In Search of Zera Yacob

September 1, 2021 - September 3, 2021
Philiminality Oxford

Worcester College
1 Walton Street
Oxford OX1 2HB
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • Royal Institute of Philosophy
  • Mind Association
  • Aristotelian Society
  • Worcester College, Oxford


Oxford University
Oxford University

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In Search of Zera Yacob will be the first international and interdisciplinary conference on two  remarkable philosophical texts from Ethiopia and the ongoing debate over their authorship. The Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob and the Ḥatäta Walda Heywat have fascinated and puzzled alike since their discovery in 1852, both for their intrinsic philosophical interest and the ways they challenge prevalent ideas about the history of philosophy and African intellectual history. The debate also has implications for the global history of philosophy, and for understanding the relationship between colonial knowledge production and the historiography of philosophy.

The guiding thread of the conference is the long-standing controversy over the authorship of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob and the Ḥatäta Walda Heywat, examining whether they have a genuine 17th century Ethiopian authorship, or whether the supposed ‘discoverer’ of the texts, the Capuchin monk Giusto d’Urbino, was in fact their secret author.

The conference works on the assumption that the texts are interesting either way, and in either case demonstrate a cultural hybridity that has traditionally been overlooked in discussions of authorship. We hope to explore the structure of the authenticity debate over the past century: its arguments and assumptions, its lessons and the prospects for its eventual resolution.

The conference aims to raise these questions from multiple disciplinary perspectives, putting scholars from across the world, and across disciplinary boundaries, into dialogue. It aims to stimulate a productive dialogue on the text between scholars from philosophy, history, and Ethiopian philology, and to serve, if a 17th century authorship is demonstrated, as a prolegomenon to any serious philosophical study of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob.

Invited Speakers:
Dr Teshome Abera, Addis Ababa Science and Technology University
Prof. Peter Adamson, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich/King's College London
Prof. Wendy Belcher, Princeton University 
Mr Eyasu Berento, Kotebe Metropolitan University
Prof. Getatchew Haile, Curator Emeritus of the Ethiopian Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
Dr Chike Jeffers, Dalhousie University
Dr Ralph Lee, SOAS
Prof. John Marenbon, University of Cambridge
Prof. Binyam Mekonnen, Addis Ababa University
Dr Fasil Merawi, Addis Ababa University
Prof. Justin E. H. Smith, University of Paris 7 - Denis Diderot
Dr Anaïs Wion, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Dates: September 2021 (exact date TBD, pending pandemic developments)

For all enquiries, please contact:

The conference is organized with the generous support of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, the Mind Association, the Aristotelian Society, and the Hinton Clarendon Fellowship, Worcester College.

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June 1, 2021, 9:00am BST

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