My new Book: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

My new Book: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity
I’m pleased to announce the (re-) publication of my new book, Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity (December 16, 2016) by Hamilton Books.
Description
“Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance” articulates the religious ideas and vision of Wole Soyinka in his non-fiction writings. It also analyzes Soyinka’s response to religious violence, terror, and the fear of religious imperialism. The book suggests the theoretical notions of radical humanism and generous tolerance best summarize Soyinka’s religious ideals and religious piety. Through a close reading of Soyinka’s religious works, the book argues that African traditional religions could be used as a catalyst to promote religious tolerance and human solidarity, and that they may also contribute to the preservation of life, and the fostering of an ethics of care and relationality. Soyinka brings in conversation Western Humanist tradition and African indigenous Humanist tradition for the sake of the world, for the sake of global shalom, and for the sake of human flourishing.”
You can now pre-order the book in the publisher’s website. What a great gift for Christmas! lol
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On the value of Black African view of man….

(An excerpt from my working chapter on Africana doctrine of humanity and Africana theological anthropology. This is a draft.)
 
On the value of Black African view of man….
 
It is assumed that traditional African perspective on man (humanity) stresses the value of community rather the individual, as it is commonly practiced in Western societies. Traditional African doctrine of humanity is more promising, dignifying, and liberating. The role and destiny of the individual is essentially determined within the framework of the community or kingship, and the individual’s active participation in the life of the community. That does not mean that the African people do not see any merit in the individual, nor do they undermine the worth and implications of individual choices or preferences; however, it does mean that the African people prioritize communal choices over individual preferences. The individual exists as a corporate entity.
 
The notion of “social man” or “corporate individual” (even “collective solidarity”) affirms that the individual knows his or her functions in and responsibilities to the community. It is only in this manner can he or she be deemed a genuine being in the African stance of corporate humanity. While one is born human (humanness), one has to become (evolutionary theory) a person (personhood) in the context of communal life and communal engagement. Being a human is a biological category; being a person is not. The person is the product of the community. Hence, African anthropology–both from a social and philosophical perspective— promotes the notion of radical dependence and radical interdependence since human beings are radically interdependent and dependent.
 
It is also assumed that traditional African philosophical ethics and humanism ought to be praised, as compared to those of the Western ethico-philosophical traditions. For example, in the African worldview and cosmology, all principles of morality and ethics are to be sought within the context of preserving human life and its power or force (See Laurenti Magesa, African Religion).
 
Traditional African view of man and moral philosophy promote an ethics of relationality and interpenetration, and make a clarion call upon us to the imperative and practice of sociability, bonding, and collective solidarity in the modern world.
 
 
 
 

What is Africa to Me? When Chinua Achebe is Wrong!

What is Africa to Me? When Chinua Achebe is Wrong!

In my current research for a book chapter, I’m investigating Chinua Achebe’s interpretation of African traditional humanism and African traditional religion (s). In reading his important work,  “The Education of a British-Protected Child,” Achebe articulates an  important statement about African pre-colonial past and achievement, and Black Existence and Dignity:

“I do not see that it is necessary for any people to prove to another that they build cathedrals or pyramids before they can be entitled to peace and safety. Flowing from that, it is not necessary for black people to invent a great fictitious pas in order to justify their human existence and dignity today. What they must do is recover what belongs to them–their story– and tell it themselves.”–Chinua Achebe, “The Education of a British-Protected Child”

Africad

Generally, I agree with the general intent of Chinua’s powerful statement above. Accordingly, I do not have to tell a racist that my ancestors had built great civilizations in precolonial Africa to prove my humanity as a black person. To put this simply, “I created therefore I am.” Chinua would reject this premise in the Cartesian logic.

Hence, we must separate black personhood and black achievement. They belong to two different categories or spheres. In the same line of thought, black dignity should not be dependent on racial achievement or heritage. In other words, Black lives matter regardless of the education, social standing, and wealth of black people. Black personhood is linked categorically and naturally to black existence, and that black dignity is premised on black existence. Black existence Is!

On the other hand, Chinua’s declaration has compelled me to reconsider a few more things. There are many problems with his articulated position. First, what if the process of recovering what rightfully belongs to them (the African people or the black Diaspora) involves the telling of their historical (pre-colonial) past–Isn’t that a belonging?–and the defense or vindication of their past achievements. Secondly, what if the process of recovering what rightfully belongs to them also entails their claim of entitlement of their historical accomplishments in global history?

Telling the collective story of a people could be construed as an attempt to teach and reteach others about what has been forgotten or intentionally ignored by others–such as the contributions of the people in question to universal civilizations and modernity.

For example, why should any black person be ashamed to affirm that W.E. B. Du Bois was the first African American of Haitian descent to receive a PhD from Harvard University? And the same Du Bois is a founding father of modern sociology? If our past is great and awesome, why not celebrating and making it known to the world?

 

Vodou, I Remember: My New Books on Haitian Vodou

Hello, Friends: Please allow me to share my two new books with you, which are published by Lexington Books (2016). Dr. Nixon Cleophat and I edited both volumes on Haitian Vodou:  Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective , and Vodou in Haitian Memory: The Idea and Representation of Vodou in Haitian Imagination. Both texts can be ordered on the publisher’s website, amazon.com, or any online bookstore.

vodouea

Description

One glaring lacuna in studies of Haitian Vodou is the scarcity of works exploring the connection between the religion and its main roots, traditional Yoruba religion. Discussions of Vodou very often seem to present the religion in vacuo, as a sui generis phenomenon that arose in Saint-Domingue and evolved in Haiti, with no antecedents. What is sorely needed then is more comparative studies of Haitian Vodou that would examine its connections to traditional Yoruba religion and thus illuminate certain aspects of its mythology, belief system, practices, and rituals. This book seeks to bridge these gaps.

Vodou in the Haitian Experience studies comparatively the connections and relationships between Vodou and African traditional religions such as Yoruba religion and Egyptian religion. Such studies might enhance our understanding of the religion, and the connections between Africa and its Diaspora through shared religious patterns and practices. The general reader should be mindful of the transnational and transcultural perspectives of Vodou, as well as the cultural, socio-economic, and political context which gave birth to different visions and ideas of Vodou.

The chapters in this collection tell a story about the dynamics of the Vodou faith and the rich ways Vodou has molded the Haitian narrative and psyche. The contributors of this book examine this constructed narrative from a multicultural voice that engages critically the discipline of ethnomusicology, drama, performance, art, anthropology, ethnography, economics, literature, intellectual history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, and theology. Vodou is also studied from multiple theoretical approaches including queer, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, postcolonial criticism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis.

Table of Contents
Introduction: Contemporary and Transnational Vodou, and the African Perspective
Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat
Part I. Vodou, Anthropology, Art, Performance, and the Black Diaspora

  1. Roots / Routes / Rasin: Rural Vodou and the Sacred Tree as Metaphor for the Multiplicity of Styles in Folkloric Dance and Mizik Rasin

Ann E. Mazzocca

  1. Circling the Cosmogram: Vodou Aesthetics, Feminism, and Queer Art in the

Second-Generation Haitian Dyaspora
Kantara Souffrant

  1. Dancing Difference and Disruption: Vodou Liturgy and Little Haiti on the Hill in “Seven Guitars”

Barbara Lewis

  1. Decoding Dress: Vodou, Cloth and Colonial Resistance in Pre- and Postrevolutionary Haiti

Charlotte Hammond
Part II. Vodou and African Traditional Religions

  1. The African Origin of Haitian Vodou: From the Nile Valley to the Haitian Valleys

Patrick Delices

  1. New World/Old World Vodun , Creolité, and the Alter-Renaissance

Bronwyn Mills

  1. The vibratory art of Haiti: a Yoruba heritage

Patricia Marie-Emmanuelle Donatien

  1. Ethnographic Interpretations of Traditional African Religious Practices and Haitian Vodou Ceremonial Rites in Zora Neale Hurston’s (1938) Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Maya Deren’s (1983) Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

Tammie Jenkins

  1. Oversouls and Egregores in Haitian Vodou

Patricia Scheu (Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo)

  1. Arabian Religion, Islam and Haitian Vodou:

The “Recent African Single-Origin Hypothesis” and the Comparison of World Religions
Benjamin Hebblethwaite and Michel Weber

vodoub

Description

Throughout Haitian history—from 17th century colonial Saint-Domingue to 21st century postcolonial Haiti—arguably, the Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou has been represented as an “unsettling faith” and a “cultural paradox,” as expressed in various forms and modes of Haitian thought and life including literature, history, law, politics, painting, music, and art. Competing voices and conflicting ideas of Vodou have emerged from each of these cultural symbols and intellectual expressions. The Vodouist discourse has not only pervaded every aspect of the Haitian life and experience, it has defined the Haitian cosmology and worldview. Further, the Vodou faith has had a momentous impact on the evolution of Haitian intellectual, aesthetic, and literary imagination; comparatively, Vodou has shaped Haitian social ethics, sexual and gender identity, and theological discourse such as in the intellectual works and poetic imagination of Jean Price-Mars, Dantes Bellegarde, Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, etc. Similarly, Vodou has shaped the discourse on the intersections of memory, trauma, history, collective redemption, and Haitian diasporic identity in Haitian women’s writings such as in the fiction of Edwidge Danticat, Myriam Chancy, etc.

The chapters in this collection tell a story about the dynamics of the Vodou faith and the rich ways Vodou has molded the Haitian narrative and psyche. The contributors of this book examine this constructed narrative from a multicultural voice that engages critically the discipline of ethnomusicology, drama, performance, art, anthropology, ethnography, economics, literature, intellectual history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, and theology. Vodou is also studied from multiple theoretical approaches including queer, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, postcolonial criticism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Towards New Visions and New Approaches to the Vodou Religion
Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat

Part I: Vodou, Modernity, Resistance, and Haitian Cultural Identity and Nationalism
Chapter One: James Theodore Holly, Fabre Geffrard, and the Construction of a “Civilized’ Haiti”
Brandon R. Byrd
Chapter Two: Oath To Our Ancestors: The Flag of Haiti is Rooted in Vodou
Patrick Delices

Part II. Vodou, Vodouphobia, and Haitian Male Intellectuals and Cultural Critics
Chapter Three: The Role of Vodou in the Religious Philosophy of Jean Price-Mars
Celucien L. Joseph
Chapter Four: Jacques Stephen Alexis, Haitian Vodou and Medicine: Between Cure and Care
Shallum Pierre

Part III. Vodou, Christian Theology, and Collective Redemption
Chapter Five: Haitian Vodou: The Ethics of Social Sin & the Praxis of Liberation
Nixon S. Cleophat
Chapter Six: Vodouphobia and Afrophobic Discourse in Haitian Thought: An Analysis of Dantès Bellegarde’s Religious Sensibility
Celucien L. Joseph
Chapter Seven: Haitian Vodou, a Politico-Realist Theology of Survival: Resistance in the Face of Colonial Violence and Social Suffering
Nixon S. Cleophat

Part IV. Vodou, Memory, Trauma, and Haitian Women Intellectuals and Cultural Critics
Chapter Eight: Vodou Symbolism and “Poto Mitan:” Women in Edwidge Danticat’s Work
Myriam Moïse
Chapter Nine: Writing from lòt bò dlo: Vodou Aesthetics and Poetics in Edwidge Danticat and Myriam Chancy
Anne Brüske and Wiebke Beushausen
Chapter Ten: The Economics of Vodou: Haitian Women, Entrepreneurship, and Empowerment
Crystal Andrea Felima

Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”: When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”

“Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs.” —Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart” (1958)
 
Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”:
When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”
I guess that I have not succeeded in convincing my students in my literature class–in which we have read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the most influential novel in the Anglophone Africa, written by Chinua Achebe in 1958– that the Igbo people of Nigeria are monotheists just like the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, they “worship” one God. Those how have written their final essay on the subject of religion in the novel or have done a comparative analysis of African traditional religion and Christianity as their subject of research have emphasized that the Africans are polytheists and believe in strange religious customs and traditions. (Not all of my students made that claim, but most of them do.)
Interestingly, in the story itself, there’s an important debate on the very nature of God in African theology, as well as what is deemed religious; this conversation about faith occurs between an important Igbo character and intellectual named Akunna and the British missionary named Mr. Brown who, along with the colonial administrators, came to “civilize” and “Christianize” the Igbo people. According to Akunna, Mr. Brown misses the mark and misinterprets both the nature of religion and the nature of God in Afrian religious tradition. Consider the following conversation:
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood–like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.” The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them from His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.”
“No,” protested Mr. Brown. “The head of my church is God Himself.”
“I know, said Akunna, “but there must be head in this world among them. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.”
“The head of my church in that sense is in England.”
“That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the Disctrict Commissioner. He is sent by your King.”
“They have a queen,” said the interpreter on his own account.
“Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person. “
“You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.”
“That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is the right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu i a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.”
“But we must fear HIm when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna.” And who is to tell His Will? It is too great to be known.” (Things Fall Apart, 178-281)
For Chinua Achebe, Christian missionaries from Western countries who have set their foot on the “dark soil” of the “Black Continent,”  have misinterpeted African traditional religion (s) and, as a result, misunderstood the African people, their culture, cosmology,  and worldview. Achebe has underscored this phenomenon as one of the major failures of (historic) colonial Christianity in colonial Africa in the project of mission civilatrice and christian evangelism. Sometimes, the real enemy is within. Unhealthy religious ideology just like cultural supremacy can be an arrogant thing, especially in the case that when one’s religious confession or piety becomes the very hindrance that blocks communication and defers understanding between people of different religious persuasion. Arrogant faith could be the most dangerous weapon that destroys faith itself, and hinders  interreligious dialogue and religious conversion.
I wish my students would have read the passage noted above more critically and responsibly. Indeed, Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”