On Religion and African Tradition

While reading through Hegel’s piece, I could not believe what I was reading with my own two eyes. Phrases such as “the negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state”, clearly defines Hegel’s opinion on fellow members of humanity (150). However reading through most of the excerpt, I was mystified at how Hegel manages to create a story around the African person, that they are self-serving, believing they are the creators of the rains, the reason for a death, sounds oddly like the Christianity that Hegel so desperately tries to compare the Africans to.

 

We can assume Hegel was a Christian not only because of the amount of times he refers to God in his work, but also that he was a man living in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s in Germany. Christianity in itself in a religion relying on the good and bad of a persons life; sin and act of valor. The Africans that Hegel describes may not follow this, but they worship nature the same way that the white man would worship god. They understand that they are at the wills of nature, and plead to it to have it act in their favor, comparable to the way some pray to God. While yes, Hegel tries to dehumanize the Africans by describing acts of cannibalism and sacrifice, I still find that many of his points are underdeveloped and poorly described. Isn’t the goal of such religion, of the “almighty God”, to create peace amongst all living beings? Yet here we are, with Hegel writing about the “animalistic” ways of the African people. What a wonderful way to treat fellow man. With such a flawed understanding, it is no surprise to me that Hegel is considered the bad guy in this course.

I found that while reading, I was reminded of several shows I watched as a little kid that spoke about the culture in Africa, what was the norm and what was not. It is not the brutality that Hegel describes. It’s very give and take, the balance of life always being the center of whatever ritual was being done. I do not remember fully what countries were being referred to in the program, but I do remember how jealous I was of how traditional and beautiful the people were, how happy the children seemed. They are not amalgamations of brutality and “untamed man”, but beautiful people with a world of culture that someone coming to the land with no outside knowledge would not be able to understand, especially with the flawed mindset of Hegel. The Christian white man taking what tradition people may have, and transferring it to one the newcomers, the ‘colonizers’ understand, despite what similarities might be there. It’s a pattern repeated throughout history.

I am not saying that Christianity is inherently bad, or that there is any problem with Christianity. I am writing that Hegel’s view is not only problematic from a racial front, and that I find some interesting points and insights from the reading when comparing the two cultures together.

One Reply to “On Religion and African Tradition”

  1. You’re right to point out that the essentializing racism of Hegel’s comments aren’t separable from other contexts and power dynamics, including the role of Hegel’s brand of Christianity. And while this course won’t get into the specifics of Hegel and religion, I want to encourage you to keep thinking about race as a construction of other social and power situations, including a question of who has access to means of artistic production, and what artistic production gets valued (e.g. who gets to make a movie like Black Panther, under what conditions).

    I’m curious what would happen if you were able to track down one of the shows you mention and critically analyze it. In one sense, those shows sound like a promising contrast to Hegel. But do they fall into the trap of romanticizing Africa, removing humanity in a different way? One of the challenges we’ll wrestle with this course is how Africa gets represented (re-presented) even by its champions – does Africa get to speak for itself (or, I should say, its many selves?).

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