Leslie Fesenmyer


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

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


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

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.


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.  

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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