Decolonising the philosophy curriculum: My experience as a SOAS Co-creator Intern

As a SOAS Co-creator Intern, Danae Miserocchi helped develop the UK's first Decolonising Philosophy Toolkit. Her research into global philosophy modules revealed deep colonial influences, emphasising the need for a more diverse and critical curriculum.

I was one of the four students participating in the Decolonising Philosophy Toolkit SOAS Co-creator Internship. As part of this internship, I did extensive research on philosophy modules and syllabi in higher education institutions across the UK. I was also curious to see how philosophy was taught in other universities worldwide.

We need to understand why certain methods of knowing are deemed ‘superior’ and why others are marginalised and lost.

When looking at some universities in the US, Ethiopia, South Africa and India, that is when I truly realised the extent to which knowledge production and dissemination is part of a wider colonial system. It struck me that almost all non-Western universities I examined had distinct modules on “Western Philosophy” alongside their local or indigenous philosophies, while in the West not only do we rarely learn about Global South philosophies, it can be even frowned upon. That was a clear indicator to me that something is wrong with our system, and it shaped my understanding of what decolonising the curriculum means. 

What does decolonising the curriculum mean?

For me, decolonising the curriculum is a learning process. We must deconstruct and unlearn what we already know about how philosophy is taught; we need to learn the historical contexts and their impact on education and knowledge production. We need to understand why certain methods of knowing are deemed ‘superior’ and why others are marginalised and lost. Only then can someone truly start to notice the colonial influence in our educational systems. Once we recognise this, the path to decolonisation becomes clearer.

Among the internship work streams, which were 1) Framing the Decolonising Philosophy Curriculum Discourse, 2) Critical Pedagogy in Practice, and 3) Traditional vs Decolonial Design of a core module, mine was creating a traditional and a decolonial design of a core philosophy module for which I chose Epistemology. Epistemology was really a great choice to decolonise because it is the practice of learning and questioning how we know what we know.

Bookseller in Amman, Jordan
Image credit: Ayman Yusuf via Unsplash.

Decolonising the module means deconstructing completely the Western notion of knowledge, which is not only important for philosophy students but for any human on this earth if we want to live in peace and mutual understanding. So, in creating a decolonised design for this module, I wanted to make space for feminist, Indigenous, religious, posthumanist and Global South epistemologies, as well as a comprehensive introduction to epistemic violence and epistemic injustice.

Working alongside professors who believed in us and valued our opinions was truly inspiring.

It is important to understand that decolonising a module does not mean eradicating Western philosophers but, rather, giving a holistic education, not just by incorporating Global South philosophers but really structuring a module in a way that allows critical thinking and diverse perspectives. 

What the experience has taught me

Co-creating this handbook has been an invaluable experience. Not only has it opened my eyes to educational systems and decolonial practices, but it has also taught me teamwork and boosted my confidence. 

As a young adult exploring my talents and professional aspirations, working alongside professors who believed in us and valued our opinions was truly inspiring. Their eagerness to listen and help us develop our ideas made a significant impact. I am grateful that our professors at SOAS are so passionate about learning from their students and providing these opportunities. 

I hope the Decolonising Philosophy Toolkit will be the first of many academic resources that help transform one of the pillars of our society: education. Beyond philosophy, I envision this handbook being applied to efforts in decolonising all aspects of education.

About the author

Danae Miserocchi is a student in BA Anthropology and World Philosophies. Her upbringing in seven different countries across the world is what has made her passionate about environmental sustainability and social justice.