SOAS SU in philosophy curriculum controversy

Students at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) will campaign for white philosophers to be largely removed from the curriculum.

The decision to advocate a change to the curriculum comes as part of the student union’s “educational priorities” for 2017. Philosophers such as Kant, Plato and Descartes would be dropped to better represent the university’s focus on Asia and Africa.

The SOAS student union states the campaign to remove white philosophers is part of a wider initiative to “decolonize” university education. The priority given to African and Asian philosophers seeks to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism” within SOAS, they stated.

The proposed curriculum would not totally ban white European philosophers. The union said they could be studied “if required”. The inclusion of white philosophers would be on the basis that these are taught from a “critical standpoint”, acknowledging the “colonial context” in which many of their texts were written.

The SOAS union has received criticism for its decision. Erica Hunter, head of SOAS’s Religion and Philosophy Department, said: “I would firmly resist dropping philosophers or historians just because it was fashionable.”

The union’s announcement comes as many education leaders fear government focus on student satisfaction will increase the power of “snowflake students”. Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, said: “We need to understand the world as it was and not rewrite history as some might like it to have been.”

The proposals have also been praised for their efforts to create a more culturally diverse discussion.

The founder of Black British Academics, Dr Deborah Gabriel, said: “Teaching is often based on very narrow criteria and often tends to be Eurocentric. These students are calling on scholars to meet the criteria of their role to teach from different cultural contexts, it’s something we all should be doing more of.”


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October 2021
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