non-western philosophy as NOT philosophy

David Fiordalis dv.fiordalis at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 11 04:58:27 UTC 2012

Dear all,

Thank you for all your contributions to this thread, which have been
helpful to me in several ways, partly by responding to different dimensions
of the issue: history of ideas vs. doing contemporary analytic philosophy,
rhetorical as well as institutional dimensions of the issue, generational
shifts in the academy, etc.

> On Jun 7, 2012, at 8:01 PM, Deshpande, Madhav wrote:
>  Having taught the Introductory class for Indian Philosophy for a number
>> of years at the University of Michigan, I find that most of the students in
>> the class are second generation South Asian students, and they know neither
>> Indian nor Western philosophy, and hence my class becomes a basic
>> introduction to philosophical thinking.  I have to try to distinguish the
>> Indian Philosophy class from my Introduction to Hinduism, and try to
>> explain the distinction between religion and philosophy, which is also a
>> difficult distinction for the students.  Would appreciate suggestions for
>> introductory readings that would make this distinction between philosophy
>> and religion.
>> Madhav
>> Madhav M. Deshpande
>> Professor of Sanskrit and Linguistics
>> Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
>> 202 South Thayer Street, Suite 6111
>> The University of Michigan
>> Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104-1608, USA
>> ____________________________________
My student demography is different from Madhav's in that there are not many
South Asian heritage students where I teach. In any case, for most
students, I imagine that Plato and Aristotle, even Descartes, are just as
exotic and unfamiliar as Confucius, Shankara or the Buddha. There are also
institutional differences between Linfield and Michigan, as we have both a
Philosophy and a Religious Studies department here, and I would ideally
like to keep it that way, so drawing a distinction between them seems
useful at some level. Even though religion and its academic study are
different, students do not come in perceiving that difference. I would like
to highlight the distinction b/w religion and philosophy, not to reify
these concepts, but if only because: (1) I am in a Religious Studies
department with certain responsibilities for its integrity, trying to build
up to a sequence of middle and upper level classes drawing on Asian
traditions at a school with little history of such courses; (2) To that
end, we recently gave "Philosophy East and West" -- a popular course here
at Linfield for more than a decade -- a cross-listing with Religious
Studies, and I am considering how I want to distinguish between these two
"institutional bedfellows" in terms of methodology and focus, because I
think that the two disciplines often do ask different types of questions,
pursue answers in different ways, and focus on different things; (3) The
inherited East/West problematic raises the distinction between philosophy
and religion, and I feel that students ought to think critically about it
to some degree, at least to the extent that they reflect on what they mean
when/if they use terms like belief, science, religion, religious,
spiritual, philosophy, way of life, common sense, etc. On the other hand,
my sense is that most undergraduate students here (or anywhere, for that
matter,) have little patience for many of the historical subtleties and
seemingly academic nature of many of the issues involved in distinguishing
philosophy from theology, east from west, and so forth, and so I need to be
careful not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. I do not wish to try
students' patience to such an extent that they lose interest and thus fail
to engage as much as they can with real philosophical questions of personal
interest to them using the global palette that such a course can provide.
I'm curious to what extent others struggle with such pedagogical concerns.

Thanks for overlooking the several typos and missing words in my initial,
rather hurried posting. Glad people still managed to get the gist of my

Dave Fiordalis
Linfield College

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