Call for Papers for the Okot p'Bitek Memorial Symposium

22 Nov, 2018,

Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) invites scholars and researchers to participate in a one-day symposium  on April 5, 2019 (10am-6pm) to honour the memory and legacy of poet and scholar Okot p’Bitek (1931 – 1982).

With unique adeptness that transcended the disciplinary boundaries of literature, philosophy, education, law, sociology, history and anthropology, p’Bitek’s contribution to the academy has been vast and far ranging, so much so that the professors at the different Schools of Makerere University - where p’Bitek taught creative writing – claimed they did not know where to locate him.

p’Bitek’s transcendence of disciplinary boundaries was both an intellectual and a political stance, as he used it to counter Western scholarship on Africa that labelled and compartmentalized spheres of African knowledge and belief in a manner that, according to p’Bitek, ended up completely mystifying “ the oral literature and traditional religion that weave together the values of an African community”.[1] This critical stance towards Western scholarship on Africa is also what informs p’Bitek’s unconventional use of ethnography, which uniquely situates his research on Luo traditions of thought and culture – in Religion of the Central Luo (1971), African Tradition in Western Scholarship (1971) and Acholi Proverbs (1985) – on the brink between anthropology, philosophy and the study of religions.

In his novel White Teeth (1953) and in his narrative poems, Song of Lawino (1966), Song of Ocol (1970), Song of Prisoner and Song of Malaya (1971), p’Bitek also sang the struggles of the Acholi people grappling between the loss of a known way of life and the strangeness and violence of the new colonial and postcolonial realities.

Steeped in the traditions and knowledge systems of his people, p’Bitek’s used this profound anchorage to the local to view and critique the global, mobilizing what he observed in his most intimate and immediate reality to move a wider critique to colonialism and epistemic violence. p’Bitek’s work demonstrates how subaltern voices of protest, rebuttal, and cultural patriotism often compete for space, which led him to reconfigure alternative ways of framing innovative questions about the current cultural location of Africa, in his collections of essays, Africa’s Cultural Revolution (1973) and Artist the Ruler (1987).

Four our symposium we invite contributions that both celebrate the scholarly work of p’Bitek, and that critically build on its legacy today to reflect on notions of literary creativity; translation and linguistic appropriation of literary texts; literature and philosophy; culture and change; as well as on notions of multidisciplinarity in contemporary systems of knowledge production, and especially in the African university. We also invite contributions that take stock of the scholarly work that has been produced on p’Bitek.

We ask all those interested in participating to the symposium to submit a title and abstract by November 30, 2018. Selections of abstracts will be made by December 20, 2018. We will kindly ask the selected participants to send a full paper by February 20, 2019, after which the program and travel arrangements with international participants will be finalized. Please note that MISR will be able to cover travel and accommodation expenses only for a limited number of participants.

For any further information please contact the conference organizers,

Benedetta Lanfranchi ( and

Laury Ocen (                                                                       


Mahmood Mamdani, Benedetta Lanfranchi and Laury Ocen

Makerere Institute for Social Research

 MISR Building / P.O.Box 16022

 Kampala, Uganda


[1] Imbo, Samuel Oluoch. 2004. “Okot p’Bitek’s Critique on Western Scholarship on African Religion”. In Kwasi Wired (ed). A Companion to African Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.