In Search of Zera Yacob

In Search of Zera Yacob Conference at Worcester College, Oxford

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

Edited Volume

Along with Lea Cantor (Oxford) and Dr. Fasil Merawi (Addis Ababa), I am editing a volume on Ethiopian philosophy for the series New Studies in the History and Historiography of Philosophy, to be published by de Gruyter in 2023.

 © 2020 Jonathan Egid

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