Thinking about Complexity

Transdisciplinarity and Research on Religion and Health in Africa

in Religion and Theology
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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.

Thinking about Complexity

Transdisciplinarity and Research on Religion and Health in Africa

in Religion and Theology




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).


Manfred A. Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity,” Ecological Economics 53 (2005): 5.




See James R. Cochrane“The Language That Difference Makes: Translating Religion and Health,” Practical Matters 4 (2011): 1–16.


Judith R. Kaufmann and Harley Feldbaum“Diplomacy and the Polio Immunisation Boycott in Northern Nigeria,” Health Affairs 28 no. 4 (2009): 1091–1101.


Kaufmann and Feldbaum“Diplomacy” 1095.


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.


Martha C. NussbaumWomen and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2000); Amartya Sen Development as Freedom (New York N.Y.: Random House 1999).


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 5.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 7–8.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 8.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 9.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 9.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 11.


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 12.


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.


Jürgen HabermasKnowledge and Human Interests (trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro; Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press1972).


Max-Neef“Foundations of Transdisciplinarity” 10.


James C. ScottSeeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press1998).


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    Figure 1

    Understanding religion/health as a bounded field of unknowing

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