CFA: Dreams and Dreaming – African Perspectives III, Makerere University, Feb. 27-28, 2020 (deadline: Jan. 17, 2020)

The Department of Philosophy at the University of York (UK) in partnership with the Department of Philosophy and Development Studies at Makerere University (Uganda) are holding a two-day conference on African Perspectives on Dreams and Dreaming. We welcome researchers from all disciplines, including philosophy, religious studies, psychology, and mental health. (This is the third in a series of events, following successful events in Nairobi 2018 and Accra 2019.)

The conference will be held at Makerere University. A small amount of funding is available to help with travel and accommodation for scholars in the region.  

DATES: 27thto 28thFebruary 2020.

TIME: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

VENUE: Makerere University, Kampala

Organising Committee

The event is being organised by Professor Archangel Rukooko Byaruhanga, Dr.  Grace Kibanja, Dr.  Ferdinand Kasozi from Makerere University. And Professor Tom Stoneham, and Dr Robert Davies from the University of York. 

Inquiries about the event can be directed to Dr.  Grace Kibanja (, Dr.  Ferdinand Kasozi ( and Dr Robert Davies (

Call for Abstracts

Scholars are invited to send abstracts not exceeding three hundred (300) words for papers not exceeding 45 minutes speaking time, on any or several of the following questions, broadly construed, with an African orientation:

·     What are dreams?

·     What causes us to dream?

·     Why are dreams so strange?

·     Do dreams have a function?

·     What can we learn from someone’s dreams?

Abstracts should be sent to Dr.  Grace Kibanja (, Dr.  Ferdinand Kasozi ( and Dr Robert Davies ( by 17thJanuary 2020 at the latest.


Conference Focus

A ‘standard model’ of dreaming heavily influences academic theory and clinical practice (e.g. in psychotherapy), but relies on assumptions that that pay insufficient attention to deep cultural differences on issues of what dreams are, and what causes them.

According to the standard model of dreaming, while we are in deep sleep we undergo long and complex sequences of vivid quasi-perceptual experiences, which have a loose and often incoherent narrative structure, often with impossible events occurring, and which cause strong, predominantly negative, emotional reactions. Upon waking up we sometimes recall these, though our memory is patchy. Some people report much richer and more distinctive dreams than others, others (very few) claim never to dream. 

The familiarity of waking up from a dream and recalling (some of) the details causes us to overlook quite how puzzling and sui generis this psychological phenomenon is. Some examples should make this puzzle clearer:

While the phenomenon of recalling a dream feels to the subject like remembering a conscious experience they had during sleep, it is not at all like memory of waking conscious experience. (Try to remember what you had for dinner two days ago and now try to remember what you dreamed two days ago: it is likely that you will only succeed in the second task if you kept a dream diary or had a special dream you told someone about.) Furthermore, working on this assumption that dream recall is recollection, some researchers have claimed that we instantly forget more than 80% of our dreams. Why should we think those forgotten nocturnal events were conscious experiences in the first place?

Most cultures have a tradition that eating certain foods will give you bad dreams. In some cultures it is cheese (and in others beans or cabbage): but we know that cheese is not psycho-active when we are awake, so why are we not puzzled by its being psycho-active in sleep? And why are there so few traditions of foods giving us good dreams (rather than dreamless sleep)?

Many of the characteristic features of dreams seem to be culturally specific. While Freud was the first to define oedipal dreams, the relative prevalence of such dream reports in the 20thcentury compared to earlier times suggests that he might have actually brought them about by creating expectations of what dreams should be like. Similarly, in cultures where dreams are believed to embody spiritual communication, people are often visited in dreams, whereas in other cultures we may dream of dead or absent people without being visited by them. 

The meaning attached to dreams is also culturally variable. Many cultures have a tradition that dreams can connect the dreamer to a spiritual realm, either the recently deceased, some non-human spirits, or even the divine. This is often encouraged by religious or spiritual teachings and connected to the potential for dreams to foretell the future or warn the dreamer of impending dangers. This raises an interesting epistemological question: could dreams ever be evidence for a spiritual realm, or does this interpretation of dreams presuppose the acceptance of such a realm? (Perhaps the having of such dreams presupposes the belief in the spiritual by the dreamer?) Famous and trivial examples of dreams coming true abound, but we risk confirmation bias here because they are massively outnumbered by dreams that did not come true.

In contrast, the relentless drive of individualism and the cult of self in western culture over the last 200 years has led to a very different interpretation of dreams: they reveal your hidden self, your real personality. This is a dangerous idea, exacerbating the mental health problems of people with PTSD and complex trauma who suffer nightmares and other parasomnias, but also a peculiarly culturally local one with surprisingly little evidence to back it up.

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