Dr Leslie Fesenmyer

Dr Leslie Fesenmyer

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Lecturer in the Anthropology of Africa

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 and a fixed-term lectureship in the Department of International Development. 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

My current research broadly focuses on coexistence in diverse cities. In an ESRC-funded project – Kenyan Pentecostals between home, London, and the Kingdom of God – I explored the social and religious lives of born-again Christians who migrated from Kenya to the United Kingdom during a period of tightening immigration laws and increasing diversity in London.  Some themes animating this research include: ideas of ‘home’ and belonging; forms of ‘social engagement’ among Pentecostals; and (religious) modes of coexistence. 

In a new collaborative and comparative project funded by the European Research Council – Multi-religious encounters in urban settings – with Ammara Maqsood (University College London) and Giulia Liberatore (University of Edinburgh), I will adopt 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, this project explores multi-religious encounters in three sites not typically seen as possessing secular-liberal civil societies: Kenya, Pakistan, and Italy. My research within the larger project will focus on Kenya, a multi-ethnic, -racial, and -religious society, which has been implicated in the global ‘War of Terror’ and where social tensions are increasingly made sense of through religious idioms.  Rather than foregrounding the lives of a particular group of religious practitioners, I will focus on multi-religious encounters in urban Kenya to explore how people who identify with different religions (have come to) coexist and how their pursuit of social mobility may generate mixing and borrowing across religious lines that are otherwise taken to be incommensurate. 

2) Kinship and care

Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork in Kenya and London, I am revising a book manuscript titled Relative distance: Kinship, imagination, and change between Kenya and the United Kingdom. The book adopts a generational, life-stage, and gendered lens to the study of families living between Kenya and the United Kingdom, engaging with themes of migration and imagination, reciprocity and recognition, and the material and affective aspects of kinship.  Highlighting the affective process of negotiating relatedness transnationally, it 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. 

I am also interested in issues of transnational caring 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, 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.

Fesenmyer, L 2015, Ambitious cultural polyglots: Kenyan Pentecostals in London. in N Sigona, A Gamlen, G Liberatore & H Neveu Kringelbach (eds), Diasporas Reimagined: Spaces, Practices, and Belonging. International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.

Fesenmyer, L 2014, Transnational Families. in M Keith & B Anderson (eds), COMPAS Migration Anthology. COMPAS, Oxford. <https://compasanthology.co.uk/transnational-families/>

Book/Film/Article review

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>

Fesenmyer, L 2014, 'Rytter, Mikkel (2013) Family Upheaval: Generation, Mobility, and Relatedness among Pakistani Migrants in Denmark, New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books. 234 pp.', Nordic Journal of Migration Research, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 216-217. <https://content.sciendo.com/configurable/contentpage/journals$002fnjmr$002f4$002f4$002farticle-p219.xml>

Fesenmyer, L 2013, ''Intimate Migrations: Gender, Family, and Illegality among Transnational Mexicans by Deborah Boehm'', Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 252-253. https://doi.org/https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1469-8676.12016_3

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