IN CONVERSATION WITH Abraham Olivier - B-Rated Researcher and Professor of Philosophy

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Abraham Olivier is a Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is also a  Visiting Professor in the  Department of Philosophy, Bayreuth University. 

He is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Centre for Phenomenology in South Africa ( and former Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal of Philosophy.

Olivier obtained his PhD from the University of Tübingen and has held lecturing and research posts at the Universities of Tübingen, Stellenbosch, Padua and the Evangelical University for Social Work, Hamburg.

He is the author of Being in Pain (2007) and editor/co-editor of several special journal issues, including, Phenomenology and Naturalism for the International Journal of Philosophical Studies (2016), Identity and Difference for the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology (2016), The African Other for Angelaki (2019), and Philosophy and Laughter for The Southern Journal of Philosophy (2020).

He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on topics relating to phenomenology, philosophy of mind and African philosophy.  He has organized/co-organized 18 conferences and presented 58 conference papers, 25 at international conferences.

Prof Olivier is rated by the National Research Foundation of South Africa as a researcher with considerable international recognition (B3).


Please share some information about your research field, including past and current projects:

My research focus is on  topics relating to the fields of Phenomenology, African Philosophy, and Philosophy of Mind.  This has resulted in three major projects.

The first project involves ongoing work on pain and suffering, which combines phenomenology and philosophy of mind. This has resulted in numerous accredited papers and a book publication. An extract of the book has recently been published on the official blog of the Australian Pain Society, which is the Australian Chapter of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) – see Other recent accredited publications include: The Problem of Defining Pain; Racism, Speciesism and Suffering; and forthcoming are, Forces of Suffering and Why Meaning can Change Pain.

2.     The second project deals with work on the philosophy of place, combining African philosophy and phenomenology of mind.My aim has been to develop a contextual phenomenology of the mind with specific focus on problems of situated consciousness, place, displacement, and personal identity. This is mainly reflected in invited publications in collaborated edited collections together with other prominent African scholars, and papers published in accredited international journals, with titles such as On Being an African; Heidegger in the Township; Contextual Identity; Understanding Place; The Place of Philosophy in Africa; Place and Displacement and Displacement and Decolonisation.

The third project is on African Phenomenology. This is a novel field in philosophy. A major result of this project is a recent international colloquium, “Contributions to African Phenomenology”, of which I was the main organizer, and a resultant edited collection of which I am the main editor together with Dr M. John Lamola (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Justin Sands (North-West University). This collection has drawn some of the most important scholars in the field of African and Africana philosophy, including Professors Lewis Gordon, Paulin J. Hountondji, Rozena Maart, Mabogo More, Achille Mbembe, and Tsenay Serequeberhan. In addition to the above,  I have a forthcoming paper introducing the field, and am working on a book as well.


What do you think are your most significant research accomplishments?

A milestone in my research in phenomenology is the launch of the Centre for Phenomenology in South Africa (CPSA) – see: I started working on founding this centre in 2011 and launched it as its co-founder and co-chair together with Prof Rafael Winkler (University of Johannesburg) in March 2013. Since its launch, we have co-organised eight   international conferences hosting numerous internationally acclaimed keynote speakers. In addition, I organised 10 annual national Wild Coast Philosophy symposia. The CPSA conference proceedings are published in journals of high international ranking, including the International Journal of Philosophical Studies,Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, Angelaki, and The Southern Journal of Philosophy

My current project on African Phenomenology is definitely also a milestone in my research, and  opens a number of future venues involving the collaboration of top experts in this field as mentioned before.


How do you ensure your research is well communicated, digested and acted on?

Mainly through peer-review publications, organising conferences, symposia, colloquia and postgraduate projects.


What has been the greatest impact of your work?


 Through organising public conferences, symposia and colloquia, I succeeded in drawing together a number of scholars, resulting in widespread networking and collaborated publications. For instance, as already  mentioned, I organised 10 local symposia and co-organised eight international conferences, with proceedings published in renowned international journals.


My research focus on African philosophy has drawn a number of black African postgraduates and generated scholarships for such students. In collaboration with Dr John Lamola from the University of Johannesburg, I have offered external funding for four MA scholars in African Philosophy.


Lastly, my focus on African philosophy and phenomenology has generated international student exchanges between the University of Fort Hare and the University of Bayreuth (Germany) for the past six years.

The University of Bayreuth hosts one of the largest centres for African studies in Europe. This exchange resulted in an MoU  between the two institutions,  and offering three Fort Hare MA students an opportunity to study for a semester in the Departments of Philosophy and African Studies at the University of Bayreuth. As part of this exchange we had nine Bayreuth exchange students visiting our department.  Two others will visit soon.


What advice would you give to Young Researchers out there?

Perhaps the following practical tips might help some postgraduate students and other young researchers.


Identify a clear problem and project that you personally find important and can be passionate about, something that drives you and gives you energy.


Believe in what you do and that you can do it. Some philosophers say: “You are your possibilities”. Think of your project as a way to realise your possibilities.


Maintain a daily routine of focused hard work. Take regular breaks, take no vacation!


Make critique your best friend. Share your work with your peers and mentors regularly and ask for their critical input.


Keep an open mind for any research opportunities, even if they might not appear directly relevant to you, and go for them! Go to conferences, look out for possibilities to take part in collaborative projects such as edited collections. Try to visit other institutions, nationally and internationally. If possible, go for a degree in another country – but come back again!