Souleymane Bachir Diagne
French and Philosophy
An alumnus of Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris where I studied philosophy, and the Sorbonne where I did my PhD on the philosophy of Boolean algebra of logic, I started my teaching career in Senegal, at Cheikh Anta Diop university where I developed in particular a curriculum in logic and the history of sciences on one hand and on the other hand in the history of philosophy in the Islamic world. I also took part in the debates on African philosophy and the Humanities on the African continent, especially as an active member of the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (Codesria). After twenty years of teaching and research at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar I was a professor at Northwestern University from 1999 to 2008 (in the departments of philosophy and religion and in the Program of African Studies) before joining Columbia University ( the departments of French and Philosophy and the Institute of African Studies).
I believe that the diversity manifested by my intellectual trajectory and in my fields of teaching and publications – history of philosophy, logic and the history of algebra, Islamic philosophy, Islam in West Africa, African philosophy and literature- as well as my deep and continuing engagement with Codesria (I have served on different committees of that important institution committed to Pan-Africanism including its Executive Committee and its Scientific Committee of which I was president) can be translated into a vision for the development of African Studies and of ASA. It is my intention to contribute to the mobilization of the academic and intellectual community on the African continent around the activities of ASA. As it develops a more organic connection with academics in Africa, I believe that ASA’ s reflections and activities need to engage with the situation and the future of universities in Africa where those academics work and where knowledge about the rapidly changing realities of the continent is produced.
The intellectual history of Africa is still to be written and that is an important task in which more and more scholars of the continent from different disciplines are engaged. The history of written erudition in particular needs to be studied. The renewed attention to African manuscripts written in Arabic or in Ajami (that is African languages using Arabic script) is displacing old models as researchers on Islam in Africa are also focusing on what a research program of Codesria has called the “non europhone intellectuals” referring to a long tradition, which started well before the colonial period, and remained alive, of intellectual written production in different fields, such as jurisprudence, theology, logic, philosophy, mysticism, medical science, government, etc. Programs that I am associated with, namely African Studies at Northwestern University and at Columbia, are conducting an important work of re-membering Africa, that is relativizing the separation between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, a division that ignores or obscures the interconnectedness of the intellectual histories of those regions, as the site of a rich written tradition and intellectual history. ASA is certainly a place where such an interdisciplinary research must be exposed, discussed, and developed.
In a word: African philosophy and Humanities, the future of African higher education in a changing Africa, a history of erudition in Africa are questions and topics on which I believe that I will contribute to the continuous development of our Association.