches in East London. COMPAS Research and Policy Briefing, COMPAS, Oxford. <https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/2017/african-pentecostal-churches-in-east-london/>

Special issue

Fesenmyer, L, Liberatore , G & Maqsood, A (eds) 2020, 'Crossing religious and ethnographic boundaries: The case for comparison ', Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale.

View all publications in research portal