Citizenship and the Other: Belonging and Its Boundaries

First Southern Africa Interfaith and Peace Academy, planned for summer 2020

Throughout the world, the meaning, and more particularly the status, of citizenship is seemingly being called into question in new and surprising ways. What was once a clear and uniform frame for social life in many countries has become subject to conditions, exclusions, and ethnocentric interpretations, as well as state-initiated renegotiations of the social rights of citizenship.

Within this global context, Zimbabwe in the post-Mugabe era provides an important example of the transformation of collective belonging and self-understanding in the direction of new, potentially more inclusive and embracing ideas of citizenship and social membership. The year 2016 saw the emergence of a citizens’ movement that invested state symbols such as the flag with public and social meanings, challenging their almost family-centered and autocratic “ownership” of almost four decades.

Today in Zimbabwe the boundaries of citizenship, meanings of belonging, and terms of the social contract are open to being negotiated, contested, and reframed in untold ways. While these processes are complex and fraught with danger and conflict, they also provide opportunities for the emergence of new models of solidarity, cooperation, and collective belonging in the years to come.

The 2020 Southern Africa Interfaith and Peace Academy (SAIPA) school will be devoted to exploring some of the defining issues of social life in contemporary Zimbabwe. More particularly, we shall focus on a number of critical sites of social negotiation in relation to tribal membership, gender, political affiliation, generational cohorts, linguistic groupings, and attitudes toward the past (both the colonial period and the War of Liberation). Issues once kept out of public discourse, as well as painful memories long denied public expression, are slowly beginning to find a voice within social life.  As we visit Harare, Masvingo, Matopos, and Chinhoyi, SAIPA will provide a space for this emergent and critical dialogue.

Our SAIPA school will not stress any idea of “common ground” or shared values among participants. Rather, it is predicated on the existence of substantive differences between individuals and communities—in values, histories, life circumstances, beliefs, worldviews, and economic status—that naturally resist elision. The school seeks to build a space in which a sense of shared belonging becomes possible despite those deep differences in lived experience.

SAIPA is an affiliate of CEDAR, whose programs combine pluralistic perspectives on religious thought with social scientific research on tolerance and civil society and an open, dialogic approach to pedagogic practice. Its goal is to transform both the theoretical models and concrete practices through which religious orientations and secular models of politics and society engage one another. Like those of other CEDAR affiliates, SAIPA’s program combines academic courses with intensive processes that help build groups and develop working relationships across religious and ethnic identities. Its didactic goals are both social and cognitive.

Questions should be sent to