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African-Centered Transpersonal Self in Diaspora and Psychospiritual Wellness: A Sankofa Perspective



The West African concepts of à s. e. and sankofa have distinctive transpersonal value that should be explored in greater depth by the transpersonal field, particularly for their relational and participatory aspects. Transpersonal psychology is a Western psychology with philosophical roots in transcendentalism and perennialist traditions that may include theism and non-dualism. Officially established in 1968, transpersonal psychology has gone through a number of shifts, including the participatory turn in the early 2000s. The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), also founded in 1968, has built a substantial body of research on a variety of African epistemology, cosmology, and philosophy to create the field of African-centered psychology. The transpersonal West African concepts discussed here may serve as a bridge to begin greater dialogue between the fields of Black psychology and transpersonal psychology.
International Journal of
Transpersonal Studies
Volume 35 |Issue 1 Article 13
African-Centered Transpersonal Self in Diaspora
and Psychospiritual Wellness: A Sankofa
Adeeba D. Deterville
California Institute of Integral Studies
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Deterville, A. D. (2016). Deterville, A. D. (2016). African-centered transpersonal self in diaspora and psychospiritual wellness: A
Sankofa perspective. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 35(1), 118-128.. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 35
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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
118 Deterville
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 35(1), 2016, pp. 118-128
The West African concepts of às
and sankofa have distinctive transpersonal value that
should be explored in greater depth by the transpersonal field, particularly for their
relational and participatory aspects. Transpersonal psychology is a Western psychology
with philosophical roots in transcendentalism and perennialist traditions that may
include theism and non-dualism. Officially established in 1968, transpersonal
psychology has gone through a number of shifts, including the participatory turn
in the early 2000s. The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), also founded in
1968, has built a substantial body of research on a variety of African epistemology,
cosmology, and philosophy to create the field of African-centered psychology. The
transpersonal West African concepts discussed here may serve as a bridge to begin
greater dialogue between the fields of Black psychology and transpersonal psychology.
Adeeba D. Deterville
California Institute of Integral Studies
San Francisco, CA, USA
Keywords: Black psychology, transpersonal self, sankofa, às
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
in Diaspora and Psychospiritual Wellness:
A Sankofa Perspective
. . Sankofa. What do these words mean and
how do they relate to transpersonal psychology
and the notion of the transpersonal self?
Both are concepts from West Africa and the African
diaspora which speak to what Ferrer has referred to as
reconnection (sankofa) and vital energiess
). Sankofa
is of particular importance, as it means to look back
and fetch that which has been forgotten–including
African-centered philosophical concepts in transpersonal
notions of self and personhood. rough an overview
of the history of transpersonal psychology, including
the transpersonal participatory turn (Ferrer, 2002)
and relational spirituality (Lahood, 2010a), this article
will emphasize the conspicuous absence of the African
voice in transpersonal discourse (Ferrer, 2002; Lahood,
2010a). To frame this exploration of the African-centered
transpersonal self and psycho-spiritual wellness, it utilizes
the West African philosophical concept sankofa from
the Akan1 adinkra cosmology. In addition to sankofa,
this paper touches on two other African constructs: the
As human beings reconnect with their heart, their body, and the vital energies
that enliven them, the sacred is no longer experienced as a transpersonal
hierophany”—an irruption of the sacred in a profane self or world—but as a
fundamental dimension of both personhood and reality. (Ferrer, 2002, p. xviii)
Maafa, which is commonly referred to as the middle
passage, and the psycho-spiritual power of às
, or life-
force, and how these notions interact in the diaspora
to create what might as well be called participatory
transpersonal experiences, healing, and wellness.
ese West African concepts are valuable in their
own right as traditional constructs that speak to the whole
person in relationship to community and a living world,
and they also contribute to transpersonal theory from
an African cultural location. e transpersonal eld,
while oering the impression that it is epistemologically
inclusive because it borrows extensively from a variety of
non-Western cultures (Davis, 2003), is primarily rooted
in a Western interpretations of Eastern philosophy.
Currently transpers onal psychology i ncludes only minima l
consideration of non-Eastern spiritual traditions, such as
those from Africa. ere is accordingly an ongoing need
for greater inclusion of non-Western interpretations and
understandings in a eld that potentially has worldwide
implication (e.g., Ferrer, 2002; Grof, 2008; Sutich, 1980).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 119
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
Transpersonal psychology’s philosophical roots
can be found in part in the transcendentalism of the
1820s and 30s, which inuenced the writings of one
of its seminal gures, William James (Ryan, 2008).
James’ work, including his 1902 (/2009) work e
Varieties of Religious Experience, is frequently referenced
in transpersonal literature, and James has been credited
with the rst use of the term transpersonal. It was decades
later in 1968 that Maslow, Sutich, Grof, and other
transpersonal founders recogized that the three forces of
psychoanalytic, behavioral and humanistic psychologies
lacked the ability to fully explore peak and transcendent
experiences (Sutich, 1976). Believing that the potentials
of self-actualization are a natural dimension of all
people, they chose the word transpersonal to signify a
study of experiences, development, and identity that
go beyond or transcend the ordinary personality. In
doing so, they laid the foundation for what some have
perhaps optimistically identied as the fourth force in
the developent of Western psychology (Hastings, 1999).
To deepen the understanding of transpersonal
psychology, Hartelius, Caplan, and Rardin (2007)
conducted a thematic analysis of one hundred sixty
published denitions of the eld dating from 1968
through 2002 (p. 2). is resulted in their identication
of three themes of transpersonal psychology (TP): TP-I
beyond-ego psychology (transpersonal as content); TP-
II integrative / holistic psychology (transpersonal as
context) for a psychology of the whole person; and TP-III
transformative psychology (transpersonal as catalyst; pp.
9-10). Based on this research a denition of transpersonal
psychology was developed: “A transformative psychology
of the whole person in intimate relationship with a
diverse, interconnected, and evolving world” (Hartelius,
Rothe, & Roy, 2015, p. 14). ese same authors also
noted and documented the transpersonal eld’s lack of
inclusion of African perspectives and voices (Hartelius et
al., 2007; Hartelius et al., 2015).
Founding of African-Centered Psychology
Contemporary to the founding of transpersonal
psychology, 1968 also marked the formation of the
Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi). During the
intervening decades the ABPsi has built a substantial
body of research focused on the liberation of the African
mind and the reclamation and restoration of the African
epistemology, cosmology, and philosophy. Two of the
signicant contributions of the ABPsi are the Journal
of Black Psychology and the development of African-
centered psychology. As part of the restoration of spirit,
African-centered psychology was developed through
a deep examination of a variety of African cultural
traditions that inform what it means to be human.
African-centered psychology is a testament to the
enduring legacy of African ontology and cosmology.
African-centered psychology is a broad
theoretical framework developed initially by the
members of the ABPsi, an organization of Black students
and professional psychologists formed in response to
pervasive racism within the American Psychological
Association (Williams, 2008). In 1999, the Association
of Black Psychologists adopted the following denition
of African-centered psychology to guide theory, research,
practice and action:
Black/African Centered psychology is a dynamic
manifestation of unifying African principles, val-
ues, and traditions that are reected within broader
Pan-African or transcultural communities. It is the
self-conscious "centering of psychological analyses
and applications in African realities, cultures, and
epistemologies. African centered psychology, as a
system of thought and action, examines the processes
that allow for the illumination and liberation of the
Spirit. Relying on the principles of harmony within
the universe as a natural order of existence, African
centered psychology recognizes: the Spirit that per-
meates everything that is; the notion that everything
in the universe is interconnected; the value that the
collective is the most salient element of existence; and
the idea that communal self knowledge is the key to
mental health. African psychology is ultimately con-
cerned with understanding the systems of meaning
of human Beingness, the features of human func-
tioning, and the restoration of normal/natural order
to human development. As such, it is used to resolve
personal and social problems and to promote optimal
functioning. (Myers & Speight, 2010, p. 77)
is denition highlights many of the themes of this
discussion, including the eect of African philosophical
ideals as unifying principles, how African-centered
psychology views spirituality, the importance of relational
knowledge for the development of the self, and how these
factors come together for psycho-spiritual wellness and
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
120 Deterville
is denition of Black psychology also exhibits
more than a little alignment with the denitions of
transpersonal psychology as analyzed by Hartelius et
al. (2007). For example, the examination of "processes
that allow for the illumination and liberation of the
Spirit" and the recognition that "the Spirit ... permeates
everything that is" both resonate with the notion of
transpersonal psychology as a beyond ego psychology;
"the notion that everything in the universe is connected"
and "the idea that communal self knowledge is the key
to mental health"also underlie the integrative / holistic
lens of the transpersonal eld, and "the restoration of
normal / natural order to human development" holds
much in common with transpersonal as a transformative
psychology in which tr ansformative process is understood
as the nature of the cosmos (Hartelius et al., 2015). ere
are important dierences in the ways in which these
concepts are developed within the two elds, which is
what suggests possibilities for rich dialogue.
Spirituality from
Transpersonal Psychology
To lay the foundation for the topic of self/spirituality/
psycho-spiritual wellness, it is important to
understand how spirituality is generally viewed from
a transpersonal psychology perspective. While this
varies among scholars, Cortright (1997) has stated that
one of the fundamental assumptions in transpersonal
psychology is that the true human identity is that of a
spiritual being. Sutich and Vich (1969) asserted that
transpersonal theory holds spirituality as central in
its understanding of human nature and the cosmos.
Hartelius and Harrahy (2010) noted that for more
than thirty years, transpersonal psychology has placed
an emphasis on individual spiritual development, with
New Age perennialism as its philosophical foundation.
While the eld should not be considered a spiritual
psychology (Hartelius, Friedman, & Pappas, 2015),
human spirituality is clearly a recurrent theme—as well
as consideration of ways in which philosophical frames
may serve to rearm the value of this spirituality as
something more than socially constructed imaginings.
Ferrer (2002) has provided an extensive critique
of the perennialist roots of transpersonal psychology
and oered an alternative in the form of participatory
thought. He has asserted that “transpersonal theory
lacked an adequate epistemology, and the consequences
were disastrous” (p. 10). He also added that “some
contextually oriented authors accuse the perennialist
program of being essentialist, ideological, authoritarian,
patriarchal, and overlooking the spirituality of women,
indigenous people, and other marginal groups” (Ferrer,
2002, pp. 137-138). Over the last decade, transpersonal
psychology has begun an expansion beyond its
foundational emphasis on experientialism towards
a call for a relational rebirth “which draws more on
Buber’s I-ou than on the New Age’s I AM” (Hartelius
& Harrahy, 2010, p. 18). e authors noted that
transpersonal phenomena are no longer to be viewed
as just individual inner experiences, but as epistemic
events. As Ferrer (2002) described, “this is the shift from
a Cartesian ego that experiences the sacred as ‘other’ to a
complete human being that naturally and spontaneously
participates in the deeper, sacred dimensions of life” (p.
12). Ferrer elaborated, stating:
I am suggesting that what has been commonly
called a transpersonal experience can be better con-
ceived as the emergence of a transpersonal participa-
tory event. e basic idea underline the participato-
ry turn, then, is not that an expansion of individual
consciousness allows access to transpersonal con-
tents, but rather that the emergence of a transper-
sonal event precipitates in the individual what has
been called transpersonal experience. us under-
stood, the ontological dimension of transpersonal
phenomena is primary and results in the experien-
tial one. (p. 116)
In his ten-year retrospective on the participatory turn,
Ferrer (2011) observed, “the participatory approach
holds that human spirituality emerges from our co-
creative participation in a dynamic and undetermined
mystery or generative power of life, the cosmos, and/
or the spirit” (p. 2). As noted in the introduction, this
parallels a phenomena known as às
in African ontology
which will be explored in more detail later in the paper.
Additionally, Lahood (2010b) proposed “that co-active-
relationship-based spiritual inquiry” (p. 67) oers an
opportunity to let go of spiritual narcissism by stating,
“Relational spirituality is about exploring and liberating
that encounter from past wounds, everyday narcissism,
and present fears. It then has the potential to become
a practice in which we abide in sacred relationship” (p.
72). is abiding then shifts the transpersonal event
into ongoing spiritual expression; abiding becomes an
ongoing lived experience.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 121
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
Transpersonal Self and
an Invitation for African Inclusion
Louchakova and Lucas (2007) argued that it is time
for transpersonal psychology to explore gender,
ethnicity, and culture, noting that to do so would require
transpersonal psychology to develop a concept of the
transpersonal self. ey asked, “Are we [transpersonal
psychologists] afraid, like Rilke, to examine the self,
because being too person-centered will damage our
work?” (p. 111). Louchakova and Lucas (2007) asserted
that for the eld to explore the self would require
transpersona l psychology to move away from universalism
and toward relativism and cultural construction. e
discipline of transpersonal psychology would need to
acknowledge that spiritual universalism is not invincible;
as such, universalism would be signicantly eroded by
the cultural construction argument. Acknowledging
that the Eurocentric convention of seeing itself as the
universal standard is awed, they stated, “What it means
to be a human being is not the same ‘wherever we go’”
(p. 116). As recently noted in Washington (2010), “e
assertion has been, within the European context, that
what Europeans do is the norm for all people. ey
are universal and thus the prototype of all people” (p.
30). Spiritual universalism is the antithesis of diversity
and thus the application of spiritual universalism in
transpersonal psychology impacts its ability to be
inclusive of non-Western worldviews.
When it comes to the transpersonal
understanding of spirituality, a number of authors have
noted that shamanistic and indigenous approaches take
a distinctive participatory and relational orientation
(Friedman, Krippner, Riebel, & Johnson, 2010; Lahood,
2010b; Louchakova & Lucas, 2007). Unfortunately,
when shamanistic and indigenous approaches are
examined, African-rooted traditions are often overlooked;
the African worldview is typically missing in the
transpersonal discussion. More broadly, transpersonal
literature continues to have large gaps in its inclusion
of the Africological2 worldview. A cursory review of
transpersonal literature has found few references to
contemporary African-centered indigenous psycho-
spiritual practices, let alone their application to African
diaspora peoples. Unfortunately, this gap is not unique
to the transpersonal eld, but is prevalent in all Western-
based psychology. To this point, Hartelius, Caplan, and
Rardin (2007) noted,
ere is as yet only minor participation from Asia,
Africa, or South America; even when such voices
exist, they have at times been overlooked (see, for
example, an Afro-centric approach to multicultural
psychology: Bame, 1997; Mphande & Myers, 1993;
Myers, 1985, 1994, 2005; Myers, Kindaichi, &
Moore, 2004, Spight [sic], Myers, Cox, & Highlen,
1991. (p. 17)
Hartelius et al. (2007) emphasized the importance
of honoring these cultural traditions, suggesting that
“transpersonal psychology itself may grow and shift,
perhaps in profound ways, as other members of the
human community bring their gifts and contributions”
(pp. 17, 18).
e need for inclusion of an African-centered
perspective has been called for by transpersonal
psychologists, and this represents just a portion of the
decit observed by Louchakova and Lucas (2007), who
also observed that transpersonal psychology continues
to put forth primarily Western “male-centered versions
of the world’s spirituality” (p. 118). e heterogeneous
biases go unquestioned with “rare exceptions, when the
representatives of indigenous spiritual systems talk for
themselves, thus decreasing the heterogeneous bias”
(Asante, 1984, p. 118). Asante (1984), Myers (1985),
and Bynum (1992), continue to be the nearly-lone
and now somewhat dated African-centered voices in
transpersonal literature. Asante (1984) critiqued the
near absence of the African worldview in transpersonal
psychology, and Myers (1985) noted that based on
a survey of articles in the Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology from approximately 1974 to 1984, the
exploration of traditional African culture and worldview
was conspicuously missing. Her review conrmed that
the transpersonal paradigm mostly focused on “Oriental
philosophy and modern physics” (Myers, 1985, p. 32).
Transpersonal psychology’s narrow focus on the East
constitutes a missed opportunity to learn from African
concepts of holism and consciousness. Myers (1985)
pointed out that the transpersonal paradigm goal of
unity and integration of knowledge or a “system of
interconnection” (p. 33) is already extant in the African
worldview. Myers, like Bynum and Asante, called for
researchers to use an Afrocentric paradigm as a method
to structure concepts of consciousness.
Particularly in light of recent interest in
participatory thought (e.g., Ferrer, 2002) and relational
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
122 Deterville
spirituality (Hartelius & Harrahy, 2010), there is
opportunity for transpersonal psychology to increase its
inclusion of African wisdom. ere are several central
concepts from the African worldview including the
notion of transcendence through the eternal cycle that
life holds, spiritual integration, and what Mariette
(2013) has referred to as harmonious interrelationship
and authentic organicity. In Ferrer’s (2011) retrospective
on the participatory turn, he referenced Daniels
(2009) who sees within the participatory perspective
in transpersonal psychology “a third vector (which he
calls ‘extending’) in transpersonal development beyond
the standard ‘ascending’ (i.e., geared to other-worldly
transcendence) and ‘descending’ (i.e., geared to this-
worldly immanence)” (Ferrer, 2011, p. 14). Each of
these–extending, ascending, and descending—are
primary concepts found in African-centered spirituality.
As both Ferrer and Daniels pointed out, relational
and participatory thinking tends to be exemplied “in
indigenous spiritualities, feminist spirituality (e.g., the
connected self ), transpersonal ecology (ecocentrism),
[and] relational spiritualties” (Ferrer, 2011, p. 14).
Ferrer (2002) continued, “In a participatory cosmos,
human intentional participation creatively channels
and modulates the self-disclosing of Spirit through the
bringing forth of visionary worlds and spiritual realities”
(Ferrer, 2002, p. 157). Here again there is resonance with
the African construct às
African Ontology: Às
and Sankofa
key construct t hat runs throughout Af rican-centered
relational spirituality is the cultivation of às
, wh ich
refers to the “life force, spiritual power or energy that
binds people with the natural and Divine worlds” (Vega,
1999, p. 45). is African psycho-spiritual concept was
and is an “essential element of spiritual life in the material
world, particularly in enduring traumatic conditions” (p.
45). As such, às
plays a central role in the transmission
of African-rooted spirituality, healing, and wellness.
Vega (1999) dened às
as a culturally and
spiritually endowed impulse of a sacred life force that
provides “collective consciousness that is referred to by
historian Roger Bastide (1978, 49) as the shared aesthetic
vision for Africans in the Diaspora that "renewed the
vitality of their symbols, values and their meanings’”
(p. 45). She noted the expansion of these traditions by
tracing the disbursement of African people in the New
World. Às
is found in a number of African diaspora
religions, including “Espiritismo, Santería, Vodoun,
Candomblé, Shangó, Palo Monte, among others that share
a common aesthetic vision and iconographic narrative
that is traceable to origins in traditional West African
cultures” (p. 45).
Vega (1999) framed the historical overview of
the global reach of the philosophy and cosmology that
Africans brought with them, particularly the Yorubas of
West Africa, in part because their worldview is similar
to that of other ethnic groups who were brought to the
Americas, and because their psycho-spiritual traditions
still play a dominant role today. Vega stated, “e
more than thirteen million Africans who survived the
Middle Passage carried with them the creative impulse
that continues to weave through the aesthetic vision and
expressions of African descendants” (p. 46).
e religio-aesthetic signicance of the Yoruba
is that they successfully transplanted their traditional
culture to new environments, thereby creating a call
and response of the Yoruba in the diaspora with their
ascendants, with às
being the connective energy. e
life force that “manifested in the orishas and luas were
revitalized because of the continued infusion of Africans
from the continent over more than four centuries of
the slave trade” (Vega, 1999, p. 46). A number of the
African-rooted cosmologies such as Eguns (ancestral
spirits) and African deities (orishas, nkisis, and luas) were
brought to the Americas. e manifestation of às
c an
still be seen and experienced today in Cuba’s Santeriá,
Br a zil’s Candomblé, in Haitian Vodun, and the Shango
of Trinidad. Here too, in the United States, African-
Americans practice a more implicit expression of às
the Christian Black church through the invoking of the
holy ghost and "the spirit (p. 48). Vega summarized the
historical transfer of às
Herskovits, Metraux, Fernandez Olmos and Para-
visini-Gevert, Jahn, Bastide, Abiodun, and omp-
son concur that common to each group that came
into the new world are music, songs, dances, and
legends that have the power to attract, convey, dis-
pel, honor, and celebrate the sacred energies of na-
ture and the spirit world… . ey are embodied in
the elusive but omnipresent divine essence – às
(Vega, 1999, p. 49)
Yoruba-based belief systems, like other African
religions, incorporate a complex aestheticly-based
spiritual framework that is creatively expressed through
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 123
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
“particular principles, colors, numbers, foods, music,
dance posture, and symbols of each divinity and reect
and dene their particular às
” (Vega, 1999, p. 50).
In addition to às
another key concept in the
reclamation of African-centered healing and wellness
in the diaspora is the West African concept of sankofa.
Temple (2009) explored the Akan precept of sankofa
which is an Adinkra expression and its emergence in the
United States among African Americans. She provided
a general overview of the Akan communication system, a
system expressed through symbols and proverbs, noting
that there are hundreds of Adinkra precepts, a few
examples include dwanimen—humility and strength;
gye nyame—except for God / supremacy of God; and,
funtunfunefu denkyemfunefu—siamese crocodiles /
democracy, unity in diversity. e concept of Sankofa is
visualized through the image of a bird walking forward
with its head / beak turned backward upon its tail; it is
also shown as an adorned heart. e related proverb, “Se
wo were n a wo Sankofa a yenkyi” is typically translated,
“It is not a taboo to return and fetch it when you forget”
(Temple, 2009, p. 1).
e African conceptual notion of Sankofa
is used in a variety of ways to dene and characterize
African life in a contemporary era. From a social-
political liberation framework, Sankofa is an African
Diaspora practice developed in response to the Maafa
—a Kiswahili term which means enslavement and
its psycho-spiritual aftermath. As a psycho-spiritual
practice, Temple (2009) noted the impact of sankofa
practices on African consciousness development as, (a)
a legacy of natural cultural behaviors, (b) resistance
to Eurocentric language and worldview and, (c) as a
symbolic gesture toward Africanness. In this context,
African consciousness development refers to the notion
of African-oriented psycho-spiritual, cultural, and
political awareness.
Temple (2009) asserted that the Adinkra
system is often incorrectly referred to as symbols or
designs, rather than as communicators of philosophical
and cultural values. She emphasized the need for
both academic and community use of the concept of
sankofa to expand beyond its symbolic use, by calling
for the systematic study of “the history, culture, values,
and philosophies of the Akan culture from which the
Adinkra system and Sankofa emanate” (p. 3). African-
centered scholar Karenga (2001) described sankofa as
an “Afrocentric methodological practice of historical
recovery” (p. 14). Both Karenga (2001) and Temple
(2009) called for a renewed practice of “deep structural
engagement of Sankofa” (Temple, 2009, p. 22) from
an Akan philosophical context and its complementary
Adinkra philosophies to assist African-American
scholars in the reinvigoration of African-centered
cultural recognizance. Two such practicing scholars
are Grills and Ajei (2002) and their exploration of self /
personhood from an Akan cosmological perspective.
Continental and Diasporic Notions
of Personhood and Spirituality
It is important to note that African epistemology tends
not to use the term self. Instead, the term personhood
is used because personhood implies the notion of
community instead of individuality, emphasizing
the relational nature of selfhood. Before delving into
the African epistemological notion of personhood,
it is important to rst dene the concept of knowing.
Transpersonal, spiritual, authentic, and participatory
knowing are central concepts in transpersonal
psychology (Ferrer & Sherman, 2008; Hart, Nelson, &
Puhakka, 2000). Ferrer dened participatory knowing
as a “creative and multidimensional human access to
reality” (Ferrer, 2002, p. 184).
Grills and Ajei (2002) pointed out that African
epistemology emphasizes an aective-cognitive synthesis
as a way of knowing reality, thus African inquiry and
understanding of reality extends beyond the rational and
the ve senses. ey outline three levels of knowing in
Akan Philosophy: Nea Wohu, Nea Etra Adwene, and Nea
Wonhu. Grills and Ajei (2002) described Nea Wohu as
the observable or perceivable—knowledge derived from
ordinary sense experience and rational thought. is t ype
of knowledge is the Akan equivalent of both rational and
empirical knowledge in Western epistemology. To know
beyond the rational is Nea Etra Adweneconsciousness
that transcends thought. e third aspect, Nea Wonhu,
although not directly a dimension of knowledge it is
described as the imperceptible or unobservable which
suggests a level of reality.
In the African-centered model, preterrational spiritual
processes are a necessary building block in the con-
struction of any model of consciousness. ese spiritual
aspects of self are central to the essence and expression
of all forms and stages of consciousness and human psy-
chological functioning (Grills & Ajei, 2002, p. 95).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
124 Deterville
e Akan model of the self is comprised of three
components: self as essence, self as object, and self as
process. e rst component, self as essence is dened
as “self as an extension of ultimate reality” (Grills & Ajei,
2002, p. 79). is aspect is comprised of the “ontological
belief among African people that the fundamental basis
of human beingness is spirit. What makes one a human
being is the presences of spirit-based essence” (p. 79). Self
as object is the incorporated elements and organization
of self. Lastly, self as process is “inuenced by a culture’s
epistemological system a process by which we come to
know ourselves and the world around us” (p. 79).
Each of these components is congruent with a
participatory vision. Ferrer and Sherman (2008) referred
to something similar as multidimensional cognition,
stating that “the potential epistemic signicance of
multidimensional cognition can be illustrated by reference
to the widely transcultural contemplative insight into the
existence of a micro-macro homology between human
nature, the cosmos, and the divine” (p. 40). In other
words, psycho-spiritual well-being is a process of “co-
active relationship based spirituality” (Lahood, 2010b, p.
Health exists when a person experiences Self
as an integrated whole that encompasses the body, the
emotions, the mind and the spirit. is state of health
experienced as a pervasive sense of well-being can only
occur through connection with other Selves—“with-
out you there can be no me.” To become whole the
Self needs to be experienced and expressed from the
inside and recognized from the outside. Hence the
critical context for both health and healing is the in-
terpersonal (Self-Other) relationship. (Fewster, 2000,
pp. 1-2, as cited in Lahood, 2010b, p. 67).
e notion of “I am because you are” is an essential African
concept. is phrase has its roots in the South African
concept Ubuntu.
Two central scholars in study of the Ubuntu are
Washington (2010) and Brooke (2008). Washington (an
African-American scholar) takes a distinctly Afrocentric
approach by framing Ubuntu as an African system of
healing that is part of African/Black Psychology. Brooke,
a White South African scholar, views Ubuntu through
a Jungian lens of individuation, and sees it as part of a
multicultural analytical psychology. Ubuntu deries from
the Zulu people of South Africa where the oft used phrase,
I am, because we are, is an African construct that denes
what it is to be a person. Ubuntu is a person’s internalized
sense of community, their sense of responsibility toward
others, both living and dead, and toward the wider world
at large (Brooke, 2008). Being a person is then both
particular, and a task of self-realization (Brooke, 2008, p.
Washington (2010) described the self from
Ubuntu psychological perspective “as being an expression
of the Divine and is thus divine. All humans come from
one divine Source and are at the same time an expression of
that divine Source” (p. 35). He continued, “Relative to this
notion that self is divine is the idea that Ubuntu psychology
adheres to the notion of universal consciousness or Soul
(p. 35). is universal consciousness of the divine human
spirit “is always in connection with a Divine source within
the universe. One then is able to connect with multiple
dimensions of the universe because the universe is all and
is multi-dimensional” (p. 35).
Brooke (2008) oered a nuanced view of Ubuntu
via a Jungian lens and his concept of individuation
“with its emphasis on separateness and the withdrawal
of projections, is essentially modern and Western” (p.
36). Jung’s psychoanalytic model, serving as perhaps the
rst transpersonal psychology, is important especially in
light of Jung’s travels and studies in Africa (Cortright,
1997). By way a of critique of Jung’s colonialized
perspective of the African psyche, Brooke noted, “With
regard to individuation, for instance, Jung’s concept is so
thoroughly [Western] cultural that it all but forecloses the
possibility of individuation for people of color, especially
in Africa” (p. 39). Brooke bridged Jung and Ubuntu by
exploring the concept of African consciousness called
Negritude from the philosopher, poet, writer Leopold
Senghor, the former President of Senegal. Paraphrasing
Senghor, Brooke wrote, “[Negritude consciousness] is the
whole network of civilized values…which characterize
the Black peoples, or, more precisely, the Black African
world. All these values are informed by an intuitive reason
– consciousness – that involves the whole person” (p.
48). Brooke noted the Jungian undertones in Senghor’s
work, and saw the concept of Ubuntu as an “important
counterpoint to Jung’s view of the social world” (p.
48). Brooke dened Ubuntu as something that was
given to all “because we are human, but its realization
is a spiritual task that requires personal resoluteness,
moral courage, and the support of others who treat us
as persons” (p. 49), thus reemphasizing the connection
between self, spirituality and community—the indexical
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 125
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
self. Regardless of which lens through which Ubuntu is
viewed, be it African-centered or Jungian, it could serve
as a valuable transpersonal model of the self.
Models of African-centered psycho-spiritual
wellness survived the European slave trade and the resulting
trauma known as the Maafa3. DeLoach and Petersen
(2010) conducted a research study as part of an ongoing
discussion on the traumas of the Maafa including the
continuing strain of living under neocolonial conditions—
“even in the ‘age of Obama’” (p. 41). Stating, “e healing
of African people throughout the Diaspora is a necessity as
Africans continue to resist the thriving cultural genocide
of contemporary colonial conditions” (p. 41), DeLoach
and Petersen (2010) noted that although there is increased
attention given to specic traumatic events (e.g., school
and community violence) there has been little empirical
literature on indigenous approaches to trauma interventions
and African spiritual pathways to healing even within
African-centered psychological discourse.
In an eort to avoid privileging the experiences
of Africans in the United States, their study focused on
Afro-Brazilian communities “employment of a traditional
African spiritual system—Candomblé—to individually
and collectively heal from and resist colonization” (p. 41).
ey provided the following description of Candomblé,
Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion brought to
Brazil by enslaved Africans primarily from West and
West Central Africa (i.e., Yoruba, Aja Fon, and Bantu)
and was largely inuenced by the chattel slavery and
mercantilistic context from which it emerged during
the fteenth to nineteenth centuries. (DeLoach &
Petersen, 2010, p. 42)
e authors noted some of the qualities of
Portuguese/Brazilian enslavement. First, enslaved
Africans were denied the right to religious autonomy.
erefore, they concealed their continued practice of
African indigenous beliefs through syncretism with
their enslavers’ Catholic saints. Second, because African
societies are largely matrilineal, most of the Candomblé
temples were established by women and “its leadership
remains largely female particularly in the oldest terreiros
(sacred ritual grounds/place of worship)” (p. 42).
DeLoach and Petersen (2010) inferred the sankofa process
of “re-membering, and (re) creating an identity of value
and connectedness - to Spirit” (p. 42). Additionally, the
terreiro provided a physical space – a refuge, a place where
African people had spiritual power and agency.
Candomblé serves as a conductor of cultural
norms, continuity, and individual and “collective healing,
transformation, and resistance” (DeLoach & Petersen,
2010, p. 43). One example of continuity is the integration
of the Yoruba language in the prayers, rituals and songs.
e use of ritual is essential to healing and transcendence
in Candomblé. It provides spiritual and psychological
intervention and restoration to its participants as well as a
model and means of physical health. “e similar terrain
in northeastern Brazil allowed continued access to the
same plant based herbs and medicines utilized in Africa
which assisted healers in continuing indigenous health
care” (DeLoach & Petersen, 2010, p. 44).
Recently the ABPsi’s principle publication,
the Journal of Black Psychology created a special issue
focused on the African diaspora with the theme “Pan-
African Discussion of African Psychology.” Cokley
(2013) noted in the preface that this special issue was a
way to demonstrate that “there is a global conception of
African psychology that transcends national boundaries”
(p. 205). Mariette (2013) provided an overview of the
contributions of the Association of Black Psychologists’
work in Haiti. She stated, “e Association of Black
Psychologists’ (ABPsi) eorts in Haiti oer a template for
bridging Pan-African discussion and African psychology”
(p. 261). Mariette (2013) asserted that it is “through a
thorough examination and interrogation of antecedents,
symptomology, etiology, treatment, remediation,
and prevention from [the] lingering eects of slavery,
colonialism, and trauma, [which] serves as the vehicle for
restoring and illuminating the Haitian/African Spirit to
optimal health” (p. 262).
Mariette (2013) oered three examples of
re-conceptualizing, reinterpreting, and advanced
healing praxis (p. 262), citing the African cosmological
conceptualizations and paradigms conveyed by Obenga
(1990/2004), the Kongo4 cross-facilitate synthesizing
theories from Fu-Kiau (2001; 2003; 2007), and the Cycle
of Life from Gbodossou (2011, as cited in Mariette, 2013).
Obenga is a Congolese scholar whose primary area of
research is in African Philosophy – specically ancient
Egyptian (Kemetic) philosophy. Fu-Kiau, also Congolese,
has made a number of visits to Oakland, California and
conducted workshops and healing circles called an Mbôngi
(K. K. B. Fu-Kiau, 2007) in the West Oakland community.
Fu-Kiau’s research on the Ki-Kôngo Cosmogram and their
related Kôngo cosmology have been a seminal contribution
to African philosophy and cosmology.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
126 Deterville
Like Grills and Ajei (2002), Mariette (2013) also
provided an overview of Haitian epistemology and the self.
She outlined these concepts as Ways of Being (worldview);
Concept of the Person, Health, Illness; Classication of
Illness, Death; and Experience of Illness. In the rst of
these concepts, Ways of Being (worldview), she stated that
the primary concern of human beingness is to “achieve and
maintain harmonious synergy with the universal energy”
(Mariette, 2013, p. 263), and that there is consubstantiation
interdependence among all beings. ese African-centered
cultural precepts are fundamental concepts that lie beneath
all societies within Africa.
Mariette (2013) remarked that from an
African-centered perspective, “e tribal self (ancestral
component of one’s being) is a transpersonal self and has
a level of consciousness shared by everyone of a particular
‘tribal’ experience” (p. 263). Mariette directly noted
the participatory transpersonal and relational spiritual
experience and she asserts that the concept of the person as
self is multidimensional, emphasizing that the self includes
the tribal, social, personal, and physical body. Mariette
dened the concept of health from an African-centered
Haitian perspective as a state of well-being in connectedness
– to environment (natural and human) and the spiritual
(ancestors/invisible spirits). Health and well-being are
demonstrated through the experience of “harmonious
integration with the environment (‘ontonomy’)” (p. 264).
In contrast, illness is the result of disharmony. Here too
the continued imbalances of the Maafa and European
enslavement reverberate.
African-Centered Meta-theory:
Optimal Psychology
Linda James Myers, as mentioned earlier, is one of the
few African American scholars who has been included
in the transpersonal discourse (Hartelius et al., 2007;
Myers, 1985). Myers has brought together concepts from
both transpersonal and African-centered psychology in
her meta-theory, optimal psychology. She opened her
latest essay with a quote from African essayist Ayi Kwei
Armah (2006) that asks, “So the way we live now, what
draws our spirits forward, if our souls are not energized by
the urge to attain projections of our own best selves?” (as
cited in, 2013, p. 257). Myers proposed that a meta-theory
is required for the restorative process of the African self
and consciousness. Myers has oered optimal psychology as
a theory that holds the capacity to:
acknowledge, position, and respond appropriately to
[the negative] historical reality” while also being able
to “embrace the cosmology, ontology, axiology, epis-
temology, teleology, and the meaning of being hu-
man associated with the African cultural tradition of
wisdom and deep thought from classical civilization
to the present day (Myers, 2013, p. 257).
Specically, optimal psychology embraces an All-
is-Spirit ontological premise, thus producing an
“episteme in which self-knowledge is assumed as the
basis of all knowledge and the sense of self endorsed
is multidimensional, inclusive of those having gone
before or ancestors, future generations, community,
and all of nature” (Myers, 2013, p. 258). Myers (2013)
demonstrated how her concept of optimal psychology
relates to the restoration of the spirit, stating that optimal
psychology is “shaped and driven as the extension of the
wisdom tradition of African deep thought” and “informs
and develops a culturally authentic, African-centered
quality of life through all its cycles” (p. 259). Myers
proposed optimal psychology as a way to oer cultural
realignment. She stated that optimal psychology seeks to
accomplish this “through cogno-aective restructuring,
soul illumination, and character renement, as power to
wield the relationship between the word, the person, and
the world is mastered” (p. 259). Optimal psychology
brings together transpersonal psychology and African-
centered psychology, and is a tting construct with which
to close the exploration of African-centered transpersonal
self and psycho-spiritual wellness.
1. e Akan are a ethnic group found in Ghana, West
Africa. Comprised of Ashanti and Fante people as
well as other ethnicies. e main Akan language is
Kwa and their cosmoslogy is comprised in system
called Adinkra.
2. Africology is the academic discipline which em-
compasses Afrocentricity and African-centered ap-
proaches (Conyers, 2004).
3. Maafa is a KiSwahili word that means great disaster;
terrible occurance. A term used by Marimbi Ani in
the book “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” (Ani, 1997)
to describe the trauma of the European Slave Trade
of African peoples.
4. Kongo is intentionally spelled with a ‘K’ as part of
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 127
African-Centered Transpersonal Self
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About the Author
Adeeba D. Deterville, MA, is co-founder of Sankofa
Cultural Institute and Program Coordinator for the
Masters in Counseling Psychology department at CIIS.
She holds a Masters degree in Transpersonal Studies and
is currently a doctoral student in CIIS’ Transformative
Studies program. Adeeba’s dissertation research
examines the role of jegnaship (an African-centered
approach to mentorship) in knowledge production and
transfer among Black women intellectuals. She serves on
the Jegnaship Committee and is a past Western Region
Graduate Representative for the Association of Black
Psychologists (ABPsi) National Student Circle Board
of Directors. She has also served as the Student Circle
Board Chair for the Bay Area Association of Black
Psychologists. Adeeba is the creator of the Bay Area
Black Graduate Student Group, which oers monthly
support and discussions across disciplinary lines. As part
of a year-long mentorship program at CIIS, she leads
a group of Black graduate students to ABPsi’s annual
international convention.
About the Journal
e International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
sponsored by the California Institute of Integral Studies,
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ocial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. e journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
... …The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians dare to connect it with the history of Egypt. 7 Egyptian mummies as well as archaeological and anthropological evidence to show that the first Ancient Egyptian settlers were of pure Negroid origin. 9 Diop even supported this claim using the statements of Greek historians Herodotus and Strabo who stated in their texts that the Colchians, who were close kin to the Ancient Egyptians, were "black skinned with woolly hair." 10 This finding led Diop to further postulate that if Ancient Egypt was a Negroid civilization, then all races stemmed from the Black race. ...
... They were not hated particularly; they were not essentially despised; they were simply out of bounds. 7 Thurman also states, "The fact that the first twenty-three Thurman further notes that "it is clear that for the Negro the fundamental issue involved in the experience of segregation is the attack that it makes on his dignity and integrity. We become persons by an other-than-self reference which is other persons. ...
... The West African construct of Nommo describes the connectedness of power and words. 7 The Kemetic description of humanity includes the ternary Sad, Ka and Ba: terms which inform the temporal nature of the living body, the ability to pass on or pass down parts of oneself and the immortal psychological essence of beings. 4 Power, the force of life itself, is spoken, sometimes sung, into existence. ...
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30 years ago, in January 1989, the Imhotep Graduate Student Journal was first published as a platform to explore global African phenomena. This year’s addition seeks to continue the tradition of stimulating discourse and critical thought from a new generation of graduate students and young professionals. Although initially created as an outlet for graduate students at Temple University’s Department of Africology and African American Studies, the journal welcomes quality submissions from graduate students and recent graduates from post-bachelor programs.
... PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS RURAL COMMUNITIES p. 127). It is used to stress the importance of gaining the wisdom of those who have come before and reconnecting (Deterville, 2016) with lost histories that inform the present. Adeeba Deterville (2016) noted that this concept is valuable because it speaks "to the whole person in relationship to community and a living world" (p. ...
... It is used to stress the importance of gaining the wisdom of those who have come before and reconnecting (Deterville, 2016) with lost histories that inform the present. Adeeba Deterville (2016) noted that this concept is valuable because it speaks "to the whole person in relationship to community and a living world" (p. 118). ...
... Offering a personal learning environment and supportive community, CIIS provides an excellent multifaceted education for people committed to transforming themselves, others, and the world. (Deterville, 2014;Ferrer, 2002Ferrer, , 2011Ferrer et al., 2005;Ferrer & Sherman, 2008 Transformative Studies (the only online program available at the time). As a student in the Transformative Studies program I was provided an opportunity to consider research beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries and to take a transdisciplinary, inquiry driven approach (McGregor, 2015;Montuori, 2012;Nicolescu, 2005). ...
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actualization is explored through Scholarly Personal Narrative (SPN) as a method of cultural retrieval in three realms—past, present, and future (Sankofa)—to articulate the core construct of the Sankofa Praxis meta-theory. Through a series of guiding questions that follow the main tenets of SPN (Bradley & Nash, 2011), this inquiry flowed from Me-Search (How did my intuitive and internal experiences and practices lead me to a sense of psycho-spiritual wellness and alignment?) to Re-Search (How can I articulate these experiences and practices to guide other people towards psycho-spiritual wellness and alignment? How did Jegnaship [intentional guided relationships] impact this journey to psycho-spiritual wellness and alignment? What are the pathways to knowing and knowledge acquisition that contributed to psycho-spiritual wellness and alignment and actualization?), culminating in We-Search through the core universalizable inquiry questions: What are the necessary components to construct a transformational meta-theory of Africentric psycho-spiritual wellness? What goes into the calabash of Sankofa Praxis?The philosophical underpinnings of Sankofa Praxis are located in Africentricity constructs of Sankofa, Jegnaship, and Africentric notions of Episteme, Psychology, Spiritness, and Personhood. In the literature review I define Africentric Episteme as the epistemological history and frameworks used in the study of Black peoples (Asante, 1998; Piper-Mandy & Rowe, 2010); approach African-Centered Psychology through the lens of the Association of Black Psychologists, Inc., which explores the ontology of human-beingness (Myers & Speight, 2010); explore Africentric Spiritness through the cosmology of Blackness via African-rooted spiritual traditions and practices (Karenga, 2004; Nobles, 2015); and discuss Africentric Personhood via the notions of an African-centered transpersonal self (Deterville, 2014) and the concept of Ubuntu (Brooke, 2008; Washington, 2010).Through composing 10 scholarly personal narratives, this dissertation contributes a definition of Jegnaship for the reclamation of Africentric notions of episteme, psychology, spiritness, and personhood as a means of psycho-spiritual alignment and actualization of African ascendent people. It further demonstrates that Sankofa Praxis meta-theory can be applied in multiple academic and community contexts.
This essay is a contribution to Africology’s discipline-building. It examines more particularly the importance of disciplinary language, stressing the need for clear language and consistent definitions. Of particular concern are terms like “African-centeredness” and “Africancentered” which have never been clearly defined although they are widely used. This clout, this essay argues, impedes discipline-building efforts by introducing and sustaining semantic and terminological incoherence.
In this article, we discuss challenges to and the triumphs of the production of psychological knowledge pertinent to human health and sustainable well-being, particularly as it relates to persons acknowledging African ancestry in hostile sociohistorical contexts. Primary attention will be paid to the advancement of the theory of optimal psychology, also known as optimal conceptual theory (OCT), a theory of human development culturally grounded in the wisdom tradition of African deep thought, identifiable from ancient civilization to contemporary times. The intention is to accomplish four aims: (a) present an overview based on one theoretical framework and practice of progress achieved in fulfillment of the Association of Black Psychologists mission, (b) provide an example of great successes employing OCT and belief systems analysis in a clinical practice for over 20 years, (c) share a small sampling of areas in the psychological and broader literature illustrating how OCT has been utilized, and (d) highlight areas of advancement in OCT and its expansion in the understanding of human functioning and development.
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This paper focuses on exploring various models of spiritual development. It first addresses philosophical dilemmas underpinning the concept of spiritual development by questioning whether these can be addressed without metaphysical assumptions embedded in religious worldviews and thus understood in any consensual way across different historical and cultural contexts. Traditional models of spiritual development are then reviewed, drawing from indigenous, Eastern, and Western cultures. Integrative-philosophical and scientific models, including those from the psychology of religion, transpersonal psychology, and neurobiology, are then presented. The chapter concludes by noting the complexities involved in understanding spiritual development accompanied by suggestions on future directions for these models by highlighting their commonalities and differences and by providing some evaluative perspectives for thinking critically about them.
Designed to compare and contrast the predominant world view from which we in the US are socialized with an Afrocentric alternative, an optimal conceptual system will be identified and defined for use as the basis of developing and articulating the optimal psychology. The purpose of this text is to provide a synthesis of thought and opportunity (for maximizing positivity of experience and unifying opposites), so that we may make more informed conscious decisions about the construction of our reality. Part One of this book will briefly outline the resurgence of an Afrocentric world view and detail a model of optimal psychology. Part Two will focus on why an Afrocentric psychology is so desperately needed in modern times, and on the answers it can provide. Part Three will examine the method and functioning of an optimal psychology which does not remove free will choices about our current assumptions. Rather, optimal psychology may be best understood when described in the context of the sub-optimal: allowing choices to be made more consciously. Anyone interested in empowerment, and in more fully understanding him or herself, will find this book of value. As a basis for examining their inner selves and their world views/conceptual systems, students of comparative cultures, Black/African/African-American Studies, Women's Studies, ethics, psychology, all of the social and physical sciences, and those in humanities will also benefit. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Transpersonal psychology is defined as the study of psycho‐spiritual disciplines and processes recorded in the science and religion of the earliest known civilizations, those of the Nile valley systems of Kemetic Egypt and Nubia. This study traces the history and transformation of these seminal ideas from there, through their dispersion and development in Europe, India and West Africa, and finally to the Americas. It ends with a brief look at principle currents in contemporary transpersonal psychology and suggests a vision of its future.