A Comparative Analysis of Kierkegaardian and African Existentialism

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International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS) | Volume VI, Issue III, March 2022 | ISSN 2454–6186

A Comparative Analysis of Kierkegaardian and African Existentialism

Purissima Emelda Egbekpalu, PhD
Department of Philosophy, Madonna University, Nigeria

IJRISS Call for paper


Abstract: Existentialism is a philosophical trend that concerns itself with concrete experience of man. This paper comparatively studies Kierkegaard’s and African existentialism. It discovers that Western existentialism springs mainly from the notion of nothingness of human existence and man’s limiting existential conditions. Kierkegaard himself emphasizes subjective existence through the challenging experiences of life as the sure way to authentic existence. On the other hand, while positioning itself in direct opposition to this pessimistic understanding of man’s existence, African existentialism spices itself with optimism grounded in the understanding that man is the beauty and apex of God’s creation. The paper also establishes various notions of Kierkegaard’s existentialism that are comparable to that of Africans. It therefore concludes that both existential perspectives strive to understand man in his lived experiences in order to direct him towards authentic existence but from diverse points of subjective and communal life’s experiences. It concludes that African existentialism offers a more balanced attitude to life through the interplay of personal and community existence.

Key Words: Kierkegaard, Africa, existentialism, man, comparative analysis.


Existentialism is derived from the word existence and it serves as a philosophical trend that enquires into the concrete experience of human life for better understanding of man and the world around him. Discourses on which serves best for man’s authentic living have been very lively in philosophical enquiries. Kierkegaard was the major proponent and one of the key forerunners of Western existentialism. The quest for an authentic and meaningful existence remains the central teachings of both Kierkegaard’s and African existentialism. The question of what it means to exist occupies eminent positions in their thoughts, life and works. At the bases of both existentialist positions is self-knowledge. In comparative analytical sense however, the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard addresses vital existential issues through subjective existence, while African existentialism confronts authenticity of life through both subjective and communal existence. Although, it accentuates the primacy of community over the individuals. Ugwu, Ozoemena & Ngwoke (2022, p. 75) rightly observe:
African worldview has always been perceived in terms of the ‘other’. Existence is existence-in-and-among-and-with-others-in-and-within-communities. No being is existentially conceived in isolation from the other; and drawing from that, existential quiddity is enshrined in the ‘community’ where every member-being lives and fulfils its destiny and aspirations. Thus, the value and essence of ‘community’ places a high influence on the African experience; hence the position that communality best describes the African personality. This ‘communality-phenomenon’ has been designated with some terms by some African scholars like Senghor and his ‘Negritude’, Nyerere and his ‘Ujamaa’, Nkrumah and his ‘Consciencism’, Azikiwe and his ‘Eclecticism’, Mbiti and his ‘I-and-We Existential mantra’, Okolo and his ‘Being-with’, Asouzu and his ‘Ibuanyidanda-Complimentarity’, Ozumba and Chimakonam and their ‘Njikoka-Amaka Integrative-Humanism’, Nze and his ‘Communalistic-Brotherhood’, Edeh and his ‘EPTAISM of Mma-di-in-Closeness-not-Closedness.
African communitarian stance seems to corroborate Aristotelian position. Thus, “one who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god” (Aristotle, 1998, pp. 1253a2-30). Critically evaluating Kierkegaard’s subjective position and African communitarianism, Oguji (2016, pp. 37-38) argues for a middle balance between subjectivity and communalism. So, he states:
If we will survive the present challenges of our contemporary world, subjective existence should be allowed in the sense of personal initiative. People should not be imprisoned in the traditional systems because traditional solutions are no longer enough to tackle the contemporary challenges… To base existential options in the hands of the individual alone or the society will backfire for it is impossible to clap with one hand.