SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Margins of Philosophy

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

The title of this course, ‘The Margins of Philosophy’, takes its name from an eponymous collection of essays published in 1972 by the French Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Best known for developing the form of analysis known as Deconstruction, his philosophical project can be described as an attempt to expose the foundational claims of philosophy as constituted by its others, by the boundaries it draws up between itself and that which constitutes its ‘outside’. This constitution by the other is something that Philosophy has historically been at pains to deny and to exclude from its self-understanding and yet this other returns to haunt and trouble its self identity. Deconstruction, on the other hand, as Derrida puts it, seeks to make room for the other in order to open up spaces for that (and those) which have been excluded. Deconstruction is intent on opening philosophy up to the non-philosophical, or better, that which is otherwise-than-philosophical, that which philosophy has excluded by claiming to define what it is and what it is not. The goal of such a project is not to shut down philosophy but rather to open it up to new practices and frames of knowledge-making—to invent a new future for philosophy, for world philosophies (and its own exclusions).

This course will thus be concerned with the deconstruction and reconstruction of philosophy from ‘the margins’, primarily examining epistemological arguments about the nature and form of knowledge, truth, subjectivity, and power (and their intersections) from perspectives traditionally marginalised by mainstream philosophy. These perspectives—post- and de-colonial, gender, queer, critical race, and feminist theory—pose profound challenges to the self-understanding and boundaries of Philosophy, particularly its epistemological assumptions and status. Moreover, they make specific claims about the models and systems of power that underwrite philosophy’s claims to provide a holistic, universal account of the world.

The course will begin with an introduction to the poststructuralist paradigm and particularly the work of Jacques Derrida in order to familiarise students with the main tools of his philosophical project, and his role in inaugurating poststructuralism. We will focus particularly on his arguments regarding the self-construction of Philosophy and the exclusions that both enable its identity and undermine its claims for itself. We will also pay attention to the intellectual oeuvres of other influential theorists of the poststructuralist school because their work exercised a strong influence on the core bodies of theory with which the course is primarily concerned. The course will then move to examine in detail, through a discussion of individual scholars, but taking a thematic approach, work that exemplifies epistemological critiques of the discipline of Philosophy as well as the poststructuralist school ‘from the margins’.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

1) Have gained an overview of the broad outlines of Jacques Derrida’s philosophical work, particularly with respect to the potential of deconstruction to challenge the self-identity of philosophy;

(2) Have acquired a solid understanding of the formation of poststructural thought, its key thinkers, and their relationship to each other;

(3) Have acquired a comprehensive understanding of the influence of poststructural thought on a variety of critical theories and philosophies;

(4) Have acquired a deep understanding of the profound challenges that these critical theories pose to the discipline of philosophy in the area of epistemology;

(5) Have reflected on the relevance of these approaches to an understanding of the nature of world philosophies;

(6) Be able to evaluate critically a variety of books, journals and other sources of information relevant to the topics studied on the course

(7) Have produced detailed written work on a number of approved topics relevant to the course.

(8) Have recorded and reflected on his/her/their experience of the subject matter on the course.

(9) Have developed core skills in evaluation, self-reflection, team work, and oral presentation.

Method of assessment

  • AS1- Essay or recorded presentation, 2000 words /20 minutes (30%)
  • AS2- Infographic (20%)
  • AS3- Essay or recorded presentation, 2000 words /20 minutes (30%)
  • AS4- Infographic (20%)

Suggested reading

  • Flood, Gavin (1999) Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion, London and New York: Cassell.
  • Jantzen, Grace (1998) Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • King, Richard (1999) Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East’, New York: Routledge.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules