LETS DIALOGUE: REIMAGINING THE AFRICAN ACADEMY:
TOWARDS A HUMANITIES-SCIENCE NEXUS
Dr Damaris Parsitau (Egerton University)
Professor Njoki Wane (University of Toronto)
Professor Anne Kubai (University of Uppsala)
Ms Hellen Taabu (University of Toronto)
Dr Evelyn Kipkosgei
Africa’s higher education and research is currently undergoing tremendous shifts and challenges. The relationship between the Social Sciences and Humanities and STEM disciplines continue to draw serious debates and discourses about their roles in Africa’s development. In the recent past for example, there have been provocative debates and discourses about the role of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSHs) not just in the academy but also in Africa’s development. Such debates assert that higher education in Africa would serve the needs of a rapidly growing continent better were universities to provide more Scientists, Mathematicians, Engineers, Physicists, Doctors, Agriculturalists and many other Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) allied disciplines. It is further argued that the STEM disciplines would help transform the African continent from a poor one to a more developed one. For these reasons, studies in history, languages, literature, culture, religion, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, gender and women studies, the arts and other humanities subjects have not only been deprioritized but have also been ridiculed by politicians, policy makers and even some university officials who have looked down on the humanities broadly conceptualized.
In Kenya for example, the debates have been spearheaded by senior government officials who have publicly mocked history and argued that ‘the country could not develop as a nation when we continue to teach the history of Vasco da Gama in Universities’. Such disdain for the social sciences and humanities by senior government officials goes a long way to show a complete lack of appreciation for the role of the humanities and social sciences in Africa’s development. It is such mockery and disdain for the humanities that informs not just policy but also how the humanities are perceived in Africa’s higher education. For these and many other reasons, the Social Science and Humanities disciplines appear at the bottom of any list of national goals and development. This deprioritization and marginalization of the SSHs have seen many departments in many public universities merged for ‘rationalization’ purposes, a measure that not only affects faculty teaching in these departments but also takes a way focus on specific disciplines.
In many Kenyan Universities for example, the so called ‘hard’ or Natural Sciences’ receive more attention than the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSHs). Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Technology, Mathematics, Computer Science and other allied disciplines receive greater attention from university management including higher budgets than the Social Sciences and Humanities disciplines. The privileging of one set of disciplines over the other is not helpful and is problematic in many ways. We urge for pragmatic conversations and dialogue between the two broad areas of disciplinary divides as well as their cooperation and mutual engagement. This sad situation needs to be remedied because no knowledge-led development strategy can succeed without a solid core of human values that are etched in the humanities and social sciences.
There is also need to bridge the gap between SSH and STEM as well as develop partnerships and engage and generate conversations between the two disciplinary divides so as to contribute to the emergence of broad-based skills required for African development. Mutual engagement between STEM and SSHs would also contribute immensely not just to the bridging of disciplinary divides but also provide holistic strategies through which universities would contribute to the emergence of broad based skills and all rounded graduates who would drive Africa’s development in the 21st Century. There is also a huge disconnect between the role of Social Science research in informing evidence based policy that would be impactful to communities and countries. Yet humanities and social sciences are best placed to inform about trends and shifts in society in a bid not just to inform and impact public policy but also bring in the kind of data that shapes public discourse and leads to social transformation.
At the same time, African countries are currently facing tremendous social, cultural, economic, political, digital and even leadership tensions and complexities that can only be understood and explained by the social sciences and humanities. The shear leadership crisis facing so many African countries today has caused untold sufferings to citizens particularly the most vulnerable populations, such as women, children, the old and Persons with Disabilities
The continued undermining, deprioritization, and marginalization of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) as opposed to natural sciences in the African academy should be interrogated in view of the prevailing leadership crisis as well as the crisis facing the academy in Africa today. There is also critical need to increase contemporary intellectual discourse on the viability and sustainability of the SSH in the African leadership and academy.
Also, there is need to determine the roles that SSHs could play in the African socio-economic and political arena such as the enhancement of order and stability and paving a way forward for humanity. Therefore, as the devaluing and deprioritization of SSH in many universities in Africa persists and as conversations of “science policy” continue to focus on STEM backgrounds, the value of what SSHs bring to the policy making process needs further exploration. Further, the Nairobi Report of 2009 states that the humanities and social sciences are critical for development: “the perspective and knowledge which they offer on history, culture, social interactions, political systems, economics, and much more are vital to development and wellbeing … it is only by engaging with history and its expressions through literature and performance that communities and nations are able to understand and reflect on their origins, to understand their past and define their place in the world” (Nairobi Report, 2009:6).
It can be argued that it is foolhardy for policy makers to prioritize STEM over SSH since SSH blends that which is molded, invented or developed by the technologists to make it humane, friendly and valuable for human consumption. There is a consensus that a development that is not in tune with human needs, feelings, culture and tastes has no value. There is therefore a need for integrated development that is people centered and that has a human face.
Further, there is need to critically assess the instrumental role of SSHs in promoting a holistic development that encompasses the welfare of the people in all realms of their lives. At the same time, we think that poorly informed policy decisions can have significant and lasting ramifications for citizens. Ill-informed critics often assume that negative policy decisions can be averted if decision makers are guided by data and scientific evidence. However, this can be contested since most issues and decisions are influenced by cultural and political considerations that correspond to the beliefs, principles, and values of a people. We therefore argue that without the proper context and understanding, decisions that are based purely on data and scientific evidence can be incomplete, unpopular or lead to unintended consequences.
This call for papers allows us to interrogate these and many other themes on the nexus and intersections between the natural sciences and SSH as well as the role of education in contemporary Africa’s development. We attempt to ask a number of questions in respect of the role of education in Africa: Is it purely to create employment or should it also be mandated to mold well rounded citizens equipped with skills to work, crucial knowledge for navigating life embedded with values that are instrumental for the sustenance of society? With advancement in technology, it is critical to investigate the role of SSHs in understanding its impact on human and social interaction.
This anthology therefore needs minimal justification and calls on all stakeholders and policy makers to seek informed ways of responding to complex and multifaceted challenges that incorporate perspectives of individuals from a variety of backgrounds including SSHs and STEM. To deal with pressing policy challenges in contemporary Africa, we need critical voices and new ideas from across various disciplines to try and unpack the following questions: What is the future of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSHs) in the Academy and Africa’s Leadership and Development? How do we envision the role of the Social Sciences and Humanities in the future of Africa even as the debate rages on, on the superiority of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) over SSHs in Africa’s future development and prosperity? Can there be a fine balance/co-existence between STEM and SSH in such a way that we envision Science that is Creative and the SSH that are Scientific? Is it possible to re-imagine a world where both the SSH and Natural Sciences are deemed as vital in the development of a healthy, vibrant economy and society?
Using the recent provocative debates and discourses that undermine the role of SSHs and privilege STEM, this call for chapters for the anthology: Let’s Dialogue: Reimagining The African Academy: Towards A Humanities-Science Nexus is an entry point that will enable us to get new insights and facilitate critical discussions. The Anthology hopes the contributors will address one or more of the following questions in their chapters:
• Is there a crisis of humanities or is it that humanity is in crisis?
• What is ailing the African academy?
• How can we design interdisciplinary courses within existing departments in the SSHs and
• How can we provide new and innovative tools and perspective for thinking about SSH
research in Africa?
• How can the humanities make use of digital media platforms to transform and enhance
research and teaching SSHs in African universities?
• How can we bridge the gender divide in the SSHs and STEM? This is important given the
fact that there exists glaring gender divides in higher education and research in
• How does SSH fit into the relationship between the science and policy communities?
• What are the strengths that researchers from SSH have in influencing policy? What are the
• How can policy-making processes be efficient and responsive while considering multiple
• What is the development nexus between the humanities and natural sciences?
The tentative deadlines are:
i) Circulation of call for papers: Sept & October
ii) Abstract submission for chapters – October 30th, 2019.
iii) Submission of chapters: Jan 30, 2019.
iv) Feedback to contributors: – Mar 28, 2020.
v) Chapters from contributors: April 30, 2020.
vi) Submission to CODESRIA: May 30, 2020.
vii) Feedback from CODESRIA – July 30th, 2020.
viii) Submission of final papers from contributors to CODESRIA: November 30th 2020.
ix) Publication of Manuscript: December 30th 2020
I am pleased to announce that a Special Issue of the AASR e-Journal on Christianity and Social Change in Contemporary Africa is now available. It has been Guest Edited by Francis B. Nyamnjoh and Joel A. Carpenter and includes an extensive introduction and 7 original articles.
Click on Issue 5.1 (August 2019) to download and view the new issue.
Table of Contents
Editor’s Note by Afe Adogame
Introduction: Christianity and Social Change in Contemporary Africa by Francis B. Nyamnjoh and Joel A. Carpenter
Women Without Limits and Limited Women: Pentecostal Women Navigating Between Empowerment and Disempowerment in Kenya by Damaris Parsitau
Religious Collaboration Enhances Patient Satisfaction Among Faith-Based Groups and Health Facilities in Western Kenya by Mary N. Getui, Nema C. Aluku, and William T. Story
Is Contemporary Christianity Promoting or Hindering Mental Health in Africa? An Exploration of the Impact of Charismatic Church Activities and Doctrines on the Mental Well-Being of Selected Ghanaian Congregants by Joana Salifu Yendork, Lily Kpobi, and Elizabeth Anokyewaa Sarfo
New Imaginations of Youth Agency: Boko Haram and the Innovative Gospel of Terror in Nigeria by Edlyne E. Anugwom
“Battling for Souls: Contesting for Space?” African Traditional Religions and Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe by Tapiwa Praise Mapuranga
Religious Innovation and Competition Amidst Urban Social Change: Pretoria Case Study by Stephan de Beer and R. Drew Smith
“When Are You Going to Change Those Stones to Phones?” Social Media Appropriation by Pentecostal Churches in Cape Town by Henrietta M. Nyamnjoh
For previous journal issues and information about submitting your own original articles or book reviews, go to the AASR e-Journal Website.
The AASR will be one of the participating societies at the Fourth Joint Conference of Academic Societies in the Fields of Religion and Theology, hosted at the University of the Western Cape from 29 June – 3 July 2020. In addition to our President, Elias Bongmba, being one of the keynote speakers, the AASR will be organizing several panels related to the general conference theme: Religion and Theology in Africa: Trends, Theories and Trans-Disciplinarity.
If you have a paper you would like to propose, please email Elias Bongmba (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a title and a max. 150-word abstract. For panel proposals, please send a panel title and abstract, along with titles and 150-word abstracts for each paper in the panel. The deadline for proposals is 17 January 2020. For more information, download the conference flyer below.
AASR colleagues, kindly note the following announcement and conference registration details from the Association for the Study of Religion in South Africa:
We trust this email finds you well.
The 2019 ASRSA conference in Pretoria is approaching and we are looking forward to meeting you there. Please find the registration form and some useful information here.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
ASRSA Executive Committee
We are offering 2 PhD scholarships (1 based in Sydney and 1 in Perth) as part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) funded project: “The African Diaspora and Pentecostalism in Australia: New Perspectives on Materiality, Media and Religion.”
This project investigates the new African Diaspora in Australia and its embrace of Pentecostalism, particularly after arrival. The African community in Australia has often been associated with poor settlement outcomes, and has also been on the receiving end of a racialised moral panic. The project aims: to understand the range of challenges African-Australian communities faces; to determine why so many of their members join Pentecostal churches; to investigate how Pentecostal churches support these communities’ translocal and transnational mobility and sense of belonging, and; to contribute to policy efforts to improve outcomes for African new arrivals in Australia.
Within this larger project, the PhD candidates will conduct ethnographic research with Pentecostal churches in Australia, and with African Diasporas in the country. Both projects will investigate questions such as: how do Pentecostal churches support/hinder processes of settlement and ‘integration’? How do some Pentecostal megachurches generate transnational religious fields – ones which may harness resources from branches elsewhere in the world? And what impact does all of this have on Australian cities’ post-secular social landscapes?
We welcome applicants from a range of backgrounds: anthropology, sociology, religious studies, African studies, Migration studies or a related field. In particular, the project is suitable for candidates with strong interests in the intersections of migration and religion. Applications from students of African heritage are especially welcomed.
Deadline: 30 June 2019
For more details, see
Prof Cristina Rocha
Director of Religion and Society Research Cluster |School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Western Sydney University
President: Australian Association for the Study of Religion
Editor: Journal of Global Buddhism
Editor: Religion in the Americas series, Brill
Latest book: John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing (OUP, 2017)