School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Inaugural Lecture Explores Religion and Social Transformation in Transformative African Digital Humanities

Professor Johannes Smit.
Photos: Supplied
Professor Johannes Smit.

Academic in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics Professor Johannes Smit has delivered his inaugural lecture on Religion and Social Transformation in the Transformative African Digital Humanities in which he examined aspects of the development of a socially transformative generative grammar.

‘Even though the phenomenon has been with humanity since antiquity, that religion transformatively impacts society’s social systems, institutions – including political and economic systems and formations – are well attested throughout history. In whichever polity research is focused, it is also common currency to account for the ways and means through which religious formations may reasonably serve and pattern a society’s own processes of social formation, de-formation, and re-formation,’ said Smit.

He drew on some of his recent published research and public lectures at UKZN on research innovation, and his memorial lecture for Professor Bonganjalo Goba, first Vice-Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology.

Said Smit: ‘For the academy’s research-led socially transformed humanities knowledge production towards constituting a transformed, Africanised modern symbolic universe, it learns from society as well as intellectualises socially observed social relations and interactions. These may be in empirical and/ or in-text social interaction – including the production of materials and artefacts in indigenous languages.’

To settle and stabilise academic discourse, Smit argues that it is necessary to measure up to the social transformation initiatives and directives for the scientific development of Humanities language usage. ‘It must be inclusive of constructive analytical thought driven intellectualization from both in, and outside the academy and especially as these creatively interact. It is characterized by open dialogue and captured in practices related to the lekgotla and indaba for instance.’

He notes that founders of discursivity, organise the human data fields of the world for the human study of the human, under rubrics of the Arts, Religion, Philosophy, Theology, Classics, Ethics, the Applied Human Sciences, the Social Sciences, Education, the Built Environment and Development Studies, as in the case of the College of Humanities.

In terms of religion, Smit says: ‘The question of truth has especially been asked about beliefs (or dogma) and the truth of scriptures, traditions, experience, and human organisation. And even though semiological answers have been developed and accepted by some, such truth, perceived from world historical and world civilizational perspectives, are subject to the continuously developing of current world historical and world civilisational discourse and discursive formation developmental processes.’

Smit identifies that truth is not a religion. ‘There are commitments to truth, to African realities, to African internalities. And how the religions of and in Africa articulate with these realities, are crucial for our collective material well-being in respect of these epistemologies. Moreover, it is precisely the non-separation of indigeneity from knowledge, but rather the entwined interrelationalities that ensure the empowering effects of knowledge in community and society.’

He highlights that the more relevance is achieved with similar conceptual usage, in respect of evidence relevant to specific aspects of a problem, the more there is both a contribution to and recognition of contextually relevant discursivity.

Within the South African context, Smit posits that the escalation of inductive empirical social-science research is indicative of the opening up of a space for knowledge, ‘We are living through a period of the exponential increases in empirical social scientific studies – all functioning with the primary tool of involving the people in knowledge production – with, by, for and about the people themselves.’

He also argues that there is only world civilisation, which is quite problematic in many ways because of the unregulated and un-coordinated global economic processes of development, and the growth and advancement of the quality of human life on earth, irrespective of calamitous environmental impacts for most. ‘The aim is to reroute onto a new journey, to plans and projects of a future world of sustainable self-sufficiency and sustainable self and social development. The study of past civilisations are crucial in this respect, especially with regard to their rise and fall but also the diversity of their optimum functioning,’ says Smit.

Speaking to African Digital Humanities, Smit challenged all to think further and wider than the regularities of our disciplines ‘so as to produce knowledge content about our African internalities and realities, especially as our indigeneities interface knowledge construction via relevant instances.

‘and the task is for us as researchers, to do this, with, for and about the internalities and realities of our own African academic and societal communities, systems and institutions.’

Smit also shared his thoughts on Black Consciousness and Black Theology, which were shaped by two very significant historical figures Steve Biko and Goba.

On current and future plans, Smit is currently writing about existing and potential future discursivities of African bioeconomic; the African biosocial and bioethical/ biolegal in respect of the bioenvironmental; and the African biomedical.

‘All academic friends, teachers, colleagues, students and friends, nationally, continentally and internationally who have included me in their own lifetime academic endeavours, and then also the Alternation project – I think, for all of us, the best is yet to come,’ said Smit.