A Brief Annotated Bibliography of Ethiopian Philosophy

April 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s not much out there about Ethiopian philosophy, and the texts themselves are hard to find. But I can tell you roughly what there is, and what you might expect to find there. (Readers are welcome to help me expand this—especially if you can help with literature in other languages.)

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Sumner, Classical Ethiopian Philosophy

Enno Littmann (1904) offers an edition of the Ge’ez text of the treatises of Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat, along with Latin translations. This is available online. Hereafter I restrict myself to English-language materials.

Claude Sumner (1985) provides a translation of five nominally philosophical texts, along with brief introductions. Only two of these texts are philosophical in a strict sense, namely the treatises of Zera Yacob and of Walda Hewyat. These two texts are printed together, along with the Ge’ez text and a discussion of the text and authorship, in Sumner (1976b). Sumner (1978) then provides discussion of a more philosophical variety. These books are out of print and difficult to find, but selections from Sumner’s translation of Zera Yacob have been anthologized by Blackwell in Eze (1998). Dawit Worku Kidane (2012), “a close study of the Treatise of Zar’a Ya’əqob, giving particular attention to his ethical thought,” also provides a new translation of that work (in print as of November 2012).

The other three texts included in Sumner (1985), which are older and more in the vein of aphorisms or “wisdom literature,” also receive more extended treatment in Sumner (1974b), Sumner (1974a), and Sumner (1976a). Other literature dealing, in whole or in part, with oral or wisdom literature in the Ethiopian context includes Sumner (1986), Sumner (1995), Sumner (1996), Sumner (1999c), Sumner (1999b), Presbey (1999), and Presbey (2002). But hereon I restrict myself to Zera Yacob and Walda Hewat.

There is very little secondary literature. Brief (and to my mind not entirely satisfactory) encyclopedia-style accounts may be found in Sumner (2004) and Kiros (2004), or, even more briefly, in Sumner (1998) or Sumner (1999a). Published articles are few and far between, but see Kiros (1994, 2001, 2004, 2005) and Sumner (1999d). Sumner and Yohannes (2002) is a collection of articles by various scholars, though I am not familiar with the contents. Kiros (2001) and Ayele and Sumner (1991) will likely be of some relevance. There are a couple of student (?) essays online: Cherinet (1993); Asfaw (2004); Bokora (2004). The only article I know of in a mainstream philosophy journal (the multilingual Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie) is Krause (2003), though it’s in German. Kiros (2005) is a short book on Zera Yacob, but I cannot recommend it. I am not aware of any other book-length discussions in English, with the exception of the aforementioned Sumner (1976b, 1978) Kidane (2012). Finally, some interesting tertiary literature: on Claude Sumner and his work on Ethiopian philosophy, see Kiros (1995).

Substantial bibliographies listing older works and works in other languages may be found in Sumner (1985), Sumner (1976b), and Sumner (1978); Kidane (2012) is probably a good bet as well. These are also the obvious books to start with. A good and recent general history of Ethiopia—a fascinating country—is Henze (2000), while Harden (1926) is an introduction to Ethiopian literature (and includes a brief discussion of our philosophers).

References after the fold.

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R. L. Arrington. A Companion to the Philosophers. Blackwell, 1999.

Negussay Ayele and Claude Sumner. Books for Life. Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, 1991.

Chemeda Bokora. “Zar’a Ya’eqob’s Argument For The Existence Of God,” Unpublished manuscript, 2004.

Abel Cherinet. “Zara Yacob’s Theory of Truth,” Unpublished manuscript, 1993.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne. “Precolonial African Philosophy in Arabic,” A Companion to African Philosophy, 2004.

E. C. Eze. African Philosophy: an Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.

J. M. Harden. An Introduction to Ethiopic Christian Literature. Macmillan, 1926.

P. B. Henze. Layers of Time: a History of Ethiopia. C. Hurst & Co., 2000.

Dawit Worku Kidane, The Ethics of Zär’a Ya’eqob. Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2012.

Teodros Kiros. “The Meditations of Zera Yaquob,” Working Papers in African Studies, 1994.

Teodros Kiros. “Doing African Philosophy,” New Political Science, 16(1):95–115, 1995.

Teodros Kiros. Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics. Routledge, 2001.

Teodros Kiros. “Zera Yacob and Traditional Ethiopian Philosophy,” A Companion to African Philosophy, 2004.

Teodros Kiros. Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart. Red Sea Press, 2005.

Andrej Krause. “Spezielle Metaphysik in der Untersuchung des Zara Jacob (1599–1692),” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 85(3):331–345, 2003.

G. M. Presbey. “Should Women Love ‘Wisdom’?” Research in African Literatures, 30:165–181, 1999.

G. M. Presbey. Thought and Practice in African Philosophy: Selected Papers from the Sixth Annual Conference of the ISAPS. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2002.

C. Sumner and S. W. Yohannes. Perspectives in African Philosophy. Addis Ababa University, 2002.

Claude Sumner. Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. I: The Book of the Wise Philosophers. Commercial Printing Press, 1974b.

Claude Sumner. Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. II: The Treatise of Zara Yaecob and Walda Hewat: Text and Authorship. Commercial Printing Press, 1976b.

Claude Sumner. Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. III: The Treatise of Zara Yaecob and Walda Hewat: An Analysis. Commercial Printing Press, 1978.

Claude Sumner. Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. IV: The Life and Maxims of Skandes. Commercial Printing Press, 1974a.

Claude Sumner. Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. V: The Fisalgwos. Commercial Printing Press, 1976a.

Claude Sumner. Classical Ethiopian Philosophy. Commercial Printing Press, 1985. Claude Sumner. The Source of African Philosophy: the Ethiopian Philosophy of Man. F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1986.

Claude Sumner. Oromo Wisdom Literature, I. Proverbs, Collection and Analysis, 1995.

Claude Sumner. Proverbs, Songs, Folktales: An Anthology of Oromo Literature. Gudina Tumsa Foundation, Addis Ababa, 1996.

Claude Sumner. “Philosophy in Ethiopia,” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1998.

Claude Sumner. “Zera Yacob,” A Companion to the Philosophers, 1999a.

Claude Sumner. Living Springs of Wisdom and Philosophy. Addis Ababa University, 1999b.

Claude Sumner. “The Proverb and Oral Society,” New Political Science, 21(1):11–31,1999c.

Claude Sumner. “The Significance of Zera Yacob’s Philosophy,” Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 22(3):172–88, 1999d.

Claude Sumner. “The Light and the Shadow: Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat: Two Ethiopian Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century,” A Companion to African Philosophy, 2004.

K. Wiredu and W. E. Abraham. A Companion to African Philosophy. Blackwell, 2004.


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