Literary and Critical Theory Alexis Kagame
Jean-Paul Martinon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0113


Alexis Kagame (b. 1912–d. 1981) was a Rwandan philosopher, theologian, linguist, historian, poet, translator, and Catholic priest. He belonged to a long lineage of historians affiliated to the pre-colonial Rwandan royal court. After attending a missionary school, he studied at the Nyakibanda Regional Seminary and was ordained a priest on 25 July 1941 at the age of twenty-nine. In this capacity, he became the editor of a Rwandan Catholic newspaper, Kinyamateka, in which he published his first literary essays. His publications of the late 1940s were deemed too political to the colonial authorities, who pressurized the diocese to repost him in Rome. While there, he studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University and took his doctoral degree in philosophy. The publication of his thesis arguably made him one of the first sub-Saharan Africans to professionally publish a book in the field of modern philosophy. Just before leaving Rome, Kagame joined Les Prêtres Noirs, a group of African priests who employed Christianity as a basis for African nationalist aspirations. After returning to Rwanda in 1958, he became professor of philosophy, Kinyarwanda, and history at various Rwandan Catholic seminaries. In 1967, he became professor of history at the newly formed National University of Rwanda. He also held a post of visiting professor at the National University of Zaïre (Lubumbashi). Throughout this time, Kagame was often at odds with the European clergy (for works that were deemed not Catholic enough) and with the newly formed Rwandan republic (for works that did not specifically adhere to the government’s ideologies). Kagame died in 1981 after being honored with the title of prelate by Pope John Paul II. Overall, Kagame is the author of dozens of books and numerous articles published in French, another twelve books written in Kinyarwanda, either transcriptions of oral literature or works of poetry, including a biblical epic of more than 35,000 verses in the style of Rwanda’s pastoral poetry. His work of poetry is often tinged with a subtle dry humor. His works have proved to be widely influential both in African philosophy and across various disciplines within the wider humanities and social sciences, including African theology, Rwandan history, poetry of the Great Lakes Region, and ethnographic studies. Interest in Kagame’s thought continues to grow and expand forty years after his death, especially in the field of African oral literature and poetry.

General Overview

The written accomplishments of Alexis Kagame and the secondary literature that ensued are vast. Material cited is limited to works either accessible online or through international, national, or academic libraries. A vast portion of Kagame’s oeuvre does not yet figure here because it remains unpublished, untranslated, or unarchived. The article is divided into Primary Texts and Secondary Texts. A priority is given here to major texts, thus excluding earlier versions published in small journals and periodicals. Because Kagame wrote mainly in French and Kinyarwanda, the majority of his scholarship is in these languages.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.