CFP: In Search of Zera Yacob

Submission deadline: March 31, 2021

Conference date(s):
September 1, 2021 - September 3, 2021

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Conference Venue:

Philiminality Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

Topic areas


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 September 2021. The exact dates have yet to be confirmed, subject to Covid-19 pandemic developments.

The invited speakers are 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), 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 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.

We are interested in papers that examine the Ḥatäta in the context of: global and connected histories of philosophy; Africana philosophy; the historiography of philosophy and the formation of philosophical canons; Ge’ez manuscript traditions and Ge’ez philology; orientalism and the academy; 17th century rationalism; Ethiopian and East African literatures; philology and empire in the twentieth century; the history of forgeries; the philosophy of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy; the history of modern Ethiopia, etc.

To unite these various areas of interest, 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.

This 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.

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 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 March 2021. Note that full paper submissions only will be considered for publication. We will notify authors of acceptance by 15 May 2021 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:

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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