Should an African renaissance return us to its spiritualistic sources?


Frescoes in the church of Abuna Yemata Guh, Gheralta, Ethiopia. Photograph by Owen Barder

From Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Kebede proposes examining how the concept of time shapes Ethiopian identity and Ethiopia’s relationship to modernity. He distinguishes between a cyclical conception of time and a teleological conception of time. In the cyclical conception of time, things change into what they are not, and then back again. We are always becoming what we were not. This means that those who are down may move up, and those who are up may move down.

The teleological conception of time is linear: we begin at a certain point, a, and are oriented toward achieving a certain end, b. We go from a to b where b is the end achieved by the journey through time from a. Kebede argues that prior to Haile Selassie, Ethiopians maintained a cyclical conception of time. But with Selassie, Amharic Ethiopians became the only source of power, and Selassie’s family became a necessary condition of exercising power. In this way, Post-Selassie Ethiopia replaced the cyclical with a teleological conception of time.

Kebede recommends an Ethiopian Renaissance in which Ethiopia returns to its traditional concept of time. But it is not obvious how to reconcile a cyclical time with teleological time conceived as the journey from sin to salvation and the Second Coming of Christ. Moreover, one of main consequences of the European Renaissance was a rejection of spiritual agency in the natural and social world. Will this be necessary for Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general? Or should an African renaissance return us to its spiritualistic sources?

“Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy, Reviewed by Albert Mosley”, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews