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Africana Philosophy
Gordon's Existentia Africana

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 26, 2000
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And Africana Thought

Why Africana Philosophy?

Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Love 1A Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, June 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

Process Text

The materials in this essay are based largely on Lewis R. Gordon's Existencia Africana: Understanding Africana Existential Thought. Routledge. New York and London. 2000. ISBN: 0-415-92644-0 (pbk).

This is a process text. It is written in collaboration, collaboration that includes phone calls, e-mail, lived experience, and our need to write it. That our is very important. Although I often write alone, with the only computer I have presently that affords me the hardware and software I need for the site, I am not alone.

This morning's thoughts come out of myriad interactions and discussions with friends, colleagues, former students. We include these materials on the site so that the production of texts may become more accessible to those of us who do not have the discretionary time to write traditional publications. These materials, over time, form an important body of intellectual thought aimed at understanding and extending the ideas of our theorists. We invite our colleagues and students to join us in this project.


My first thoughts this morning were focused on Africana thought. Why do I need to add so much reading to my summer efforts? How can I possibly add anything of academic significance to Africana thought, when I belong, at least by appearance, to the white group? I almost said majority, but, then, that does depend on how we define "white," doesn't it?

Why Explore Africana thought?

That brings me to my answer to the first question. I need to understand, as deeply as I can, where the delineation of black and white came from, and what it is based on. I need to understand, for in accepting that I am designated as "white" I am accepting some definition of what "white" is, whether I choose to consider that acceptance as "inevitable" or not. So this discussion matters to me, as much as it does to those who have been designated "black" by the world systems of signification.

I am not an expert on Africana thought. The ideas I express here come from my readings, as fast as I can assimilate them, and surely I will misinterpret some. But I consider it of major importance that I gather these intertextual musings, so that we can share in discourse the very foundation of our lived experience of being "black" or "white" in Western civilization of the twenty-first century.

Why draw the boundaries at "black" and "white"? Why not speak of racial groups? Because there is no race except in our lived experience, and in the United States, the lived experience of "blacks" and "whites" is still at issue. In this I follow Lewis R. Gordon's lead. Later in the essay, I will try to explain the significance he gives to "black" and "white." But I agree that we need to approach the issue of identity from this direction. Why do I agree? Because that is what my lived experience tells me.

This process text provides me with a forum for trying to synthesize Gordon's thoughts on existential philosophy with Habermas' faith in public discourse and the efficacy of the system of legitimacy, with Pat Acone's concern with liberation theology, and with my own concern for finding an answer to Frank Stricker's distress over self-interest which seems to dominate all, unto the death. This whole project resonates with irony in the difficulties built into this process in the academy. Should this project not epitomize one of the academy's basic missions? Is this not "what education is all about"?

. . .

Liberation Theology Enters the Picture

On Saturday, June 24, 2000, Pat Acone wrote:

Good morning and hi!  This morning I was reading Phillip Berryman's Liberation Theology. He was discussing one of the foremost Latin American theologists of the Liberation Theologist genre, Clodovis Boff, who has published Teologia e Practica which is considered to be the most thorough treatment of theological methodology by a Latin American.

Berryman indicates that liberation theologians are intellectuals who have grass roots connections.  These intellectuals make extensive use of the ideas of (page 81) theoreticians and he names Bachelard, Bourdieu, Gadamer, Habermas, Ricoeur, Piaget, Foucault, Freire, and Gramsci.

On Monday, June 26, 2000, jeanne responded:

As we discussed on Sunday, this is the thread we will need to build into the theory course. I hadn't planned the Piaget piece. But we have considerable Piaget background already in our learning theory components. I'll begin to seek online readings on all of these theorists, so that students can trace this thread through theory. jeanne

Gordon's Inclusion of Liberation Theology in Africana Thought

Having traced our own pathway to liberation theology on Saturday and Sunday, June 24, 25, I was excited to discover that Gordon took up this issue in Chapter 7: Recent Africana Religious Thought. There is something ever so satisfying in discovering that you are tracing a similar route on your way to understanding these issues of identity.

Again, in my effort to make this material accessible for students in the Love 1A series and in Theories and Distributive Justice, I offer these intertextual readings as precisely that: my struggles to understand, in the hope that this will help guide you to an understanding that will clarify some of these issues. If I understand correctly, these are some of the cutting edge issues that will determine the direction of humanity in the twenty-first century. I hope these endeavors will help give you the background for the deepest possible understanding, for your choices will count. As Sartre would have put it, responsibility entails each individual making choices such that he/she believes that this choice would be acceptable if every individual were to make that same choice.

  • (From memory of reading Sartre in the fifties. But what do I know? I liked Existentialisme est un humanisme, and Gordon refers to it somewhere in Existentia Africana as an "awful lecture" of Sartre's. I'm sure I wasn't reading it critically, but I don't even recall why I liked it. Maybe the story of the Priest's interpretation of his "calling" to serve God, whom he knew existed because of the "call." And the narrator, Sartre?, asked "And who interpreted the call?" That's it. That's the only scene I really remember. Hope that's not what Gordon refers to as awful. I was pleased to find the story because my undergraduates were struggling with the concept of whether God existed, and they turned to me because we were reading Sartre. Sartre's phrasing of the ultimate responsibility for interpretation helped these young undergraduates accept their own responsibility for their beliefs, even though their young English instructor called them "silly" for believing in God.

Defining Liberation Theology

Pat's definition of liberation theology grew out of her need to reconcile her religious background with her passionate need to affirm "human differences". Because she saw affirmation of difference as essential to freedom, she had problems with the "essentializing" and "totalizing" meanings embodied in many religious endeavors. She has had James Cohn's liberation theology on her desk for ages.

Now the Justice Studies Association meetings and Gordon's Existentia Africana are merging with Pat's earlier interests. I had earlier turned to Talmudic studies as an approach to the same essentialist questions. One of my favorite commentators is Rashi, a twelfth century Rabbi, who said of the first verse of Genesis: Why did God begin with the creation? So that when people accused Him of injustice in electing the Jewish people, He could say that He created the world, and so could give it to whomever he pleased.

Existential questions are an integral part of theology. Justice and Good and Evil are at the core of our understanding of God. And Black and White, as signifiers of Good and Evil are at the core of our existential understanding. So it behooves us to try to understand these concepts as they are reflected in our lived experience.

Gordon's Definition

On p. 136 (op. cit.), Gordon