Heart of Arts

Paul Lovejoy at 80: The Institutional Builder


Paul Lovejoy at 80: The Institutional Builder

Toyin Falola

Intellectuals are defined not exclusively by the ideas that they share in their engagements, writings, lectures or other knowledge-production process but also by how their ideas constantly influence, determine, and, in a sense, drive positive changes to the human world. This is commonly the case since what scholars usually dedicate themselves to always involves the concentration of their intellectual resources, at which end they produce profound projects with prospects to propel humanity to a different position. They query issues of the world using various methodologies and ensure that they come out with reasonable results. This involves giving more than one’s attention; it includes staking their names in them. When you see scholars dedicated to a particular line of research, they are prompted by the understanding that knowledge is not inflexible; it is not constant and can change at any particular point or level. Their research undertakings may compel them to shift grounds to accommodate new information, which always requires the modification of existing methodologies for the opportunity to get the best results from some of these situations. In the case of Paul Lovejoy, he remains an excellent institutional builder, for he raised substantial ideas that generally provoke deeper understanding about otherwise controversial phenomena that all have defined the activities of humans, especially Africans, in recent history.

Building an institution requires producing never-before-known ideas that are in themselves impregnable to exogenous attacks. This is underscored by the awareness that institutions are effective tools for creating awareness about things and phenomena that are not easy to come by in our everyday engagements. Therefore, organizing such a system requires building solid ideas that can stand the test of time while simultaneously giving us expected results. To that extent, Paul Lovejoy is considered a builder of institutions, for he has dedicated his life to some research engagements that enlighten us about the deep-seated atrocities in the question of slavery as it underlies human behavior.

In whatever best way possible, his works would remain an enduring intellectual achievement that educates humans about the hollowness of their thoughts in thinking that the survival of humanity depends on how the few powerful can mow the powerless to keep themselves at the echelon of power and relevance. It is readily difficult and ridiculous to believe that humanity, as well intellectually evolved as we are, still does not understand the devastating consequences of endangering others as the precondition to our development and growth. His works have taught us how the politics of vendetta, bitterness and exclusion has saturated the world because we decide to prey on others or exploit their vulnerability. His research works have confirmed to us that the experience of slavery, for example, might have added enough economic strength to its perpetrators, but it left more damning legacies than can be fathomed.

Toyin Falola and Paul Lovejoy, May 29, 2023


One beautiful thing about intellectualism is that people’s works usually advertise themselves and amplify the thematic concerns of the scholars themselves. More than one could have imagined, they give the audience a wide template to think and refine their thoughts themselves so that they would understand an entirely different perspective and how it potentially affects their individual or collective beliefs. Scholars that are, for example, dedicated to finding more about slavery are not particularly interested in revealing all the involved bitterness and nattering atrocities faced by the victims or encountered by the perpetrators, but they are concerned about using their probing to understand why such engagement cannot prosper the totality of humanity generally. In that way, their interrogation of the phenomenon created the opportunity to understand the alternative ways we should do some things as humans. In essence, the fact that an individual wants to increase their economic growth does not particularly mean that others will have to undergo excruciating experiences to actualize such an agenda. There should always be other ways by which issues would be handled without it affecting individuals, regardless of their vulnerability or otherwise. Of course, the history of nature itself is that things are achieved through brutal behavior, but nature has been surpassed millennium before humans could think and convert their thoughts into operatable ideas.

The character of institutional behavior here is that, by revealing the numerous problems associated with every painful experience that the powerful subject the powerless to, the attainment of global peace would be provenly difficult to achieve. One would see the connectivity of his works and the continued hostilities of powerful countries against one another today, as their civilization is founded on eat-or-be-eaten philosophy, which undermines the collective ability to understand the usefulness of plurality, multiplicity and diversity. He has, therefore, educated us that the best way to construct an atmosphere for enduring peace is to make existence enjoyable and lovable to the lives in it. In other words, humans have the potential to look at a problem and create a win-win situation for all so that they would not remain in the abyss of terror, chaos and hostilities, all of which continue to challenge their ability to become their best versions themselves. The spontaneous reactions of the oppressed worldwide would always be an attempt to survive, thereby denying themselves the opportunity to live maximally. That would have created challenges that impeded them from manifesting in their fullest form. Meanwhile, the possibility for diversity of success is entrenched in nature’s capacity to allow individuals, groups or communities to attain that level regardless of their number. Africans who have been victims of slavery in recent history are still reacting to that experience, and the research works of Lovejoy have pointed to this.

The Biographical Accounts of Enslaved Muslims in the Americas with Dr. Paul Lovejoy, hosted by Duke and UNC in 2022


This is not unconnected to the fact that ideas possessed by other people are very integral to the building and development of the global community, especially if given the mental and political freedom to undertake them. The institution of African studies that has been increased across different countries today is ineluctably cemented by the study of intellectuals such as Lovejoy. By dedicating himself to stimulating research engagements, he has uncovered the layers of significant contributions made by the African people at different levels of their evolution or development. Consider, for example, that he examined the contributions of Africans to science and technology. His findings consolidate the conclusion that Africans are individuals with extraordinary capabilities and can facilitate development if offered the opportunity to do so. That does not indicate, for example, that they play victims but reinforces the argument that they have inherent capabilities to change the world through their ideas and values. There are layers of history that reveal to us the deepened intellectual capacity of Africans and how they facilitated the transformation of their world at some moment. Therefore, the repudiation of hegemonic ambition and aspirations would unlock their access to abundance and results, for which the world would move in the right direction. That discovery has necessitated the aggressive negotiations of their world through their own ideas and intellectual perspectives.

By creating ideas that are themselves invulnerable, Lovejoy is therefore building an institution that would continue even after he has successfully roamed the face of the earth. Whereas it was the idea of some great individuals to create universities as an institution, the ideas of individuals such as this scholar would be important in creating a healthy intellectual practice that would outlive generations. This is impossible without the resurrection of intellectual contents of Africa and how they helped sustain their civilization at every stage of their development as a people. With his efforts, the understanding of African intellectualism has increased monumentally, and his contributions effectively fortify the DNA of the African epistemic traditions, which would survive in different dimensions even after momentary setbacks.

It is, therefore, not unexpected that someone with that outstanding addition to African issues would have the level of attention accrued to him in the last forty years. Intellectuals like him are the reason why we have had to advance as a people, and that indicates that they earn their place in whatever accolades we have given them today. He has been extremely useful in enhancing new ways of thinking to create a generally acceptable creed in educational services for the betterment of the human world. The numbers of works in his name underscore the reasons for his excellence in global intellectualism today.

**This is the third and concluding part of the Series to celebrate Professor Paul Lovejoy at 80

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