Augustine of Africa: Contemporary Lessons from his Postcolonial Struggle against Roman Imperialism and Donatist Fundamentalism

By George Heffernan.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

By generation, cultivation, and election, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is an African. As an African provincial in the Roman Empire, he is an unimportant outsider; as a member of the Catholic Church in Africa, he is a threatened minority. Thus it is from a uniquely marginal perspective that Augustine criticizes Roman imperialism and Donatist fundamentalism. Yet precisely under these circumstances one can learn valuable lessons about diversity, humanity, and tolerance from his life and legacy. One can do so, however, only if one stops deconstructing one’s own Africa and starts reconstructing Augustine’s Africa. According to deconstructionist readings of Augustine as a proponent of European hegemony and an opponent of African diversity, he is an aggressive apologist for a capitalist-imperialist-colonialist theology motivated by radical heterophobia and intent on eliminating the precious otherness of alternative Christianities, especially Donatism. But there is a viable alternative to this academic narcissism. Seeking to engage in reconstruction when the prevailing Zeitgeist is to be irrationally enthusiastic about deconstruction, this paper argues that postmodern critics of Augustine are misguided; that the right way to understand the relationship between Augustine and Africa is to recognize the distinction between one’s own Africa and his; and that only if one does this is one able to learn important lessons from Augustine about human development in contemporary Africa. Thus emerges a common ground between American postmodernism and Augustinian postcolonialism, and Augustine’s life and legacy serve not as a block but as a bridge to intercultural understanding.

Keywords: Philosophy, History, Theology, Empire Studies

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 4, Issue 10, pp.73-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.895MB).

Dr. George Heffernan

Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Merrimack College, North Andover, Massachusetts, USA

George Heffernan earned his B.A. and M.A. at the Catholic University of America and his Ph.D. at the University of Cologne. He was Instructor at the University of Bonn and Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame. He works in the areas of Classical Phenomenology, Early Modern Philosophy, and Hellenistic Epistemology. His publications include Isagoge in die phaenomenologische Apophantik (1989), Descartes’ Regulae ad directionem ingenii/Rules for the Direction of the Natural Intelligence (1998), and Augustine’s Contra Academicos/Against the Academicians (forthcoming).

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