A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg

12—14 November 2015

Quantitative officiousness or qualitative absent-mindedness? About missionary attempts to translate concepts of time transculturally

Christian missionaries in Africa have no time to lose. They have to get up early. They have to work a lot in a little while in order to reach their target of Christianization. They build churches including bell towers. They argue salvation-historically. They preach about the Paradise and about the Last Judgment. Until then Africans do not need clocks and bells. They meet if it is time. Their afterlife is neither a place in the future nor a kingdom come. Their afterworld is not after a world. It is part of their experiences – a synchronic reality.
Even if both groups of actors in the contact zone called proselytization use different signs of time and believe in different concepts of time, they start to interact and to communicate with each other. They start to appropriate and to translate transculturally. There is no doubt about the fact that they translate time transculturally as well. Concepts of time are transferred, appropriated and translated. But: Which concept of time places first and wins the scrap for the power of meaning? Perhaps a new concept of time is generated?
In my presentation I want to show by examples (using historic photographs by missionaries from the field) on the one hand how Christian missionaries dispute about signs of time and concepts of time with African actors in the contact zone as a third space. On the other hand I want to show what concepts of time Africans have, how they symbolize time and how they try to translate their point of view transculturally. Because time is immaterial, objectivations of time play a significant role in the process of cultural translation between both groups. Time has to become a fact in the discourse. This is only possible if the actors start to think about their conceptualizations of time and their creative power to create time – quantitative and qualitative.

Philipp Seitz studied Cultural Studies, Journalism and History and Culture in Africa at the University of Leipzig. He majored in Philosophy of Culture and Social Philosophy. Since 2011 he studies for a PhD at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Wuppertal. His project deals with the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms by Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) and the question how this epistemological approach can be operationalized for empirical Cultural Studies. From 2011 until 2014 he was a scholarship holder by the Cusanuswerk. Since 2012 he is an assistant Lecturer at the Institutes for the Study of Culture and for African Studies at the University of Leipzig. His main research deals with Philosophy of Culture and theory of culture, with Philosophy of Language and Social Philosophy, philosophical anthropology and intercultural philosophy. His dissertation project will be finished in early 2016. Website:

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