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05.09.2020 05:25 Alter: 48 days

In Search of Zera Yacob

Call for Papers

Theme: In Search of Zera Yacob
Type: Graduate and Early Career Researchers Conference
Institution: Worcester College, University of Oxford
Location: Oxford (United Kingdom)
Date: Spring 2021
Deadline: 31.12.2020

We invite proposals for papers to be presented at an international
conference entitled ‘In Search of Zera Yacob’, to take place at
Worcester College, University of Oxford, in the Spring of 2021. The
exact dates have yet to be confirmed, subject to Covid-19 pandemic

In Search of Zera Yacob will be the first international and
interdisciplinary conference on 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 contexts. The
question is whether they 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. This conference will serve first and foremost to put scholars
from across the world, and across disciplinary boundaries, into
dialogue with one another on the highly contested question of
authorship. It aims, if not to conclusively resolve the authorship
question, to at least stimulate a productive dialogue between
scholars on the structure of the authenticity debate as it has played
out over the last century. It would also serve, if a 17th century
authorship is demonstrated, as a prolegomenon to any serious
philosophical study of Zera Yacob’s work, and for thinking about his
place in the global history of philosophy.

Topics of Interest

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?

We are interested in papers that approach either horn of the
authenticity question from the perspectives of: global philosophy,
Ge’ez literature and philology, orientalism and the academy, the
history of forgeries, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, the history of
modern Ethiopia, the cultural politics of philosophy, etc.

The CfP is exclusively open to graduate students and early career
researchers within five years of completion of their PhD.

Submission Guidelines

We will be considering two types of submission:

- A 500-word abstract suitable for a 20-minute presentation;

- Or: A full paper (not exceeding 8000 words, including footnotes but
not including references) in addition to a 300-word abstract, to be
considered both for presentation at the conference and for
publication in an edited volume (to be reviewed for acceptance as
part of De Gruyter’s ‘New Studies in the History and Historiography
of Philosophy’ series).

To submit an abstract or full paper, please send a .doc or .pdf file
to Please write ‘Conference Submission’ in
the subject line of your email and include your name, departmental
affiliation, email address, and the title of your paper (as well as
the year in which your PhD was awarded in the case of early career
researchers) in your email. Abstracts (and papers, if relevant)
should be prepared for blind review, so please ensure that your
document is free from any identifying personal details. The
submission deadline is 31 December 2020.
Note that full paper submissions only will be considered for

We will notify authors of acceptance by 31 January 2021 at the

We hope to be able to contribute to travel and accommodation expenses
for any speakers wishing to attend the conference, pending further
funding applications and Covid-related complications. However, so as
to make the conference maximally accessible to those who might not be
able to travel in these difficult times, arrangements can certainly
be made to incorporate talks given by video link.

Invited Speakers

Prof. Getatchew Haile, Curator Emeritus of the Ethiopian Study Center
at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
Dr Anaïs Wion, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Prof. Wendy Belcher, Princeton University 
Dr Ralph Lee, SOAS
Prof. Justin E. H. Smith, University of Paris 7 - Denis Diderot
Dr Chike Jeffers, Dalhousie University
Dr Fasil Merawi, Addis Ababa University
Prof. John Marenbon, University of Cambridge
Prof. Peter Adamson, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich/King's
College London
Prof. Binyam Mekonnen, Addis Ababa University

Conference Organizers

Jonathan Egid
Lea Cantor
Robin Brons
Justin Holder
Johann Go

For all enquiries, please contact:

More information can be found on the conference website: