World Philosophies in Context

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

The module ‘World Philosophies in Context’ introduces students to some of the major themes in philosophical thought as they have emerged within particular social and political environments. Focusing primarily on the early period of systematic thought in India, China and the Islamic world as well as in Europe, the course emphasises the importance of understanding the institutional structures within which systems of knowledge are built and the intellectual networks that disseminate and transform philosophical culture. Whether in the city-states of Classical Greece, the early courts of China, the monasteries of India and Tibet or the modern university, philosophy is a lived social practice; to understand its productive energy is to understand its place and function within its unique socio-political environment. Rather than tracing the nuances of sometimes arcane philosophical problems, we will attempt to define the broader field wherein such problems assume a significance. We will do this by identifying those key themes around which philosophical debate in a given context has developed, and then exploring what is at stake in the disagreements between proponents of competing ideas. The purpose of the module is not to provide a comprehensive survey of world philosophies, but to encourage students to explore the diverse forces in response to which we shape our thought.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Identify key themes within the philosophical traditions of India, China, the Islamic World and Europe.
  • Discuss philosophical ideas of these traditions within their historical, political and social contexts.
  • Evaluate the relationship between speculative ideas and the socio-political contexts in which they arise, circulate, develop and change.
  • Distinguish between certain established philosophical positions, such as Realism and Idealism, Consequentialism and Deontology, Pluralism and Monism, etc.
  • Place key stages in the development of certain major philosophical traditions within their historical context, and thus have a framework to pursue more advanced modules productively.

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: History, Sociology and 'Philosophical' Culture.
Week 2: The Practice of Philosophy from Greek City-State through Roman Empire.
Week 3: Nature, Politics and Ethics in Ancient China
Week 4: Ritualism, Reasoning and Renunciation in Ancient India
Week 5: Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism in Imperial China
Week 6: Religion and Reason in the Islamic World
Week 7: Religion and Reason in the Latin West
Week 8: Math, Science and Philosophy
Week 9: Secularisation and the Intellectual Sphere
Week 10: Philosophy and the German University
Week 11: Philosophical Cultures in the Contemporary World

Method of assessment

  • One essay of 1,000 words OR video essay or multimedia presentation (5 minutes, 3 pages/slides)-(30%)
  • One essay of 2,000 words OR video essay or multimedia presentation (10 minutes, 5-10 pages/slides)-(70%)

Suggested reading

  • Collins, Randall. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Belknap, 1998. [SOAS e-Book]
  • Cooper, David E. World Philosophies: An Historical Introduction. 2nd Ed. Blackwell, 2003. [SOAS possesses two copies]
  • Deutsch, Eliot and Ron Bontekoe. A Companion to World Philosophies. Blackwell, 1999. [SOAS A109/919902].


Andrew Hines


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