Which Doctoral Programs in the US Have Specialists in African Philosophy?

(Created 1 January 2018)

Bountiful thanks to Lewis Gordon for the following advice about doctoral programs in philosophy in the US with specialists on African philosophy:

  • U of Connecticut
  • Columbia
  • Purdue
  • Vanderbilt
  • Rice
  • Binghamton

In addition, the following doctoral programs in Africana Studies have specialists in African philosophy:

  • Temple
  • Cornell
  • Brown
  • Houston

More details:

U OF CONNECTICUT: has 2 faculty members (Alexus McLeod and Lewis Gordon) in African philosophy and both do so in relation to a variety of areas in philosophy. Together we offer work from antiquity to contemporary thought, and we have a strong relationship with another faculty member in political science (Jane Anna Gordon) who does the same in political theory. If the category "Africana" is added, then this triumvirate covers quite a bit, with many resources ranging from the CPA Caribbean Philosophical Association summer school, faculty members editing a variety of book series and journals, and even the APA blog series BLACK ISSUES IN PHILOSOPHY, and more. It also has the distinction of work across Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanophone, and Lusophone (imperial) languages and studies in ancient languages. Much of this is a function of the unusual skill sets of the faculty.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S Philosophy Department has Souleymane Bachir Diagne in a courtesy appointment. His main appointment is in the French Department, which he chairs. Robert Gooding-Williams is an Americanist and Germanist, so interest in specifically race--if that is how one would like to look at African American philosophy--is offered there. Diagne could serve on committees, and Gayatri Spivak is also there. Spivak has taken a recent interest in Africa, though I wouldn't count her knowledge or commitments and contributions as African or Africana philosophy. Her specific interest is in Du Bois in Ghana.

PURDUE UNIVERSITY has Leonard Harris. Though he is known as an Americanist and primarily for his work in African American philosophy, Harris's range and scholarship is far wider than most realize. He knows nearly every African philosopher over the past 50 years and has read the work of most. He was UNESCO's Ambassador for philosophy and his concrete experience with African thought involves also having spent time in many African countries, with Ethiopia high on the list. The concrete and ongoing relationship with Africa is one of the virtues of the U of Connecticut group and, as the postings I have been sharing on the recent conference in Senegal attests, the same for Diagne at Columbia.

VANDERBILT is included because of Lucius T. Outlaw. He, too, known as an African Americanist and a critical theorist, is often underappreciated with regard to his knowledge and work with African thought over the past five decades. He is one of the pioneers of the Africana designation as well. He will be joined by Paul Taylor from Penn State. Penn State wasn't on my list because its focus is clearly philosophy of race and African American philosophy. Its strength is also in Africana intersectional thought. As the query was about African philosophy, I didn't include them. They are, however, excellent at what they do with regard to the areas I just outlined.

RICE department has Elias Bongmba (courtesy appointment) whose main line is in religion. He is an award-winning African philosopher whose work includes Francophone, Anglophone, and he works through a variety of indigenous languages, especially Limbum, of Cameroon, similar to Diagne with, e.g., Wolof.

BINGHAMTON'S strength is Nkiru Nzegwu, a Nigerian philosopher (Ibo), who is also a major art historian and artist. She is an amazing mentor. I have met her former students in a variety of contexts. She is underappreciated, in my view, but her work receives attention in my INTRODUCTION TO AFRICANA PHILOSOPHY and other writings. Others have written on her as well. She heads Africana Studies at Binghamton, but her line, as I recall, was through the philosophy department or the former program on philosophy, interpretation, and culture.

Appiah's site says he's at NYU. I don't know if he is preparing doctoral students to teach in African philosophy (of the analytical variety).

There are many excellent primary sources in African philosophy, in many languages, but for the single best compendium of central issues along with a large number of contributors (through whom to get a sense of many who are writing in the field), read https://www.amazon.com/Companion-African-Philosophy-Blackwell-Companions-ebook/dp/B000W3WJ36/ There are many ways to access it on the internet or library access for those who cannot afford to get it otherwise.

[EDITOR: See also Alex Guerrero's African Philosophy lecture https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByRaTn6g9yNDVy04TzVQd2ZYNVE/view ]

Anyhow, this gives a sense of the situation in the United States with regard to African philosophy. There are places on the African continent--despite a lot of effort, especially from European associations and donors, to make sure African philosophy is NOT taught in Africa. I could mention those in another thread as well. There are also places in Europe, though rarely in philosophy departments. I'm sure that will change. The same is the case in Central and South America. And in Asia and Australia, it's rarer. Bryan Mukandi, who wrote a recent post in the APA blog I mentioned, may be the first to be teaching these themes, and his approach is through decolonial thought. Finally, there are excellent scholars in African philosophy teaching in philosophy departments in the USA, but those outside of the list I mentioned are teaching at institutions that at best offer a masters degree. A giant who should have been teaching at one of the doctoral granting departments is D.A. Masolo, who is at the University of Louisville. I hope these thoughts are useful.