African Moralities? Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Seminar, SWS: 2, lecture number: 53011


Donnerstag, 8-10; U1.09 S6, GW II


Eva Spies; Magnus Echtler

In this seminar, we will read on ethics, morality, norms and values and discuss the authors’ take on these polysemic terms and the way they are being discussed with reference to African societies. Whereas “ethics” usually refers to rather abstract principles and criteria of judgement in determining whether actions are right or wrong, “morality” is often used to describe criteria and standards of ongoing value judgements in specific cultural and social contexts. The seminar uses the latter notion but does not exclude notions of ethics and values from the study of the broader field of moralities.Under labels like for example Ubuntu, some philosophers have proposed a specifically African system of morality, whose focus on community challenges the universal claim of individualistic Western morality, be it secular or religious. Taking heed of this normative discourse, we confront it with empirical studies on doing ethics from anthropological and study of religion perspectives that might challenge the African-Western dichotomy or dissolve both monolithic African and Western morality into multiple moralities.

Thus, the aim of the seminar is to gain an insight into the way different academic disciplines study ethics / moralities today, and to learn about the role ethics / moralities play in discussions on African identity, politics and religion.In the first part of the course, we will deal with the different uses and meanings of terms such as “ethics” and “moralities” and learn about ways how to study moralities. In a second step we learn about western (colonial) approaches to African moralities in the beginning of the 20th century, before we turn (in the third part) to the contemporary (postcolonial) study of moralities in fields such as politics, identity/belonging and religion.The course is based on weekly reading. Hence, participation requires the ability to read English texts, and the willingness to participate in their discussion actively.