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- Travel Course to South Africa Reinforces Community
April 1, 2019
“Ubuntu,” the African philosophy of community, is something Dr. Afe
Adogame’s students experienced during a recent travel course “Towards
Interpreting Foreign Cultures” in South Africa. Adogame, the Maxwell M.
Upson Professor of Religion and Society and a leading scholar of the
African diaspora, says the Bantu African belief of “Ubuntu,” a universal
bond of sharing that connects all humanity, resonates with Princeton
Seminary’s covenant community initiative.
The term “covenant community”
reflects the Seminary’s aspirations to realize the full potential of a
residential model of theological education and to affirm that a diverse,
ecumenical, international community is an essential part of the
learning environment and leadership formation.
“Academic lectures, museum trips, wherever we went the concept was
Ubuntu. The sense of community was very visible,” Adogame says about the
January 2019 travel course.
Student traveler Kelsey Holderman says, “I left craving the
connectedness of the people through the spirit of Ubuntu and the care
and attention the South Africans place on the earth and on
The 14-day travel course to South Africa took students on an academic, theological, and cultural journey from Cape Town to the University of Stellenbosch,
in the picturesque heart of the western cape winelands, to the
University of the Western Cape, about an hour north in the suburbs of
Cape Town, to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, and to
Pretoria, the nation’s capital city. The history of the two universities
and the city of Johannesburg showed stark contrast. Stellenbosch was
“where some theological ideas legitimized apartheid,” Adogame says.
“This is where those ideas were made concrete and sold politically. I
wanted students to encounter that and to see how the university has
changed over time.” The University of Western Cape,
founded in 1960 as a college for “colored” people, played a unique role
in the struggle against apartheid. Soweto, a township in the city of
Johannesburg, was one of the centers of political campaigns in the 1970s
that led to the overthrow of the apartheid state. In this environment,
some students reflected on slavery and racism – and how it’s not
peculiar to the United States, Adogame says.
“We learned about the struggles of the past and the aches of apartheid that still remain for many people, such as the Khoisan and the residents of Bo-Kaap. Nevertheless, hope is alive in the hearts of many South Africans as they continue resisting, telling their stories, and embodying a legacy of freedom,” says student Laura Fairchild.
Travel to South Africa, outside of the comfort zone of the Princeton
Theological Seminary environment presented the 18 travel study students
with the challenge of understanding other cultures. The mission of the
experience was to learn something from another culture, to share that
intellectual experience and to demonstrate the covenant community that
is PTS, Adogame says.
So, why South Africa as a travel study destination? Adogame says
students needed to see the contrasts in Africa. Cape Town, predominantly
white; Johannesburg and Soweto predominantly black South Africans.
“Africa is a huge continent that is so diverse historically, culturally.
You cannot go to one country and say you saw all of Africa,” he says.
Adogame’s trip to South Africa is the second travel course he’s
organized. The first was to Ghana in 2017. The next will likely be to
Brazil, the homeland of PTS Assistant Professor of World Christianity
Raimundo C. Barretto, Jr. Adogame and Barreto, who both traveled with
students to South Africa, are combining their travel courses and
collaborating on the goal “to stimulate an intellectual exchange that
can be long lasting,” making connections and gaining understanding that
can only be experienced outside of the classroom. Adogame says some of
the professors from University of Stellenbosch and the University of the
Western Cape traveled to Princeton to attend the March 2019 PTS World
Christianity Conference, a chance for the student travelers and
professors to reconnect and network.
Why will Brazil be the next destination? “The largest black population outside of Africa is Brazil,” Adogame says, “and almost all came from Africa.” “In Brazil,” he says, “there is a recreation of a rich African culture.”
“My idea around travel courses and institutionalized changes is to have the mentality which we are not simply thinking about how we give to people, but also how we learn from them.
We don’t want this to be one way– this is a collaboration,” he says. “You must see in it what you want and wish to give. What can you give to PTS in return? What can we learn? What can we receive?”
“The trip to South Africa helped me to find something I had lost earlier in the school year; me,” recalls student Darcella Sessomes. “After a challenging 2018, somehow the mountains and ocean, as well as the humble and giving spirit of the people of South Africa, helped to center me spiritually. It also helped me reconnect with God on a deeper level and lift some burdens I was carrying.”
“The best way to know yourself is by knowing others,” Adogame says. “Once you are able to know others you are able to define really who you are.” As we are thinking through the covenant community, Ubuntu can perhaps be something that we can learn from and think with.”