Facebook showed me what I was doing this time of year, three years ago… I was in Vienna – for the first time (if I do not count changing trains from the Netherlands to Hungary some 30 years ago and having coffee at the railway restaurant). And despite the feelings of alienation walking along the wide imperial streets lined with high-horsed men and women who once ruled the center of Europe, I fell in love with the city. Where power is concentrated, where its evils are planned and perpetrated, subversion and rebellion live too – and that ambiguous mix provides a space to think – always.

The city where Karl Popper as a student joined a communist organized protest, and became the philosopher of piecemeal engineering, after experiencing what the death at the hands of the police of some of the young protestors did to him. In an interview made for Dutch television, Popper tells of this experience (from 4:04-6:20):

A bit earlier in the same video, at 2:22, he discloses his feelings as a teenager about the fall of the Habsburg Empire after WW I – making him a philosopher who lived through, and reflected on, one of the major crises of the 20th century.

In that same city remembering power and disgrace, now philosophers from many continents were gathering to spend time to push African Philosophy forward.

All the same, Austria in 2017 denied like six potential attendants of the conference from Kenya and Nigeria their visas, for no clear reason. It has to mentioned. Always. We should not mention only those who are present, who gained powerful passports or positions to get them a better chance at a visa, but also those who are absent, whose experiences for sure would challenge the field even more.

And this year, 2020, as my previous post showed, I came back to Vienna, to spend time with thinkers from even more continents to discuss ways to decolonize our work and efforts to understand the world. After I returned I fell ill – had I picked up the virus in the city that saw one of the first major outbreaks of covid19 in Europe? I couldn’t get tested, my case was not serious enough according to the hastily drawn up regulations, so I had to isolate and see how to manage. It felt serious, although it started with only some throat pains, it slowly deteriorated to being at an energy level that barely was enough to take care of my daily needs. And to isolate. Enough time to fret, to worry, and to think.

And when I was improving a bit, work pushed and pulled immediately – students had to be taught, given assignments and graded, and more energy to write a blog post lacked. Not that I didn’t think of anything to post – on the contrary, every day new topics would come up in my head. But it somehow seems harder to speak publicly in times of covid. Not only because of one’s own situation – but because of the situation of the world. Everything seems to be shifting, and it is hard to say anything. People are angry, throwing ancient statues from their sockets. People are confused – seeking fast alliances – and as an involved philosopher, you look on – where we are going, before you can speak again.

Something is ending, that is for sure. The challenge is to think how to avoid unnecessary suffering and death in this ending – yes, I feel what Popper felt when the Austrian empire was trembing in its vestiges and falling. Popper also saw the rise of European racism in the 1930s and made sure to get a job in a faraway country where he – a Jew according to nazi ideas – would be safe. That country would be New Zealand, where he wrote his Open Society. While discussing views of history in philosophy – being especially critical of Marx and Hegel, this work implicitly tells us of the end of Europe, and aims to devise strategies for people to survive in a new world, a world where the statues no longer rule:

“If we think that history progresses, or that we are bound to progress, then we commit the same mistake as those who believe that history has a meaning that can be discovered in it and need not be given to it. … Instead of posing as prophets we must become the makers of our fate. … And when we have dropped the idea that the history of power will be our judge, when we have given up worrying whether or not history will justify us, then one day perhaps we may succeed in getting power under control.”

(Karl Popper, 2002 [1945], 556-557)

I don’t know how to end this post. I just thought it was worthwhile to remember some of the experiences and reflections of this exiled thinker, who did not want to be driven by ressentment, nor by mistaken utopianism, but who tried to make the best of it.

Just returned from one of the two international trips I expect to make for philosophy this year. From Vienna, a city I only visited for the second time, and shorter than the first time… The first time I saw her grandiose avenues, with all the towering sculptures of emperors and empresses. I also saw her silent, closed, street views – when I went river-wards to see the famous, crazy Hundertwasser house.

This time I walked the other way, right through the older city center, with medieval looking porches and little streets interspersed between – more grandiose palaces and her magnificent Dom.

I walked to the Center for Science and Culture, where I was invited to take part in an experimental style netwerk meeting on Intercultural Philosophy and Post-/De-colonial Theory. Experimental, as it didn’t want to use the hierarchical conference style, with the established professors holding keynotes for a large audience, and the younger scholars having to compete for attention in parallel sessions. How you do academic work matters. The Vienna group, which has organized such events for several years now, wanted to create a space where younger and older, students, researchers and professors, could meet as in… a meeting!

The meeting did start with lectures, like the one by Babacar Mbaye Diop from Senegal (on museums and looted art), and by Renate Schepen (on time and afrofuturism), but even then the time planned for discussion with all those present was way more than at a regular conference, where consuming information is often more important than reflection. In the afternoon session now there was text-discussion, close reading, as it might have been a seminar group – but now with people from across the globe who were partly new to each other. The text at the center was Felwine Sarr’s Afrotopia, of which we weren’t sure how to classify it – as an essay, a manifesto…?

The second day brought another exciting turn, with three presentations rooted in Latin-American experience, among others by Rolando Vazquez. Vazquez made sure to delineate the concepts of postcoloniality and decoloniality from each other, as sharp as possible. Postcoloniality would be the critique of the colonial enterprise by its victims wanting to occupy modernity themselves, whilst decoloniality would be a similar critique which, however, rejected modernity as a way of being in the world. Insight was thus gained, but historically, I wondered, whether thus overlappings among experiences and motives of those oppressed by coloniality were not obfuscated. Here arose just one of the many interesting points of discussion and dialogue of the meeting, which asks to be pursued in a next one.

An even deeper question is how action and reflection hang together. And how their relation mirrors the one between intercultural philosophy and de-/postcolonial theory. Is our aim to construct instruments for change rooted in conceptual representations of suffering? To deconstruct hegemonic structures of thought? Or to ask open reflective questions and build spaces for dialogue? To me the most inspiring aspect of this meeting was the confidence that nobody present would want to decide on one of those approaches. We all seemed to realize that none of them can be fruitful without the others.

And what better place could provide that space for thought than the town where Hundertwasser is so present – whose houses integrated in living nature (after only decades) now are present in so many city planning projects. Green roofs, living areas without cars, a ‘human’ scale of living – he foresaw our need of them and pushed to create them. Maybe, hopefully our theorizing and discussing may also produce some ideas of use for a way of life not based on abuse by humans of humans, and of all other persons.

It is already two weeks ago that I met the ten international students who had enrolled in the Winter Course Intercultural Philosophy and Postcolonial Theory. A tiny room in the Mathematics and Sciences building (for rooms are always scarce since our university population outgrew its premises) barely held them and the teachers’ team: Dr. Louise Müller, Dr. Pius Mosima, and myself. For all it was an experiment, initiated by an invitation of the organizers of the Vrije Universiteit Winter School to submit an idea for a course.

Opening speech for the whole Winter School by the director of the International Office of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Our idea was to get this interdisciplinary and intercontinental team together to teach this interdisciplinary and intercontinental class. The organizers liked the idea. We spent much time in advertizing the course, and the result was worth it – there were in fact 11 paying students, but – it has to mentioned, sadly enough: one of our African students didn’t obtain her visa. Later we heard that from the other proposals several had to retract because of failing numbers of enrollments. We are happy that so many were attracted by our topic, and if a second edition will take place, or maybe a summer school version, I am confident even more students will partake.

As an extra Dr. Müller had organized a boat tour through Amsterdam’s canals, provided by the Black Heritage Tours on the Sunday before we started – a welcome contextualizing and bonding event. Here you don’t get the success story of the enterprizing Dutch, but how this story was built on slave labor and legalized abuse of human beings. The tour focuses on slavery and the role the Netherlands played in it, but also tells about the free blacks neighborhood that existed in the 17th century and shows other traces of how Africans were present in Amsterdam’s history.

The course itself was an intensive five days, with lectures in the morning by the teaching team taking turns, and seminars with student presentations and text discussions in the afternoons. The planning of the course seemed to work well. But what you cannot predict is how the people who enroll will connect, and whether a true group will be formed. It was very encouraging to see this happened immediately and spontaneously: soon the discussion page of our internet space on canvas filled up with extra materials the students were sharing with each other, and their willingness to learn from each other’s learning and research challenges was enormous. Also the atmosphere was – as hoped – intercultural, open and inclusive.

What more can I say then a big THANK YOU to all the participants who made this first ever graduate course (class) in Intercultural Philosophy and Postcolonial Theory possible. Hope to hear again from your research and endeavors in the future. And let us wish we can take this course also to other places!

Two of the participants were so kind to also write their own impression for this blog, and I will give these here below.

Victor Nweke wrote: “The VU Amsterdam Winter Course –  ‘Intercultural’ Philosophy and Postcolonial ‘Theory’: ‘Dialogue’ and ‘Discourse – is unique in many ways. What interest me most is the fact that it was a transcultural, transnational and transdisciplinary meeting of established and budding scholars struggling to understand and express themselves through interpersonal conversations. As a seeker of meaning in life, I would love to attend it as many times as possible from any location of the earth. The Amsterdam Slave Heritage Tour was great. Nonetheless, I think the Tour would have been much more lively if it was done in the middle of the course when all participants have become aware of their interconnections as members of the same species. The Boat Tour brought healing memories of the Cape of Agony in different parts of my Motherland.”

Surekha Raven wrote: “I am a Master’s Student in organizational anthropology and attended the course in preparation of my master’s thesis. The teachers are extremely knowledgeable and helpful and the course absolutely exceeded my expectations. The choice of literature fitted the objectives and I gained a lot of new insights for my master’s thesis. The variety in professional, educational and cultural backgrounds of both the teachers and the students made the lectures and our discussions even more engaged and productive. I especially liked the interdisciplinary, intercultural approach, truly inspiring and promising for a philosophy of the future.”

Our interdisciplinary and intercontinental class at the final day.

 

When I tell about my engaged research into shamanism and shamanistic cultures, I have often encountered the same idea: that I am into a romantic idea called ‘back to nature’, that I idealize non-modern cultures, in short – that I am, somehow, loosening the high standards of philosophical reason that modern Western culture has reached.

This idea encountered me when I had written my first book on nature ‘Terugkeer van de natuur’ (The Return of Nature’). The title, as it happens, was more the idea of the publisher. My own title was considered too difficult, but of course, philosophically, it was much more clear, and would have prevented some of the romantic misunderstandings. It was ‘Nature as metaphor’. I wanted to show that through the concept of nature we express our deepest existential experiences, experiences which already presuppose ourselves as agents. Nature can never be observed as something ‘outside’.

And this – making it into something ‘outside’ is what is happening in our times – where indigenous peoples are persistantly being ‘finished off’ by large scale agriculture and extraction of crude resources by companies entering and overtaking their lands. All means seem allowed, from inventing new laws that make their traditional way of life illegal, to expulsion, to ‘helping’ them to settle down, to letting murders of shamans and protectors unpunished. The indigenous peoples who have up till now resisted modern ways of life have often done so by retracting into less inhabitable, less penetrable areas.

This morning I happened upon this well-done, non-romantic documentary (in German) on shamanism in present-day Mongolia. What is important if one doesn’t want to remain stuck in the standard ideas on shamanistic cultures, is to postpone one’s judgments and to listen to what the shamans themselves have to say. They are not voiceless, they are not ignorant about what they reject. They are clear about their views and goals. Still they are seldomly listened to.

One of these shamans, Ganbat Sandag, to be seen near the end of the film, says it clearly: ‘without us, without our way of life (that of the reindeer herds and hunters) this nature would not be that wild anymore as it is up till now’ (my paraphrase). In these words the key to the shamanistic understanding of our (human) relation to the world is given:

‘Wild’ does not mean ‘untouched by humans’ (that would be romantic), wild is what has been kept in a certain state by humans – in cooperation of course with the other creatures in that ‘world’. Nothing is untouched, is uncreated, is un-kept, un-domesticated.

The question is how we touch, how we domesticate, what kind of home we make and keep, and for whom. Modern capital in its more ugly forms (visible in the docu in the extraction of valuables from the mountains in the area, an activity that releases toxic substances, that in turn cause illnesses in the human and non-human population) destroys ‘wild’ homes, to create cheap, large scale, short-lived homeliness for the poor masses it first created and then transformed into customers.

Capital needs ‘wild’ nature outside of civilization – to create an image of conservation and space for its poor consumers – but in that wild nature the conservators, the hunters, are not allowed to live their lives anymore. All over the world traditional hunters are ‘hunted’ down by new laws and conservationist organisations (google some of the issues in which WWF is involved in Central Africa, for example).

What is at stake is a deeply philosophical issue: how we understand the human relations to nature – nature in us, us in nature or nature outside, and us outside of nature (then where will we be…?).

Ganbat Sandag says it clearly: ‘if we cannot hunt anymore, this way of life will disappear, and the reindeer will disappear as well.’

The difference of insight, and the bone of contention is thus: what is wild nature? The shamanistic peoples say – it is the nature that we have been preserving like this for ages. The modern peoples say – you get out of there, become sedentary like us, and leave ‘nature’ to itself. That, I agree with this shaman, is a romantic mistake.

When going against the grain is one’s natural tendency, living in harmony with one’s surroundings is a challenge. When ‘everybody’ says I should read book X, or see movie Y, the chances are strongest I will not go and read it, or go and see it. Such an almost anarchistic tendency makes learning also difficult, because one is suspicious towards the very phenomenon of the teacher.

So when I was finding my way in this new field of African Philosophy, ever since I read Heinz Kimmerle’s Mazungumzo, in 2003, I had this same tendency to find my way through obscure articles and not-so-well-known books, instead of working my way straightforwardly through the classics of the field – such as the works of Oruka, Wiredu, and Hountondji.

I also had a problem understanding – years ago – why Hountondji had criticized Bantu Philosophy by the missionary Tempels so strongly, as the ‘othering’ undertaking of a colonial mind. Back then I had not yet realized the flaws in the French and English translations of Tempels’ work, nor had I fully understood the context in which African philosophers since the days of Tempels had been working – how much work it had taken to undo the colonial heritage – by criticizing, discussing, dialoguing, which has made many among them the masters of these philosophical arts in our times.

And now, last week, having read so much more, and therefore having become more humble in my opinions, I finally went to listen to a lecture by the teacher of decades – to be a student once more.

It was in Leiden, Pieter Boele van Hensbroek had organized his trip, and the Africa Studies Center was so kind to host the lecture. The topic of the afternoon was religion, politics, the state, the law – all set in the specific history of the Methodist Church in Benin. I heard later that some were surprised that the philosopher who had earlier stressed that African philosophy has a universalist intention, like all philosophy, and should not be seen as local and cultured, now focused so much on such a ‘local’, specific topic, bringing out a religious point at the end, that God can never be finally known by human beings.

The most localized remark Hountondji made was how the Catholic Basilica in Ouidah is built right across the House where snakes are revered, suggesting that traditional African religion is just as important, if not more important to life as it is, than the imported Christian and Muslim religions. Still he did not focus on the traditions, which might have satisfied the curious Dutch public, always fascinated by an ‘exotic’ story. They got mostly history, and conflict, and a philosophical weighing of interests of humans in society, that should bring us mostly to valuing the law over personal interests.

In the end it was a ‘universal’ weighing of arguments on the occasion of local historical facts – showing his listeners that it was time now to follow him to what is of interest to us all in these times – to not forget that the perseverance of human values takes work, and courage, and persistence of us all.

Now there was a possibility as well have a photo taken with this independent thinker who had helped shape African philosophy by critically discussing its scope and aims, and who carried within him many decades of experience with our world, with reflecting, and with teaching. A student of Wageningen University who had come to listen too was so kind to take it. Here it is.

Paulin Hountondji with members of the Dutch research group African Intercultural Philosophy

This is the name of the newest study group in the framework of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy. This week, on December 12, 2019, it held its first meeting, at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The group will meet twice a year and wants to create a collegial, inclusive and friendly meeting place for those working in African Philosophy in the Netherlands in an academic context. Exchanging knowledge and experiences should keep research and teaching in the field in our country on a high level, and expand it from there.

The group aims to make African Intercultural Philosophy visible as an academic field. There is a lot of interest in African Philosophy outside academia in our country, but within, it is still in its first stages – with here and there a course taught, and a researcher working mostly in isolation (locally, though often not internationally).

As our OZSW page says: “The group focuses on the Intercultural Approach in African Philosophy, which has from the start of the academic study of African Philosophy been an important point of departure. It aims to study, discuss and bring African Philosophy further in ways that stress its meaning in and for a globalizing philosophy.” Thus we make clear that we do not view African philosophy as something contained in certain cultures, or which concerns only ‘local’ problems or traditions. African philosophy, on the contrary, offers much to enrich philosophy from other traditions and also a ‘globalizing’ philosophy.

The group hopes to raise consciousness in universities to introduce courses on African Philosophy in their programs, and perhaps even inspire the initialization of a master program for those wanting to specialize in it. It also hopes to increase collaboration in supervising of PhD students, of whom several were present yesterday. It may be a vehicle to organize or inspire conferences and make intercontinental collaborations easier. Attention to the issue of the closedness of Western philosophy (materially through visa and travel problems for philosophers from the African continent, and mentally through exclusionary epistemological frameworks) is not a side issue.

We want to articulate the field as deserving its own programs and conferences, not to be an afterthought in ethnology or ‘general’ philosophy. Finally, we want to exchange research findings, and collaborate in publishing projects. This first meeting Dr Henk Haenen (to our knowledge the second person ever to do a PhD in African Philosophy in the Netherlands) held a presentation on the concept of beauty in the work of Woly Soyinka, a topic which managed to raise in the discussion all the major issues concerning ‘African’ philosophy and African ‘philosophy that makes this field so exciting.

Our call: if you teach African Philosophy or if you research it at an academic level in the Netherlands, then you are invited to join the research group, in order to enrich each other and help this important field grow in depth and outreach. You can reach us through our page which is behind the top-most link in this post.

The occasion of our first meeting called for a photo moment. Not all members could be present this time, so this is only a small part of our group!

Compared to the craze about their most famous 17th century painter, Rembrandt, the Dutch treat their most famous 17th century philosopher, Spinoza, with heavy neglect. Just recently an African professor narrated me how strange it was to him to try to find the house where Spinoza lived in Rijnsburg, stepping from the bus and seeing no signs. And how strange it was to him as well to notice that the house itself didn’t provide much information about his life and work. He is not alone. Many of those visiting the Netherlands from all over the world try to find traces of the famous philosopher, and find not more than a few crumbs. Crumbs that would not even have been there but for the hard work of a few dedicated volunteers…

Today I had a meeting with one of the volunteers involved in trying to do something about this, by writing texts to be provided in the one room in Spinoza’s last house in the Hague, which can be visited two hours a week. Wim Goris has done his own research into several aspects of Spinoza’s life, such as his food, his means of transport, and also of his death – to wit, his burial. We were having a coffee in the building next to the little elevated grassfield in the center of the Hague, where Spinoza’s remains are supposed to have been scattered with many others. Wim explained that the café used to be the house of the warden of the New Church where Spinoza had been buried by his friends in a rental grave of 12 guilders. And naturally, we were contemplating the little amount of interest there had been up till now on the precise facts of his burial and what had happened to his bones.

That there had been a grave was not even known to me before. I had visited the monument on the burial area several times, but had never thought much about Spinoza’s bones, as I had this vague idea that they were scattered and never had a clear location. Of course I had my photo taken there as many others will have too. But I had – I confess – thought more of how to use it on social media than of the remains of the thinker with whose work I had communicated on a daily basis for almost nine years, when I did my PhD research in the 1990s.

But now, over coffee, we spoke of why his philosophy still appeals to so many readers, even if it has so often been misinterpreted even by serious scholars. It must be because he reflected on life as it is. On its finitude and the sense of eternity that we can even have amidst all change and perishing. On the connectedness of human life to all other life, our bodily, emotive, thinking and spiritual constitution – he tried to think it all together in an age that tried to split it all up. That must be one of the reasons why there is so much interest in his work in places like Japan, and in most African countries – places where practices of life as connected and interconnected have been preserved amidst the inevitable disconnecting forces of modernization.

Duting that conversation I suddenly wanted to know, for the first time, where the bones are, like one can in the case of a Christian saint for whose remains a golden box is placed in a cathedral, or at least a stone vault. I noted by myself that it is not stupid to want to connect to the actual remains of someone whose life has added greatly to human understanding. It helps to be aware, in the moment, in the body one is in now, of the meaning he created, or channeled in his life.

Drinking our coffees, we had to comfort ourselves with the realization that his remains were at least somewhere in that little grass field outside the café. They will have been returned into the cycle of life to such an extent, after three hundred plus years, that he will be there just somehow, in the place, in the air maybe even.

Maybe it was that moment, in a conversation, where I said to a relatively new friend, that I had four friends in philosophy: Jesus, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Derrida. It was an intellectual conversation, in which humor and reflection naturally mixed. After I went home I thought back to that confession, and realized – of course – I had mentioned no women. Why? I noticed something else – that Nietzsche was the only non-Jew in the group. Well, now my mind was looking for all kinds of secondary things, of course, free-wheeling, whereas the joking remark in fact was meant to say something about me – to give some fragments from which to build my portrait: the shamanistic, zen-riddle loving, nature metaphysic, deconstructive playing, strongheaded woman-girl. One can build that portrait not because I am like them. Not because they are like me. Because I like to be with them, my mind likes to play with theirs. They are my friends.

Now two days later I woke up very early, from a dream, in which I was meeting Derrida. I finally had the chance to check some things about his philosophy with him, while we were having a short conversation, so I did. And he answered seriously and very much to the point. I realized I had to remember what he said, what I said, as this conversation was giving me these unique pieces of understanding I had been looking for. But when the dream ended, and I immediately tried to recover it, I found it was already gone! In the dream, the conversation was also not long. There were many women, some of whom he had a relationship with, maybe his wife was there amongst them. Everybody wanted to talk to him, because it was so unique that he had returned from the dead just for this one evening. In fact we were all gathered at a party to celebrate this and be with him and enjoy the evening.

We went up, in a lift/elevator, and I was told we were going to the 50th floor or so, the top of the building. I was a bit scared, as it was so high, and far below us was the ground. On the top of this building was a tropical garden, planted on both sides of this completely square walking path, and it was a gorgeous summer evening with a pinkish honey-fluid sky and the palm trees softly rustling. Waiters were walking around with drinks, the gathered friends were finding their way after coming out of the lift, in the lush garden, and there I spoke briefly and philosophically with him, before he was claimed by someone else who wanted to use this brief moment that he was amongst us again. Before returning to the other world once more. He would be there just for this one evening. For this return/farewell party.

So I spoke too short with my philosophical friend, he would vanish once more, and on his/our friend-party he was soon mingling with too many people. On top I forgot the important checked aspects of his philosophy. Still I felt remarkably satisfied and at peace, finally, to have spoken with him and touched on these open spaces in his work or in my understanding or in whatever web we were in, weaving along with all the others before and after us. Almost established their meaning. And forgotten. And enjoyed. If you can still follow me, that is the kind of philosophical friendship that characterizes me, and that is me.

This was the weirdest blog post of them all, I guess. that means, considering style. The content is clear, of course. For who understands. Interpretations are welcome. Deconstructive ones please. Or shamanistic ones. Or zen ones. Or nature metaphysic ones. No theological, Freudian, or Jungian ones – they won’t do.

An impression? In this direction? New York-ish?

No credits defined, photo taken from this website

A good two months ago I wrote my latest piece here, introducing the course I was about to teach, outlining thoughts and reflections that had guided me through its design. Now the course has been completed: we read great texts from very diverse points of view, heard guest lecturers, watched films. Presentations were held by the students, critical reviews of the texts written. We discussed, debated from our developing frameworks of reflection, and had ‘live’ evaluations of what was learned, and how.

Now, finally seventeen end papers have been written and graded, and I am truly amazed at the work done by all, also by those who due to conflicting rosters or other reasons could not finish all the work. My pedagogical intention was not to get to a predefined level so much, although the minimal level to be attained of course was clear, but to stimulate everyone – inasmuch as possible – to develop their own critical minds and views of what philosophy is and can do.

What interesting group conversations on the literature we had! Where each participant brought their own life experiences and study background to fragments of books like Gender Trouble (Judith Butler), The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon) or On Reason (Emmanuel Eze). Two films we watched added to the learning experience, as many scenes came back in the discussions later on. They were Lumières Noires, and On Violence. The contributions of my two excellent guest lecturers, Louise Müller and Annemie Halsema, who helped me introduce the subjects of Euro-American and African feminist theory, were invaluable.

There were exciting new ways to see things, and challenges in the way to express and discuss the developing views. The choice of texts and themes proved to provide a good framework for the work done. The (partly international) students had different disciplinary backgrounds, still all did the readings with good effect. A challenge was how to relate the texts to present day issues, in which sometimes personal life experiences are at stake.

How to speak, how to listen, how to give a personal opinion, or how to defend a position academically, even without it being my opinion – which place, and what space, should we give to our personal experiences, and how can we be critical philosophers, and caring persons simultaneously? All such questions at one point or another popped up and needed attention – a vulnerable and valuable process of learning for teacher and students. Without entering into it, engaged, or involved, philosophy cannot be done.

Beforehand, in my latest blog post I wrote: “how I like to teach philosophy: as a series of ways to stimulate and improve the reflective potential that is already here – in actual students who enter class – with all their different backgrounds, vulnerabilities and talents.” in hope that “they can learn not only from the materials offered, but also from each other, and from themselves, as they go through the step by step transformations that life asks from us, and that philosophical studies speed up.” It is to the students to decide if my hopes for them worked out. They certainly entered the process together and with me earnestly and committedly.

A valuable bonus was the initiative, by one of the students, to do an outing after the papers were written, in the spirit of diversifying our outlook and opening our minds. Even though, with cold november rains and other obligations not many could join on that day, our visit to the exhibition on Surinam (in precolonial times, during colonization by the Dutch and after independence) in Amsterdam was a very nice conclusion. I may add an outing to the official program, next year!

Below two of the students and the author in the room representing dress styles of Surinam’s different peoples.

A few years ago my department was shaken by a little revolution: a group of students were protesting that our curriculum was too un-diverse. They were persistent, and connected to similar movements in our university as a whole as well as in other universities, and in the end they claimed a small victory: a new course would be added to the curriculum of the Philosophy Bachelor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which would give room to more diverse ways to learn about and to practice philosophy.

At the same time their victory could also be seen as a defeat – their idea was, namely, to diversify all courses. To introduce feminist perspectives especially and put more works of female philosophers on the reading lists. That goal now has been left to the informal effects of their efforts. What was gained was this one course. It now carries the responsibility to balance our program by introducing ‘diverse’ philosophy works.

The honor to teach this new course has been bestowed on me, for which I am thankful, as it posed a challenge to me as well. I had to reflect first, when designing the outline in more detail, on the meaning of that expression: a diverse philosophy. What is it? And how can one diversify philosophy? By what means?

In that public debate in our department, early 2016, one of our professors claimed that the specialization he taught, Ethics, already had many female authors on the reading list. That would be no surprise, as indeed, there are many important philosophers active in that field, and among the younger generations (45 down) there are ever more. The professors responsible for the History of Philosophy had a harder time, as they held on to the idea that we should dedicate enough time to the ‘Great Thinkers’, which would leave not so much room for the female species among thinkers.

Not much was said in that meeting about other important aspects (like hiring procedures) in which we needed to ‘diversify’ – as black, muslim, or otherwise non-white persons rarely occupy academic teaching positions in Dutch Philosophy Departments. Things will change rapidly in that respect, however, let me prophecy here – as international hiring procedures will increasingly put candidates in the spotlight that before were never considered.

So how to do it? Diversify? Let’s begin by saying it asks for a mindset that opens up for difference. All kinds of difference. Not just difference of racial group, gender, religion, culture – but differences also in temperament, in personal histories, in ways in which each one of us is vulnerable in some or other aspect of life. Amanda may have a slight hearing problem, Xavier an undiagnosed form of Asperger’s syndrome. Marianne may suffer from intergenerational trauma because her parents were refugees, or victims of the last war. Jim may have a problem to express himself verbally, and Sandra to slow down her pace in group discussions – and both may have issues with sharing their thoughts in seminars. On top of such issues which often are invisible, we have vulnerabilities that are related to class, race and gender. Or to not fitting in heteronormative cultural patterns society lays out for us. Diversifying means being open to all of these things. It means understanding that thinking is something real people with real desires and problems do. Not disembodied geniuses, nor ‘minds’.

Diverse philosophy is – as an effect of the above, also critical. It gets suspicious if philosophy claims to have a ‘bird’s eye view’, sees things from the standpoint of ‘pure reason’ or ‘sub specie aeternitate’. Such claims can indicate the kind of decontextualized, disembodied approach that may stand for some form of supression of difference. This does not mean a philosopher like Kant should get less attention in a diverse program. Of course not, he influenced the modern world in unimaginable ways. He could be read paired with critical readings of his work, such as done by Emmanuel Eze, for instance in his work on a post-racial future for humanity.

My task is not, however, to diversify the entire program, but only to add – as spice to a lavish dish – one course to a curriculum which aims to provide a classical training in philosophy. As an added extra. That is an interesting position. Marginal and central as well – depending on the way one looks at it. I will take up the challenge.

After serious deliberation I decided to design the course as an introduction into different ways in which the traditional canon of ‘great thinkers’ of Euro-American origin can be perceived and read critically. Not adding just ‘diverse’ thinkers, but moreover discovering perspectives that students can try out and see how they work for their own thinking. We will delve into postcolonial, feminist, queer and race-critical perspectives, which unhinge the standard ways in which Philosophy as a discipline has been handed down since the late 18th century.

This reflects how I like to teach philosophy: as a series of ways to stimulate and improve the reflective potential that is already here – in actual students who enter class – with all their different backgrounds, vulnerabilities and talents. My hope is they can learn not only from the materials offered, but also from each other, and from themselves, as they go through the step by step transformations that life asks from us, and that philosophical studies speed up.

Looking forward to the start, and to learn from the process myself. As of next week, September 2nd, 2019.