Itibari M. Zulu. Exploring the African Centered Paradigm: Discourse and Innovation in African World Community Studies. Los Angeles: Amen-Ra Theological Seminary Press, 1999. xii + 220 pp. $14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-9674226-0-2.
Reviewed by Iain S. Maclean (Department of Philosophy and Religion, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia)
Published on H-Africa (May, 2003)
This unusual little book seeks to cover a surprising amount of territory, both historical and intellectual, in a brief and somewhat strange conjunction of material. This is first observed by glancing at the table of contents which offers the following chapter headings: "Introduction," "Legacy and Praxis," "Construction," "Bibliotheca," "Ecclesiastical Text," and "Conclusion." Further observation will determine that this work is presenting a specific version of the African-Centered project, directed to the further strengthening and expansion of the African World Community. In seeking to accomplish this, the author certainly has supporters and, indeed, as a paradigm that seeks to unite traditional knowledge with the communication possibilities of the digital age, many more hopefully will concur, both within and beyond Africa. But positions taken in the text are simply stated and one has to assume this text serves not so much as an argument, but rather as a call to action or as a program proposal for the African World Community. Thus there is no one central controlling thesis in the text, apart from perhaps offering the Amen-Ra Seminary as a paradigm. Consequently, representing a "call to action," this book should not be expected to lay out the arguments for its position or to examine alternatives.
Exploring the African Centered Paradigm never thoroughly explores the paradigm itself apart from setting out an outline of its own paradigm and dealing with detractors by relying on the statement of opposing positions, followed by declarations that such positions are obviously tainted by racism. While there certainly is a history of European racism within scholarship (especially as typified by Winckelmann's nineteenth-century work, reiterated classically in Ludwig Schemann's Rasse in den Geisteswissenschaften) it is not an adequate historical argument to label a dissenting view as rascist, rather than documenting the connections between the charge and the position. The thesis appears to be that the existence of an ancient Pharonic library in Thebes, which pre-dates any European ones, establishes an African-Centered claim to knowledge and, as knowledge is power, to the rise of civilization. Again, all claims to other origins are racist. They might be, but there could be other historical explanations. Regardless, the African-Centered paradigm seeks to reclaim the traditions of knolwedge and, thus, power (symbolized by the library) for Africa and the African Diaspora.
The succeeding sections of the book deal with the importance of library sciences and technology for such an African-Centered paradigm, again making a valid point that without knowledge the people will never come into their complete rights. These sections culminate by offering an outline of such a paradigm as taught at the Amen-Ra Theological Seminary. Surprisingly for such an ideological work, little examination is given of what such a seminary (as distinct from a college, a university, or even a technical training institute) seeks to accomplish in light of African-Centered values and truths. These latter are briefly set out, but the underlying values and ethical positions presupposed are not, nor is the paradigm itself related to other dimensions of the whole of human life and society.
Moreover, of the book's nearly two hundred pages, almost half comprise a bibliography and annotated list of readings, translation of ancient Kemetic texts, and an outline of the Amen-Ra seminary course outlines. In addition to the difficulties inherent in evaluating such a collection of disparate texts, the present text itself is marred by almost one hundred typographical and other errors; most are included on a separate sheet, an errata list of almost a page length, but numerous others not identified distract from the book's purpose. The proposal suggested by this text--of offering an African-Centered education for Africans and Africans in diaspora--is a worthy one. The goal, however, is not furthered by a text that does not explain the truths and values it claims to defend nor by the fact that even though the text briefly acknowledges the dominance of Islam and Christianity (amongst possible ideological alternatives, not to mention African Nationalisms or African traditional religions), it does not explain how these generally exclusivist religions are to be related in any ideological and/or religious re-integration proposals. However, and most critically, the text--and perhaps this is not its intent--does not recognize or seek to integrate the paradigm proposed with material forces such as economics, power, and national groupings in Africa, which are, as Max Weber pointed out, the rails upon which any ideas must move.
Finally, much of the book's intent is summed up in the foreword by Salim Faraji when he declares that the combination of knowledge of African origins and recent digital technology is the one tool that can help forge an African World Community. In addition, this mode of communication will overcome the residual effects of the preceding historical domination and dehumanization of Africans. Similar to the questions raised above, how is this paradigm and its localized or national expressions of Afro-centricity to be related to global expressions of the same? Certainly the experiences can be similar, but are there sufficient similarities to create common cause? It is hoped that these probings would encourage further reflection and potential solutions.
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Iain S. Maclean. Review of Zulu, Itibari M., Exploring the African Centered Paradigm: Discourse and Innovation in African World Community Studies.
H-Africa, H-Net Reviews.
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