CFP: Dreams and Dreaming: African Perspectives

Submission deadline: October 17, 2018

Conference date(s):
October 24, 2018

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Nairobi
Nairobi, Kenya

Topic areas


Dreams and Dreaming: African Perspectives

The Department of Philosophy at the University of York, UK, in partnership with the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, are holding a one-day conference on "Dreams and Dreaming: African Perspectives".

Conference Date: Wednesday 24th October 2018

New Deadline for Submissions: 17th October 2018

Time: 09:00 to 17:00 

Venue: Main Campus, University of Nairobi 

Call for Papers

Scholars are invited to send paper abstracts not exceeding three hundred (300) words on any or several of the following questions with an African orientation to Prof Tom Stoneham (, to reach him by 24th September 2018.

  • What are dreams?
  • What causes us to dream?
  • Why are dreams so strange?
  • Do dreams have a function?
  • What can we learn from someone’s dreams?

Conference Focus

According to the standard model of dreaming, while we are in deep sleep we undergo long and complex sequences of vivid quasi-perceptual experiences, which have a loose and often incoherent narrative structure, often with impossible events occurring, and which cause strong, predominantly negative, emotional reactions. Upon waking we sometimes recall these, though our memory is patchy. Some people report much richer and more distinctive dreams than others, others (very few) claim never to dream. 

The familiarity of waking up from a dream and recalling (some of) the details causes us to overlook quite how puzzling and sui generis this psychological phenomenon is. 

Some examples should make this puzzle clearer: 
While the phenomenon of waking up from a dream feels to the subject like remembering a conscious experience they had during sleep, it is not at all like memory or waking conscious experience. (Try to remember what you had for dinner two days ago and now try to remember what you dreamed two days ago: it is likely that you will only succeed in the second task if you kept a dream diary or had a special dream you told someone about.) Furthermore, working on this assumption that dream recall is recollection, some researchers have claimed that we instantly forget more than 80% of our dreams. Why should we think those forgotten nocturnal events were conscious experiences in the first place?

Most cultures have a tradition that eating certain foods will give you bad dreams. In some cultures it is cheese (and in others beans or cabbage): but we know that cheese is not psycho-active when we are awake, so why are we not puzzled by its being psycho-active in sleep? And why are there so few traditions of foods giving us good dreams (rather than dreamless sleep).

Many of the characteristic features of dreams seem to be culturally specific. While Freud thought he had discovered oedipal dreams, the relative prevalence of such dream reports in the 20th century compared to earlier times suggests that he had actually caused them by creating explanations of what dreams might be like. Besides, in cultures where dreams are believed to embody spiritual communication, people are often visited in dreams, whereas in other cultures we may dream of dead or absent people without being visited by them. 

Equally the meaning of dreams is culturally variable. Many cultures have a tradition that dreams can connect the dreamer to a spiritual realm, the recently deceased, non-human spirits, or even the divine. This is often encouraged by religious or spiritual teachings and connected to the potential for dreams to foretell the future or warn the dreamer of impending dangers. This raises an interesting epistemological question: Could dreams ever be evidence for a spiritual realm, or does this interpretation of dreams presuppose the acceptance of such a realm? (Perhaps the having of such dreams presupposes the belief in the spiritual by the dreamer?) Famous and trivial examples of dreams coming true abound, but we risk confirmation bias here because they are massively outnumbered by dreams that did not come true. 

In contrast, the relentless drive of individualism and the cult of self in western culture over the last 200 years has led to a very different interpretation of dreams: they reveal your hidden self, your real personality. This is a dangerous idea, exacerbating the mental health problems of people with PTSD and complex trauma who suffer nightmares and other parasomnias, but also a peculiarly culturally local one with surprisingly little evidence to back it up. 


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