CFP: In Search of Zera Yacob

Submission deadline: December 31, 2021

Conference date(s):
May 2, 2022 - May 4, 2022

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Philiminality Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

Topic areas


[UPDATE - Submission deadline postoned to 31 December 2021]

We invite proposals for papers to be presented at an international conference entitled ‘In Search of Zera Yacob’, to take place at Worcester College, University of Oxford, most likely in early May 2022. The exact dates have yet to be confirmed, subject to Covid-19 pandemic developments.

The invited speakers are DrTeshome 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), and Dr Anaïs Wion (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique).

In Search of Zera Yacob will be the first international and interdisciplinary conference on two remarkable philosophical texts from early modern Ethiopia, the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob and the atäta Walda Heywat. These texts have fascinated and puzzled alike on account of their philosophical depth, beauty and apparent historical singularity. They have been called the ‘jewel of Ethiopian literature’, and served to demonstrate, in the words of Claude Sumner, that “modern philosophy, in the sense of a personal rationalistic critical investigation, began in Ethiopia with Zera Yacob at the same time as in England and in France”. 

This conference aims to examine the ideas, language and history of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob by putting scholars from across the world, and across disciplinary boundaries, into dialogue. It aims to stimulate a productive discussion between scholars from philosophy, history, philology, and Ethiopian studies, and to serve as a prolegomenon to broader philosophical study of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob. Contributors to the conference will explore the text’s philosophical arguments and their significance, the historical context of intellectual exchanges in Ethiopia, issues of translation and the forging of philosophical vocabularies, notions of authorship and authenticity in philosophical writing, the legacy of colonialism for Ethiopian studies, and the methodology of a truly global history of philosophy.

One of the guiding threads of the conference is the century-long controversy over the authorship of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob and the Ḥatäta Walda Heywat: do the texts have a genuine 17th century Ethiopian authorship, as asserted in the texts, or was the supposed ‘discoverer’ of the texts, the Capuchin monk Giusto d’Urbino, in fact their secret author? In addition to bringing new research to bear on the debate, we hope that the conference will provide an opportunity to analyse the history and politics of this controversy, from the first scholars who admired and enthusiastically catalogued and edited the texts in the early 20th century, to its rejection by Carlo Conti Rossini, an orientalist, and apologist for the fascist invasion of Ethiopia, and the reassertion of a 17th century authorship by Almeyahu Moges, Amsalu Alkilu and Claude Sumner in the 1970s. We hope also to explore the suggestions of scholars such as Binyam Mekkonen that the atäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob, ‘authentic’ or not, can obscure other rich philosophical resources to be found elsewhere in Ethiopian literature. The conference will thus also provide an opportunity to interrogate the often fraught and often ideological underpinnings of these arguments, examining the role of colonial knowledge production in shaping the controversy, and the history of Ethiopian studies at large. Addressing this controversy with an eye to its troubled history is important if the atäta is to receive the attention it deserves.

Further study of the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob might have profound implications for the history and historiography of philosophy in Africa and in a global orientation, for understanding processes of philosophical translation and connected intellectual histories, as well as the history of Ge’ez philology and literature.

Eligibility: The CfP is open to graduate students and researchers at all levels.

Submission Guidelines (open to graduate students and researchers at all levels): 

We will be considering two types of submission:

  • A 500-word abstract suitable for a 20-minute presentation; 
  • Or: A full paper (not exceeding 8000 words, including footnotes but not including references) in addition to a 300-word abstract, to be considered both for presentation at the conference and for publication in an edited volume (to be reviewed for acceptance as part of De Gruyter’s ‘New Studies in the History and Historiography of Philosophy’ series).

To submit an abstract or full paper, please send a .doc or .pdf file to [email protected]. Please write ‘Conference Submission’ in the subject line of your email and include your name, departmental affiliation, email address, and the title of your paper (as well as the year in which your PhD was awarded if relevant) in your email. Abstracts (and papers, if relevant) should be prepared for blind review, so please ensure that your document is free from any identifying personal details. The submission deadline is 31 December 2021. Note that full paper submissions only will be considered for publication. We will notify authors of acceptance by 31 January 2022 at the latest.

We hope to be able to contribute to travel and accommodation expenses for any speakers wishing to attend the conference, pending further funding applications and Covid-related complications. However, so as to make the conference maximally accessible to those who might not be able to travel in these difficult times, arrangements can certainly be made to incorporate talks given by video link.

For all enquiries, please contact: [email protected].

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.

The Conference Organizers
Jonathan Egid, Lea Cantor, Robin Brons, Justin Holder, and Johann Go

Supporting material

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