Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

IAS Awarded Grant to Launch the "The African Humanities Project: A Collaborative Education and Research Program"

September 6, 2016

The partnership project entitled “The African Humanities Project: A Collaborative Education and Research Program” between the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at Columbia University and Sciences Po – Centre de recherches internationales (CERI) has been awarded a three-year Partnership University Fund (PUF) grant to launch a new Dual Degree MA program in African Studies between the two partnership universities by the Partner University Fund (PUF) administered by the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE) foundation. The award will begin this fall 2016.

The African Humanities Project (AHP) between IAS, Columbia and Sciences Po-CERI encompasses both a research and education mission that demands interaction between teaching and research and emphasizes student and faculty collaboration within an international framework. It entails: faculty, postdoctoral, and student exchanges within the Columbia-Sciences Po partnership and associated institutions in Africa; innovative interdisciplinary collaborative research initiatives and courses that involve faculty and students at all levels from our partnership institutions; and the establishment of an international MA/PhD program in African Studies. It seeks greater collaboration between faculty and students and institutions in Africa, Europe, and North America to bring African, European, and North Americans into an equal partnership in the realm of education and knowledge production.

Most research projects on Africa and the humanities have worked within a humanitarian framework in which the West brings the humanities to Africa. However, we propose that Africa, with its equally deep and varied philosophical, religious, historical, and artistic resources, has an important contribution to bring to the humanities as it exists within European and Anglo-American academic institutions, and the study of aesthetic and moral values and human relationships, histories, and experiences. We therefore favor an epistemological framework that considers African and European academic and philosophical traditions as equally capable of proposing global histories, philosophies, and methodological interventions. We also stress the ways in which European and African “libraries” are in many ways intertwined and in some instances, mutually constitutive. 

Africa’s vast intellectual libraries can help us to re-frame the humanities globally. African philosophy emphasizes the agency of persons and the interconnectedness of art, literature, and philosophy. From an African perspective, these three otherwise distinct disciplines are seen as profoundly connected through African metaphysics. An important aspect of this project therefore is the redefinition of the human and of the humanities to highlight personal agency and interconnectedness, all of which will influence how we think about aesthetics, philosophy, history, politics, law, art, and religion. African Studies, as a field that spans multiple disciplines, developed within an ongoing dialogue between humanities and social sciences and has played a key role in traversing disciplinary boundaries. Examples of interdisciplinary innovations include: historical sociology of the state and politics, anthropological history, and explorations of the experiential and aesthetic aspects of political life. The AHP will support projects that employ humanist methodologies within traditionally defined social science disciplines to bring new perspectives to the study of philosophy, politics, law, religion, and history. This emphasis on humanist methodologies across disciplines will structure the collaborative courses that we teach within the AHP partnership universities and the proposed MA/PhD program.

The AHP operates at three interconnected levels:

1. Research Program that facilitates student and faculty collaboration within an international framework on diverse research initiatives that draw on African intellectual resources and intervene in key humanities debates;

2. Methodological Innovations that work between the humanities and social sciences to bring African humanities approaches to the study of philosophy, politics, religion, art, and history;

3. Educational Initiatives that support innovative international courses, student and faculty collaboration on research initiatives, student mobility and exchange, and an international MA/PhD program between CU and Sciences Po that involves partnerships with institutions in Africa.