Photo of Felix Meier zu Selhausen

Felix Meier zu Selhausen
Research Fellow (Economics)
T: +44 (0)1273 872707


British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship 2017-2020:

Conversion out of Poverty? Exploring the Origins and Long-Term Consequences of Christian Missionary Activities in Africa

In recent years, there has been intense debate over the impact of Christian missionary activities in Africa during colonial rule (c. 1880-1960) on African longterm development. While the literature claims that the benefits of mission education were substantial and persist to the present-day, there is widespread disagreement about the mechanisms and the degree to which ordinary Africans were able to benefit from these developments under colonial rule and beyond. Using hitherto unexploited individual-level data from parish churches, hospitals, and colonial archives in seven British African colonies, this project explores two key questions in a comparative analytical framework: (1) What determined African Christianization in general and what influenced the choice of mission locations in particular? (2) What was the gender-specific impact of missionary activities on African human capital, labour market participation, social mobility, and health? This project seeks to improve our understanding of the unique historical process and enduring significance of missionary expansion in Africa.

Project blog summary

Fieldwork in Uganda


Work in Progress

The Economics of Missionary Expansion and the Compression of History”, joint with Alexander Moradi (Sussex) and Remi Jedwab (George Washington University)

Abstract: One of the most powerful cultural transformations in Africa’s modern history has been the rapid growth of Christianity from the mid-19th century onwards. A recent, yet extensive, literature uses Christian missions established during the colonial times as a source of exogenous variation to study long-run effects on religion, human capital and other indicators of economic development. Most of these studies claim to provide compelling evidence in favor of the path dependence hypothesis. However, the same studies often underestimate the endogeneity of missionary expansion. Using a new panel data set on the mission locations in Ghana from 1832 to 1932, we show that: (i) locational decisions were driven by economic factors, thus invalidating the hypothesis that missions were randomly located. While the earlier missions were located in more pacified and non-malarial areas, the later missions were attracted to less developed areas; (ii) these factors may spuriously explain why the locations with missions in the past are more developed today, a result which we also confirm using replication data from two major studies. More generally, our paper highlights the risks of “compression of history” arising from the use of historical shocks as sources of identification.


Who came to the Clinic? Patient Characteristics and Heath Outcomes in a Ugandan Mission Hospital, 1908-1970, joint with Shane Doyle (Leeds) and Jacob Weisdorf (SDU)

Abstract: This paper sheds new light on the impact and experience of western biomedicine in colonial Africa. We use patient registers from Western Uganda’s earliest mission hospital to explore whether and how Christian conversion and mission education affected African health behaviour. A dataset of 18,600 admissions permits analysis of patients’ age, sex, residence, religion, diagnoses, duration of hospitalisation, and treatment outcomes. We document Toro Hospital’s substantial geographic reach, trace evolving treatment practices, and highlight the significant variation in disease incidence between the early colonial and early postcolonial periods. We observe no relationship between numeracy and health outcomes, nor religion-specific effects concerning hygiene-related infections. Christian conversion was associated with superior cure rates and shorter length of stay, and with lower incidence of skin diseases and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). However our findings indicate that STI-incidence was linked to morality campaigns and that clinicians’ diagnoses were influenced by assumptions around religious groups’ sexual behaviour.


  • “Colonial Investments, Human Capital Externalities and City Growth: Evidence from Missions in Africa”, joint with Remi Jedwab (George Washington) and Alexander Moradi (Sussex).
  • "Gender inequality and elite formation in colonial British Africa: missionaries, markets and marriage" joint with Jacob Weisdorf (Southern Denmark).
  • "The long road to apartheid and the making of racial and gender inequality in South Africa, 1870-1970" joint with Johan Fourie (Stellenbosch) and Jacob Weisdorf (Southern Denmark)
  • "Gender Inequality in Economic Participation in Uganda, 1800-2010" joint with Michiel de Haas (Wageningen/Lund).
  • "Father-to-Son Mobility in British Africa: Long-Run Evidence from Anglican Marriage Registers, 1880-2010" joint with Marco H.D. van Leeuwen (Utrecht) and Jacob Weisdorf (Southern Denmark)