SOAS University of London

SOAS Festival of Ideas

SOAS Festival of Ideas: Decolonising Knowledge

On 23 May 2020, SOAS will be hosting the SOAS Festival of Ideas: Decolonising Knowledge, an all-day event which will bring together researchers, students, support staff and the public to discuss decolonising knowledge in ways that are impactful on society at large. 

The Festival is inspired by Achille Mbembe’s series of lectures on decolonising the university in conversation with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa. Mbembe calls for a comprehensive re-evaluation of epistemology, processes of knowledge production and learning in order to accomodate different forms and modes of knowledge and bring together a variety of publics in the act of co-learning. 

We echo Mbembe's call at SOAS, and the Festival is the culmination of a series of student and staff-led initiatives to transform culture and research at SOAS. It responds to a changing higher education environment that demands reconceptualising the role of the university locally and globally.

In addition to the Festival of Ideas, SOAS will be putting on numerous connected events during spring and summer 2020 which share and emphasise the Festival's aims, themes and overarching commitment to decolonising knowledge. See 'Satellite Events' for more details. 

The Festival is proudly sponsored by 

Festival of Ideas - Sponsors - The SOAS Decolonising Working Group, The Research & Enterprise Directorate, The China Institute, The Centre for African Studies, The South Asia Institute, and The UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.

  • Themes
  • Festival Programme
  • Satellite Events
  • Team


The SOAS Festival of Ideas: Decolonising Knowledge builds upon the work of the Decolonising SOAS Working Group, which has driven the agenda to decolonise our teaching, learning and research practice at SOAS, and the work of Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, who has called for universities to act to close the BAME attainment gap. It marks an institution-wide commitment to decolonising education. In particular, it will highlight the School’s unique and growing identity as a place for decolonising history, including our own. The Festival aims to:

• foster connections between research practice, teaching and learning at SOAS;

• enable cross-disciplinary synergies and conversations across SOAS Departments, Centres and Institutes, the library and its galleries;

• build a cohesive research and teaching environment through informal discussions between researchers, students and other staff at SOAS and beyond; and

• enable spaces for public engagement, involving directly the community around SOAS and organisations working for the betterment of community life, especially those working with minorities or marginalised members.


The Festival will engage with the following 8 themes, which underpin the exciting research taking place at SOAS and highlight our ongoing public engagement:

·         Climate Change: Global Voices

·         Border Crossings: Refugees and Migrants.

·         Colonialism, Education and Sexualities

·         History, Memory and Trauma

·         Capital and Conflict

·         Cross-Cultural Encounters

·         Heritage and Repatriation

·         Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Through panel discussions on each theme, aimed at the public, we hope to invite greater interaction and debate.

Festival Programme

The Festival of Ideas will be an all-day event on 23 May 2020. It will comprise of various activities that will be accessible, engaging and outward-facing, drawing local communities in and engaging the core student body.

It will include:

• a for/against moderated discussion on the issue of “knowledge can be decolonised”, which will be open to all attendees;

• eight panel talks, organised according to the Festival's themes, with cross-departmental representation on each one;

• a verbatim performance, ‘Decolonization: not just a buzzword’, produced by Bhuchar Boulevard, which brings together voices from the SOAS community to advocate for transformative change; and 

• creative activities using the different spaces that SOAS has to offer, bringing together communities, families, activists, and policy makers. 

The Festival of Ideas will be followed by the SOAS Festival of Learning in June 2020, which will be a week of diverse events celebrating and showcasing the work of the School. We encourage you to attend both! See other events connected to the Festival of Ideas under 'Satellite Events'. 

Satellite Events

The following events have been organised in collaboration with the Festival of Ideas. 

27 Jan-29 June 2020



Muslim Women's Skills Workshops at SOAS

Building a support network for Muslim women through fortnightly meetings consisting of narrative sessions, skills workshops, and some panel discussions with guest speakers. 

19 March 2020



Decolonisation: not just a buzzword... Sharing practice and experience

This seminar will focus on the creative process behind Decolonisation: not just a buzzword..., a 'headphone verbatim' project which captured SOAS voices on the 'decolonise the curriculum' debates.

19 March 2020



Woza Albert! - A Theatrical Reading

Working with the idea of the second coming of Jesus Christ taking place in apartheid South Africa, Woza Albert! comments on and satirises life under the apartheid regime.

30 March 2020



Introducing Decolonial Subversions

Launch of Decolonial Subversions, a new open access publishing platform committed to the decentring of western epistemology in the humanities and social sciences.

25 April 2020



Peace Campaigning Workshop - African Women Front and Centre

This workshop is the first part of the two-day African Women Front and Centre conference and will demonstrate the process of using storytelling as an anchor to political organising.

26 April 2020



African Women Front and Centre

Conference to reflect on African women’s participation in international politics, peacemaking, and movement building. 


Dr Amina Yaqin

Amina Yaqin  

Dr Amina Yaqin is the Director of the SOAS Festival of Ideas and a Senior Lecturer in Urdu and Postcolonial Studies in the Centre for English Studies, SOAS School of Arts. She is co-author with Peter Morey of Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11 (Harvard University Press, 2011). She has co-edited books Contesting Islamophobia: media, politics and culture (IB Tauris/Bloomsbury 2019); Muslims, Trust and Multiculturalism: New Directions (Palgrave MacMillan 2018); and Culture, Diaspora and Modernity in Muslim Writing (Routledge 2012). Her research is interdisciplinary and she has been a collaborator on two cutting edge research projects, the AHRC International Research Network Grant project 'Framing Muslims' and the RCUK-funded 'Muslims, Trust and Cultural Dialogue'. She co-edits the book series Multicultural Textualities, published by Manchester University Press.

Angelica Baschiera

Angelica Baschiera  

Angelica Baschiera is the SOAS Centres and Institutes Manager. Her academic expertise is on the study of Swahili manuscripts from an historical perspective. She was previously a Research Assistant on the Swahili manuscripts project at SOAS and is currently the keeper of the SOAS Swahili mss collections. Over the past 10 years, she has managed the Centre of African Studies' overall multi-disciplinary activities and has expanded her expertise on governance-related issues thanks to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation ‘Governance in Africa Initiative’, run at the Centre since 2007. More recently, she has developed links and activities in the field of contemporary African arts. Ms Baschiera advises academics, students, visiting scholars, businesses and creative industries on a range of issues relating to African studies.

Stephanie Guirand

Stephanie Guirand  

Stephanie Guirand (she/her, hers) is a Special Events and Projects Coordinator at the SOAS Centre of African Studies. A Haiti-born member of the Haitian diaspora, she grew up in Cambridge, MA in the United States. Stephanie has interned at UNESCO and the ANC Partnership Archives at the University of Connecticut and has worked with a number of non-profits, NGOs and charities. Stephanie has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, master's degree from SOAS, and is currently an MPHIL/PhD doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, in Sociology. Her academic research is focused on housing policy and census accuracy among transient racialised populations. Stephanie is a co-founder of The Haiti Initiative (SUD), a project under the umbrella of the YWCA Cambridge. The purpose of The Haiti Initiative (SUD) is to support Haitians in (the Southern region of) Haiti around hurricane preparedness and support with implementing climate change adaptive strategies.

Dr Romina Istratii

Romina Istratii  

Dr Romina Istratii is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of History, Religions and Philosophies and a Research Associate in the Department of Development Studies and the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS. She is a critical international development thinker and practitioner with a decade’s experience in the field, currently teaching and researching at the intersection of gender, religions and development from a decolonial perspective. Born in Eastern Europe, she has worked to destabilise western European epistemic dominance in African development theory and practice, improve representations of eastern religious traditions in western epistemology and subvert elitism and western Euro-centrism in higher education. Since 2016, she has been involved with the Decolonising SOAS Working Group and more recently she was the Research Funding Officer in the SOAS Research & Enterprise Office, in which role she established the Decolonising Research Initiative. Dr Isratii is especially committed to the promotion of language learning and teaching as a means to decolonise knowledge production. She is the co-founder of Decolonial Subversions, a multilingual, open access publishing platform.

Sunil Pun

Sunil Pun  

Sunil Pun is an Executive Officer at the SOAS South Asia Institute (SSAI) and European Research Council Project Coordinator. Sunil completed a master's degree in Violence, Conflict, and Development at SOAS and a bachelor's degree in International Relations and History at Royal Holloway. Outside his work at SSAI and the Research Office, he has written about the British Nepalis in the UK.