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 Understanding Relational And Spiritual Harm &
Healing Through Social And Spiritual Transformation
International Symposium
13/14 Dec 2023 in Oxford, UK - and 18/19 January 2024 in Richmond, Virginia, USA

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AFROSPECTIVES, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation, Global Humanity for Peace Institute at University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and Fetzer Institute co-organised two international symposiums in Oxford, UK (12-13 December 2023) and in Richmond, Virginia, USA in partnership with Virginia Union University (18-19 January 2024) on the theme “Understanding and Healing Relational-Spiritual Harm.”


These meetings brought together thinkers, scholars, researchers and practitioners from different backgrounds to engage a dialogue on the nature of spiritual harm caused by enslavement and colonisation and the necessity of spiritually-inspired approaches to collective healing.


The two meetings highlighted the complexity of these issues, which appeared to be new for many the participants and discussed the appropriate conditions under which a critical reflection on the very notion of spiritual harm can be undertaken. The participants agreed  that the spiritual dimension of  harms resulting from enslavement and colonisation is an important field of research and therefore deserves further studies, dialogue, and consultations to build a common understanding of the  specificity of this harm and of the challenges of  healing. In that regard, the Oxford and Richmond meetings were considered by most of the participants as the beginning of a process that requires a long journey of reflection and exchanges with affected communities to come to terms with this issue.


Spiritual harm is part of the trauma resulting from the dehumanization caused by slavery and colonisation’s extremely violent oppression and exploitation which instrumentalized all kinds of intellectual, legal, religious, socio-cultural, and psychological resources for their  justification and sustainability. The relational process between oppressors and oppressed can only be understood in a holistic view  taking into account the various motivations and abuses of the former and the resistance, creativity, and survival strategies of the latter. Spiritual harm is therefore a syndrome that affects both descendants of the enslaved & colonized  and descendants of perpetrators, which manifests itself through number of individual and collective behaviours such as: identity crisis, social deviance, self-hatred, self-violence, organised silence and policy of oblivion, indifference and inability to recognise the pain of others, fear and mistrust, separation from oneself, segregation etc.


The participants of both meetings stressed the need for both sides (descendants of the enslaved & colonized e and of perpetrators) to reflect first on their harms in separate safe spaces before engaging in dialogue with each other aimed at  overcoming  this legacy on harm and envisaging  the conditions of healing and reconciliation. This parallel process of introspection and reflection is essential for  addressing the issue of trust between the two sides and reaching a shared understanding of spiritual ham and of appropriate healing practices.

The main challenges raised by the participants include: documenting emancipatory spiritualities and practices developed by Global African communities; critical analysis and transformation of the legacies of the harm, in particular institutions that continue to harm; integration of endogenous spiritual resources and practices of African and Diasporan communities in the healing processes and approaches.

AFROSPECTIVES in partnership with other interested organisations will pursue this reflection  within the framework of its work on African endogenous knowledge and practices which are the bases of African cosmogonies and ontologies. 


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