UK university students want to decolonise syllabus

Decolonising SOAS is a campaign that aims to address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism within the university

By: PTI | London | Published:January 10, 2017 11:37 pm

Students at one of London’s leading universities are calling for famous Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle to be replaced by philosophers from Asia or Africa as part of a wider campaign to “decolonise” the university.

The Student Union at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), well-known as among the few European institutions dedicated to the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, said “white philosophers” should be studied only if required and solely from a “critical standpoint”.

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The union’s proposal to the university reads: “To make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or it’s diaspora. SOAS’ focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora).

“If white philosophers are required, then to teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within.”

According to the union, “Decolonising SOAS” is a campaign that aims to address the “structural and epistemological legacy” of colonialism within the university.

Dr Deborah Johnston, Pro-Director (Learning and Teaching), defended the students: “One of the great strengths of SOAS is that we have always looked at world issues from the perspective of the regions we study – Asia, Africa & Middle East.

“Informed and critical debate and discussion about the curriculum we teach is a healthy and proper part of the academic enterprise.”

However, Erica Hunter, head of Religions and Philosophies at SOAS, felt the union’s viewpoint was “rather ridiculous”.

“I would firmly resist dropping philosophers or historians just because it was fashionable,” she told The Telegraph. The move has divided opinion across social media, with King’s College London’s People of Colour Association coming out in support of SOAS Student Union.

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