‘In Search of Zera Yacob’ Conference – May 2022 (date TBC) – organised by LAHP PhD student Jonathan Egid
In Search of Zera Yacob’ will be the first international and interdisciplinary conference on a fascinating and hitherto neglected topic: two remarkable philosophical texts from Ethiopia and the ongoing debate over their authorship. These two texts, the Ḥatäta Zär’a Ya‛ǝqob and the Ḥatäta Walda Heywat have been objects of suspicion and admiration since their discovery (or perhaps their forgery) in 1852 by the Capuchin monk Giusto d’Urbino, both for their intrinsic philosophical interest and apparent historical singularity in the Ethiopian and African context.
The central question this conference hopes to explore is whether the texts have a genuine 17th century Ethiopian authorship, or whether the supposed ‘discoverer’ of the texts, the 19th century Capuchin monk Giusto d’Urbino, was in fact their secret author. The conference works on the assumption that the texts are interesting either way:
If the works are authentic, there is plenty to do, both in terms of studying the philosophy and literary qualities of the works, but also in understanding what they mean for the history of philosophy (that modern philosophy was born almost simultaneously in Ethiopia as in Europe; that they are the oldest texts in the context of sub-Saharan African philosophy; that they open up interesting questions of influence etc.), and in to thinking about why they were considered fakes for so long. If they ARE NOT authentic, how are we to best understand them? Are they still interesting as works of philosophy? If not, why not? And how do they fare as literary creations? If they are fakes, how do they relate to other historical texts from Ethiopia and from the philosophical canon?
The conference aims to bring together scholars from across philosophy, history and Ethiopian Semitic philology to discuss the question of the authorship of the texts, the possibilities for resolving the authorship debate, and the place of the texts in philosophical and literary history.
Currently we are postponing a decision on precise dates in light of the pandemic, but hope to announce a definitive date soon.