Bantu Philosophy and the Problem of Religion in Intercultural Philosophy Today

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“How ‘to talk religion’? Of religion? Singularly of religion today? How dare we speak of it in the singular without fear and trembling, this very day?”

Derrida 2002. Acts of Religion, p. 42.

In a time when a discourse of religious difference dominates so many violent confrontations, philosophy should take up Derrida’s early call to speak again of religion, in the singular. Even though the role of religion has changed significantly since the appearance of Placied Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy (1959 [1945]), it still is intricately connected to struggles for political and economic domination. Professional philosophy however, from the Enlightenment on, has given most of its energy to claiming autonomy, i.e. independence of heteronomous influences such as emotion, nature and religion. To repair this omission to talk of religion, we might need to look for fresh impulses in unexpected places – such as the work of a missionary working under a colonialist regime. The fact of Tempels’ philosophical limitations (his knowledge of the field stemming solely from his seminary training) as well as his concern for a more effective and dialogical way of Christianization, made him touch the issue of religion unhindered by the standing disciplinary concerns, and therefore in a philosophically very creative manner.

In my paper I will investigate whether Tempels’ approach, especially his way to link metaphysical argument to observations about spirituality and industrialization, can show options ‘to talk religion’ that could inspire intercultural philosophy today - after the hermeneutical and deconstructive turn, and after its issues with the specter of relativism. To this aim I will reconstruct Tempels argumentation, with special attention to his double movement - to first interpret what his African interlocutors taught him in terms of a metaphysics of life force, and to secondly reinterpret in its terms the languishing catholic metaphysics of salvation. This made him take Christ as the enhancer of life force per se, and as the counterforce in an age which, he feared, was about to empty the human person (African and European alike) of its soul, seeing progress solely in terms of industrialization and economic expansion. This was not just a hermeneutical circular movement avant Gadamer, as it simultaneously upheld the neo-scholastic claim to metaphysical knowledge of ultimate divine reality. Thus Tempels culturalized and contextualized what was supposed to sustain and transcend the contingent phenomenal world. Was this just his confused heteronomous catholic philosophy, or does his work contain elements for an answer to Derrida’s question: how to speak of religion without fear and trembling. If it does, perhaps some light can be shed in the discourse which only speaks of religious difference, without seeing how religion should be analyzed in a contextualized manner – as intrinsically related to the political and economic struggles that disturb our present times.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfrican Philosophy in an Intercultural Perspective
EditorsAnke Graness, Edwin Etieyibo, Franz Gmainer-Pranzl
PublisherJ.B. Metzler
ISBN (Electronic)9783476058324
ISBN (Print)9783476058317
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameInterkulturelle Philosophie


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