Book: Exploring Africana Philosophy
Chapter: Symbolism, Ritual and Power
The history of Africana philosophy is one of the longest and most fraught of the so-called non-Western philosophical traditions. Many of the earliest Greek philosophical sources alluded to Egypt as an origin of the tradition, but the modern, European, academic conception of philosophy often used Africa as a foil against which to define itself. Given these facts, and the sheer number and incredible complexity of traditions on the African continent and in its diaspora, introductory texts on the subject have tended to be edited volumes, whose essays vary in quality and accessibility. The few single-author introductions to the topic (Imbo, Hallen, Masolo, Bell) tend to ignore both major topics (e.g. metaphysics and epistemology) and traditions (e.g. African Islamic philosophy, oral and pre-colonial Africana philosophy), focusing almost exclusively on the modern Europhone authors.
This introductory work provides a straightforward and accessible thematic introduction to some of the major issues, ideas, and debates of Africana Philosophy, demonstrating some of the through lines and historical influences connecting the various and
varied traditions categorized as such. The work defines Africana philosophy in terms of five distinct, but mutually overlapping and influencing categories of traditions: the Ancient (including Ancient Egyptian and North African Neo-Platonic traditions), the Christian (including North African Latin, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox traditions), the Islamic (including Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Philosophical Sufism), the “Indigenous” traditions (Yoruba, Akan, Dogon, KiKongo, Zulu, Vodun, etc.), and Modern Europhone traditions (analytic, Marxist, négritude, phenomenology, ethnophilosophy, etc.) in both Africa and the African Diaspora.
The book begins with some basic definitions of the subject matter and its scope, before moving into a concise account of six topics that have had particular relevance in all five
categories of Africana philosophical traditions. An introductory chapter on metaphysics, cosmology, and ontology introduces readers to the various ways in which reality, space-time, and being were and are conceptualized in Africana traditions, in order to set the stage for the next chapter on the nature and place of the human being in the cosmos, and the important role of the ethical and the social (e.g. Ubuntu-“a person is a person through other people”) in defining humanity. This leads into the third chapter, which discusses the various theories of aesthetics, their relationship to ethics and the cultivation of humanity and social order. The following chapter surveys prominent examples of and debates in Africana social and political philosophies, including various responses to European colonialism and racism. The next chapter surveys various epistemological traditions and important debates about knowledge, certainty, and authority in pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial settings, including modern
debates on the “rationality” of oral traditions, and discussions of the nature of language and orality. This leads to the penultimate chapter, which discusses the substantial issues of metaphilosophy (what is philosophy?) both raised in and provoked by Africana traditions, before the conclusion considers the ways in which Africana philosophy continues to inform and influence contemporary debates and movements in the study of religion, philosophy, science, music, literature, theatre, and popular culture.