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Animist Humanism: Thinking With African Indigenous Religions

By Patrice Haynes, Liverpool Hope University


Decolonial theorists such as Aimé Céssaire and Sylvia Wynter argue that a new model of the human is needed if the humanism of colonial modernity, which dignifies European Man alone, is to be overcome. As part of a wider effort to decolonise and diversify philosophy (particularly philosophy of religion), this presentation turns to the resources of African indigenous religions in order to reimagine the human otherwise. A key feature of African philosophy is a conception of the human as inherently communal, famously captured by the term ‘ubuntu’: ‘I am, because we are’.


In this presentation, I sketch what I call an ‘animist humanism’ in order to capture the African understanding of the human as one who necessarily exists in a web of relations with other human beings as well as ‘others’ in both the non-human, visible world and the invisible world of ancestors, spirits and the divine. By highlighting the animist cosmology underpinning African accounts of the human I hope to address the criticisms of those such as Kai Horsthemke who argue that the anthropocentric character of African indigenous religions fail to recognise satisfactorily the value of non-human animals and the natural environment more widely. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that the prevalence of animal sacrifice in indigenous African religiosity seems to be at odds with an animist humanism that values life-enhancing relations with others, human and non-human. After examining the significance of blood and ritual animal sacrifice in African indigenous religions, I suggest that an animist humanism underpinned by an African cosmo-sense needs new ceremonies that give visceral expression to an existential problematic facing humanity in the shadow of colonial modernity and the era of the Anthropocene: ‘What will we attend to and, thereby, give life’?


We are looking forward to the conversation with our guest from Liverpool.


Biography

Patrice Haynes is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Liverpool Hope University. Her research interests focus primarily on issues in philosophy of religion, particularly as these are reframed by continental, feminist and decolonial philosophies. Her first monograph, titled Immanent Transcendence: Reconfiguring Materialism in Continental Philosophy, was published by Bloomsbury in 2012. She is currently undertaking research for her second monograph which aims to challenge the Eurocentric focus of philosophy of religion by considering how a focus on African (particularly West and Southern Africa) indigenous religions can point to the field’s constructive transformation beyond its colonial legacy. She is a co-founder of the Association of Continental Philosophy of Religion.



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