In the late nineteenth century, pioneering Indologist Max Müller sought to lay the grounds for a new academic discipline – a comparative science of religion, that moved beyond the study of western Christian texts and theologies and based upon the principle that “he who knows one knows none”. The unfinished project of pluralizing not only the study of religion but also philosophy and other disciplinary fields within the modern 21st-century academy requires a similar revolution to occur.
As the work of thinkers such as Foucault, Said and Derrida and others began to highlight the link between the dominance of European modes of thought and the might of European imperial power, a realization set in that without the infrastructure of western imperialism the claim to universality of European thought and culture becomes subject to increasing contestation. This is no more apparent than in the growing call for educational institutions – especially at university level, to internationalize and decolonize their curriculum.
As recently as 2015, right wing British newspapers became animated about a new degree in World Philosophies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) driven by student concerns to “decolonize the curriculum”. The university was accused of “banning white European philosophers” from the curriculum, despite the fact that the new degree did no such thing, but sought instead to expand the canon of philosophical traditions under examination to a global scale. Students at Reed College disrupted the delivery of lectures in the capstone Humanities 110 course that has traditionally served as the foundational basis for all humanities education at the college on the grounds that it represented a “white man’s version of civilization”. Under the rubric of Reedies Against Racism (RAR), students demanded that the foundational Humanities course be reformed to reflect global cultural diversity. At roughly the same time Jay Garfield and Bryan van Norden wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call it What It Really Is” where they argued that:
Philosophy as a discipline has a serious diversity problem, with women and minorities underrepresented at all levels among students and faculty, even while the percentage of these groups increases among college students. Part of the problem is the perception that philosophy departments are nothing but temples to the achievement of males of European descent. Our recommendation is straightforward: Those who are comfortable with that perception should confirm it in good faith and defend it honestly; if they cannot do so, we urge them to diversify their faculty and their curriculum. (New York Times May 11 2016)
In 2018, the University of Kent launched its own BA in Global Philosophies, led by Professor Richard E. King, aiming to globalize the study of philosophy and the history of ideas. The challenge however is not one that touches only the narrow disciplinary confines of academic departments of philosophy but speaks to the urgent need for a movement beyond the intellectual horizons established by the last five hundred years of European colonial expansion into Asia, Africa and “the New World”.
The establishment of degree programs aiming to pluralize the very concept of philosophy was also foreshadowed by a heated intellectual debate centered around the question: “can non-Europeans think?”. While the question seems preposterous to any fair-minded person, what stands out about it is not only that it harks back to the essentialist philosophical imperialism of the nineteenth century, or that it appears against the backdrop of a worldwide resurgence of racist and religious nationalisms and the concomitant retreat of globalist thinking, but that it has been seriously and vigorously debated over the last 15 years ago within the ranks of leftist thinkers and ideologues. The debate provided two major clues as to why the dominant forms of left-liberal ideology has proven so ineffective in challenging the resurgence of the right wing ideology. First, that left-liberal and the right are culturally and intellectually connected at the hip. Second, that conventional post-colonial and decolonial thought, aside from mere rebuttals, has not provided alternative conceptual resources for responding to the global predicament facing all of us: the dire necessity to find new ways for different traditions of thought to encounter or connect to each other despite their differences.
As a result of this impasse fueled by a neoliberalism run amok, peoples, cultures, political systems, even academic scholars have all retreated into the safety of their various identitarian enclaves. The precarity of this moment demands an urgent response which injects genuine pluralism back into the very process of thinking. To do this it is necessary to challenge the privileged position that the discipline of “philosophy”, or “philosophy” as an order-word, has exerted over the goals, terms and stakes of locating and affirming “thought” outside of the Anglo-Europhone, neo-colonial West/global North – primarily by unlearning the methodological impulses to “compare” rather than imagine difference in other ways. We therefore propose a project called geophilosophies.
About the Project
The geophilosophies project compliments the progressive work being done in the field of World Philosophies exemplified by the publications projects led by Professor Monika-Kirloskar Steinbach who started the Journal of World Philosophies and edits two book series in the World Philosophies with Bloomsbury Publishing. To these existing endeavors, the geophilosophies project adds a blog, podcast and webinar series.
PODCAST: Podcast episodes will consist of an interview, conversation or debate with a scholar who has recently, or in the past, published an article with something to say to the general public. Within each episode one of our editors or guest editors will engage the scholar about her or his article through a series of questions, with the aim of translating difficult ideas into a language understandable by a wide ranging public.
WEBINARS: The webinar is essentially a research forum for scholars to present new research in that resonates with the broader themes of the geophilosophies series. Each meeting will consist of two main presentations (30-40 min) followed by a book colloquium. We invite graduate students, established scholars and independent researchers to send us abstracts or titles of papers they may wish to present.
BLOG: We welcome blogs from independent researchers, activists, artists and scholars on any topic related directly or tangentially to the field of geophilosophies, but especially written pieces on current fast-moving issues that require a speedier mode of communication. Blogs should be between 300 and 1500 words long.