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Great Topics Seminars

Studies in the Humanities and Sciences

Spring 2016 - "Hopes and Impediments: Modern Africa through the Novels of Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emecheta"



Too often our understanding of contemporary Africa is shaped more by myths and misperceptions of an earlier era than by a sound knowledge of Africa's rich, diverse past and complex, problematic present. How far removed are we from David Nyendael, who, during a visit to Benin in 1701, was shown bronze sculptures in the royal collection? These objects, he noted, were: “... so wretchedly carved that it is hardly possible to distinguish whether they are most like men or beasts; notwithstanding which my guides were able to distinguish them into merchants, soldiers, wild beasts, hunters, etc.”

What a different perspective these Benin guides, the real "owners" of the culture, brought to bear on these artistic treasures. Yet, do we not see the "gallery" of African events and individuals as "wretchedly carved?" Are we not in need of guides as we try to understand contemporary Africa and the historical forces that have shaped that part of the world?

To help us understand the hopes and impediments that affect the lives of Africans today, this seminar will focus on four novels by Chinua Achebe and two by Buchi Emecheta, gifted writers and outspoken critics of the social and political problems facing their own country, Nigeria. Achebe and Emecheta will raise issues that will be the focus of our investigation: the legacy of colonialism, the clash of cultures, nation-building, political instability, and individual responsibility and accountability. Other guides will help us examine the limitations of these fictional perspectives. We will also interrogate other cultural products such as textiles, utensils, and musical instruments to help us reconstruct the lives and priorities of African women and men as they construct “frameworks for living” in African environments. As our tour of this "gallery" of faces, places, and events ends, we should emerge with an understanding of the historic evolution of African cultures, societies, economics, and politics, and an awareness of the potential for Africa in the future.


Course Objectives

  • To discover and see the major ideas and practices about religions of the world.

  • To explore various conceptions of religion and various methods of studying religions that have been developed in the academic study of religions. 

  • To improve our skills for understanding religions by working with major tools of Religious Studies.

  • To reflect on issues of usefulness and human fulfillment in regard to religions.

  • To create, satisfy, and perpetuate curiosity for religious learning.


The application deadline is December 1. Enrollment in the Seminar is limited.



Established in 1988 and made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Leadership Seminars in the Humanities bring together Millsaps professors in the humanities with corporate, volunteer and professional leaders in the community. To better reflect the current philosophy of these seminars, the name has been changed to Millsaps Great Topics Seminars: Studies in the Humanities and Sciences. These seminars offer an opportunity for serious engagement with intellectual issues affecting society and the individual.

For more information on the Great Topics Seminars, contact Dr. Nola Gibson at the Millsaps College Office of Continuing Education at 601-974-1130 or gibsonk@millsaps.edu.