An examination of the concept of reincarnation in African philosophy


This dissertation is a philosophical examination of the concept of reincarnation from an African point of view. It does so, largely, from the cultural perspective of the Akan people of Ghana. In this work, reincarnation is distinguished from such related concepts as metempsychosis and transmigration with which it is conflated by many authors on the subject. In terms of definition, therefore, the belief that a deceased person can be reborn is advanced in this dissertation as referring to only reincarnation, but not to either metempsychosis or transmigration. Many scholars would agree that reincarnation is a pristine concept, yet it is so present in the beliefs and worldviews of several cultures today. A good appreciation of the concept, it can be seen, will not be possible without some reference to the past. That is why some attempt is first made at the early stages of the dissertation to show how reincarnation was understood in the religious philosophies of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese and the Incas. Secondly, some link is then established between the past and present, especially between ancient Egyptian philosophy and those of contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. In modern African thought, the doctrine of reincarnation has not been thoroughly researched into. Even so, some of the few who have written on the subject have denied its existence in African thought. The dissertation rejects this denial, and seeks to show nonetheless that reincarnation is generally an irrational concept. In spite of its irrationality, it is acknowledged that the concept, as especially presented in African thought, raises our understanding of the constitution of a person as understood in the African culture. It is also observed that the philosophical problem of personal identity is central to the discussion of reincarnation because that which constitutes a person is presumed to be known whenever a claim of return of a survived person is made. For this reason, the dissertation also pays significant attention to the concept of personal identity in connection, especially, with the African philosophical belief in the return of persons.



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