Abstract

Many scholars have pointed out that African religious traditions are typically treated as “data” to be interpreted by academic theories, and not as interpretive theories in their own right, leading to calls for the development of “decolonial” or “indigenous theory” to redress this dynamic. Yet, with certain glowing exceptions, these efforts to “decolonize theory” typically attempt to employ the same Euro-American theories and paradigms to critique themselves and “translate” the theories of African religious traditions into the terms of these academic theories. Taking the traditions of Sufism and Ifá as case studies, I would like to argue that while both have sophisticated hermeneutics, theories, and doctrines, both traditions are something other than academic theories. Using analogies of language and language acquisition, this article explores how best to represent, translate, and teach the former (Sufism and Ifá) in the context of the latter (undergraduate and graduate education in “Western” academia).

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