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African Studies is regarded as a so-called “rare subject” and is still essentially a linguistic discipline today. Under the title “Recalibrating Afrikanistik”, scholars have set themselves the goal of advancing the subject’s thematic and strategic development. “We are deeply committed to unlocking the unique potential of this discipline for studying Africa, for the humanities in general, and for society in Germany,” explains Professor Rose Marie Beck of Leipzig University. She is coordinating the collaborative project, which will receive one million euros in funding from the Volkswagen Foundation over the next seven years as part of its World Knowledge initiative.

“African languages and texts provide privileged access to a wide variety of knowledge practices and concepts that are only possible in and through those languages,” continues Professor Beck. “In an increasingly interconnected world, in which linguistic and cultural diversity is a growing norm, this knowledge has become indispensable as knowledge for the future. Even for a decentralised science, it is vital to include theories from the South. We are delighted to be able to meet this challenge thanks to the funding we will receive.”

The project involves three German universities – Leipzig, Bayreuth and Cologne – as well as the three African universities of Stellenbosch (South Africa), Eldoret (Kenya) and Wukari (Nigeria). Leipzig and Stellenbosch have been working closely together since 1997.

Recalibrating Afrikanistik” aims at a reflective critique of the discipline itself, at establishing links with African studies and area studies, and at using language to explore aspects of African studies. “We want to collaborate with scholarship holders from Germany and African countries, but also in joint winter and summer schools, so as to determine exactly what all this can mean in practice,” explains Leipzig-based African studies scholar Professor Beck. “Our agenda also responds to the wishes of many students and junior academics in Germany and Africa, who feel that existing study programmes and teaching formats do not adequately address their interests in African lifeworlds and epistemological perspectives.”

At Leipzig University, the project is embedded in one of the three strategic research fields, “Changed Order in a Globalised World”, and more specifically in the “Global Connections and Comparisons” profile area.