Ubuntu Research Project

This project, ‘The meaning and value of Ubuntu in human and social development in Africa’, is an inter-faculty research project involving departments and researchers from the Faculties of Humanities, Law and Theology funded by the Templeton Foundation.

Ubuntu is the African idea of personhood: persons depend on other persons to be. This is summarized in the expression: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, that is, a person is a person through persons.

The main purpose of the proposed project is to mobilise the concept of ubuntu, so as to tackle a range of problems that confront the African continent, especially in post-conflict situations.

The concept of ubuntu is therefore researched in different contexts, each represented by a separate research cluster. The Department of Political Sciences is responsible for cluster four, but will work closely with other clusters, especially cluster three. Prof Maxi Schoeman and Dr ‘Funmi Olonisakin (King’s College, London and African Leadership Centre, Nairobi) are responsible for the Department’s research related to this cluster.

The first cluster seeks to build a nuanced theoretical framework for the project, unpacking the idea of ubuntu as a viable philosophical category. It seeks to understand ubuntu’s etymological roots on the continent and to surface a range of theoretical possibilities that it is likely to offer in dealing with continental problems.

The second cluster examines the concept of ubuntu in the personal narratives of African believers in a set of selected African countries that have undergone violent and traumatic experiences. It attempts to ask whether Ubuntu philosophy interfaces with religion in Africa and shapes the spiritual outlook of faith communities on the continent, exploring how African communities engage with trauma by evoking the everyday practices rooted in values of Ubuntu to achieve recovery and healing.

The third cluster approaches ubuntu from the perspective of its negation and focuses on inter-personal violence in Africa. There is wide international acceptance that some form of accountability is required to prevent repetition of unlawful killings. However, how should accountability be understood in the African context?

The fourth cluster will endeavour to provide knowledge and understanding about the relationship between (foreign) policy and the values of ubuntu, focusing specifically on the extent to which it will be possible for South Africa to implement its declared Ubuntu foreign policy, which is aimed at the promotion of peace, security and development on the African continent.

The outputs of the project are targeted at a broad audience (from academics to the youth), using different media, including research papers, talks, plays and art work. These, it is believed will increase the knowledge and awareness of Ubuntu, and in the process contribute to the transformation of  transformation of African communities and societies.


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