Reflecting on research on “religion” and “health” in Africa, one quickly confronts the challenge of what we might call “the complex real”. Adequately to understand and act upon the complex real requires multiple disciplines and interlocking theoretical constructs that transcend any particular discipline. Here the issue of transdisciplinarity arises and, with it, the relationship between knowledge and ethics. Does this have relevance for African Studies, where the intellectual task of asking “what do we know” is hard to separate from the practical one of asking “what should we do”? Here we pursue that question using Max-Neef’s seminal understanding of transdisciplinarity.
Jonathan Z. Smith“Religion, Religions, Religious,” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (ed. Mark C. Taylor; Chicago, Ill.; London: University of Chicago Press1998) 269–271; see also idem Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions (Chicago Ill.: University of Chicago Press 1993).
See James R. Cochrane“Religion as Social Capital in the Context of Health: Mapping the Field,” in Assets and Agency: Papers and Proceedings of the Arhap International Colloquium (ed. James R Cochrane and Barbara Schmid; Cape Town: African Religious Health Assets Programme2003) 42–48.
Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity”15. More generally one may summarise the distinguishing features of transdisciplinarity thus: it a) deals with complexity and disciplinary fragmentation b) accepts local context-specific knowledge production c) implies intercommunicative action both among researchers and with those researched d) is often action-oriented and e) incorporates both theoretical and applied research. See Roderick J. Lawrence and Carole Després “Futures of Transdisciplinarity” Futures 36 no. 4 (2004): 397–405.