Enlightenment, Africa, Asia, and racism: «The Quest for a Global Age of Reason» in the journal Dialogue and Universalism

In a special «Enlightenment issue» (Vol. 31, 3/2021) of the journal Dialogue and Universalism (published by the Polish Academy of Sciences), the global historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud has contributed two papers, «The Quest for a Global Age of Reason. Part I: Asia, Africa, the Greeks, and the Enlightenment Roots» & «The Quest for a Global Age of Reason. Part II: Cultural Appropriation and Racism in the Name of Enlightenment» (pp. 113-155). In his Editorial, Professor Robert E. Allinson writes that Herbjørnsrud’s articles «comprise the most extensive and comprehensive contributions in the journal.»

UPDATE: The two papers can be downloaded from PhilPapers. Part I:

Part II: https://philpapers.org/rec/HERTQF

UPDATE II: The DOI for Herbjørnsrud’s paper Part I (at Philosophy Documentation Center): https://doi.org/10.5840/du202131348
The DOI for part II is: https://doi.org/10.5840/du202131349

The journal Dialogue and Universalism is the peer-reviewed academic journal of the International Society for Universal Dialogue (ISUD), published by the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences and by the Philosophy for Dialogue Foundation.

In issue 3, 2021, the topic is «Do we need a new enlightenment for the twenty-first century?«. In his Editorial, the guest editor Robert Elliott Allinson (Professor at Soka University, California) writes:

«Dag Herbjørnsrud’s two articles, The Quest for a Global Age of Reason. Part I: Asia, Africa, the Greeks and the Enlightenment Roots, and The Quest for a Global Age of Reason. Part II: Cultural Appropriation and Racism in the Name of Enlightenment, comprise the most extensive and comprehensive contributions in the journal and undertake the ambitious goal of providing copious illustrations of non-European global enlightenments, an undertaking that moves us away from the standard monolithic idea that there was a single, European Enlightenment. In particular, Dag Herbjørnsrud highlights both civilizations and individuals of color whose contributions, though heralded at the times, have been largely forgotten. By so doing, Dag Herbjørnsrud opens the door to a wider appreciation of intellectually neglected regions of the world and their denizens, of the history of civilizations and of individuals who have made truly remarkable and foundational contributions to the civilization of the globe.»

In addition, Allinson writes: «To highlight one particular contribution from each of Dag Herbjørnsrud’s two articles, it is apropos to first mention from Dag Herbjørnsrud’s first article, The Quest for a Global Age of Reason. Part I: Asia, Africa, the Greeks and the Enlightenment Roots, the quotation of the Muslim Mughal ruler Akbar the Great (1542–1605), “an inquiring skeptic who believed in ‘the pursuit of reason’ over ‘reliance on tradition,” telling his liberal Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian scholar Abul Fazl (1551–1602): “The pursuit of reason (‘aql) and rejection of traditionalism (taqlid) are so brilliantly patent as to be above the need of argument.”»


«This paper will contend that we, in the first quarter of the 21st century, need an enhanced Age of Reason  based  on  global  epistemology. One reason  to legitimize such a call for more intellectual enlightenment is the lack of required information on nonEuropean philosophy in today’s reading lists at European and North American universities. Hence, the present-day Academy contributes to the scarcity of knowledge about the world’s global history of ideas outside one’s ethnocentric sphere. The question is whether we genuinely want to rethink parts of the “Colonial Canon” and its main narratives of the past.

   This article argues that we, if we truly desire, might create “a better Enlightenment.” Firstly, by raising the general knowledge level concerning the philosophies of the Global South. Thus, this text includes examples from the global enlightenments in China, Mughal India, Arabic-writing countries, and Indigenous North America—all preceding and influencing the European Enlightenment. Secondly, we can rebuild by rediscovering the Enlightenment ideals within the historiography of the “hidden enlightenment” of Europe’s and North America’s past. In Part I, of two parts of this paper, a comparative methodology will be outlined. In addition, examples will be given from the history of ideas in India and China to argue that we need to study how these regions influenced the European history of ideas in the 16th and 17th centuries. Finally, towards the end of this text, a re-reading of the contributions from Egypt and Greece aspires to give a more global and complex context for Western Europe’s so-called Age of Reason.

Keywords: Enlightenment, global intellectual history, history of ideas, global knowledge, universalism, nationalism, decolonizing.»


«The Age of Enlightenment is more global and complex than the standard Eurocentric Colonial Canon narrative presents. For example, before the advent of unscientific racism and the systematic negligence of the contributions of Others outside of “White Europe,” Raphael centered Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in his Vatican fresco “Causarum Cognitio” (1511); the astronomer Edmund Halley taught himself Arabic to be more enlightened; The Royal Society of London acknowledged the scientific method developed by Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhazen). In addition, if we study the Transatlantic texts of the late 18th century, it is not Kant, but instead enlightened thinkers like Anton Wilhelm Amo (born in present-day’s Ghana), Phillis Wheatley (Senegal region), and Toussaint L’Ouverture (Haiti), who mostly live up to the ideals of reason, humanism, universalism, and human rights. One obstacle to developing a more balanced presentation of the Age of the Enlightenment is the influence of colonialism, Eurocentrism, and methodological nationalism. Consequently, this paper, part II of two, will also deal with the European Enlightenment’s unscientific heritage of scholarly racism from the 1750s. It will be demonstrated how Linnaeus, Hume, Kant, and Hegel were among the Founding Fathers of intellectual white supremacy within the Academy.

   Hence, the Age of Enlightenment is not what we are taught to believe. This paper will demonstrate how the lights from different “Global Enlightenments” can illuminate paths forward to more dialogue and universalism in the 21st century.

Keywords: Enlightenment, Colonial Canon, colonialism, Eurocentrism, racism, white supremacy, Black Lives Matter.»

For free access to the two papers, please e-mail kontakt@sgoki.org

Content for the issue 3/2021, Dialogue and Universalism: http://dialogueanduniversalism.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021-3.pdf

Professor Allinson ends the Conclusion of his Editorial like this:

«However, to depart from Wittgenstein, there are a number of essays that point to the need to broaden the scope of the Enlightenment beyond its narrow Western Eurocentric boundaries and include landmark inspirations from the Far East, Africa, what is now being referred to as the Global South, in short, all over the globe, all throughout the epochs of history, requiring us to reconsider both our human history and our historiography. It points to our urgent need both to reconstruct and to expand our narrative. To make a completely fresh start, as Aristotle would say, there are essays that point to the need for full female liberation and herald feminine philosophes who have been, despite the recognition given to them in their own Enlightened age, largely the underappreciated philosophers of the Eighteenth century. It is in these last two forms of contribution, of understanding and heralding the wider horizons of the inspiration for the Enlightenment that stretch far beyond its Eurocentric boundaries, and in acknowledging and fighting for full female emancipation, that we can perceive the formulation of a new Enlightenment, one, though just beginning to dawn on our global horizon, may augur or at least plead for a much broader philosophical landscape for the values of the 21st century.»

Excerpts from the two papers:

Link for Editorial/Abstracs of issue 3/2021: http://dialogueanduniversalism.eu/index.php/do-we-need-a-new-enlightenment-for-the-twenty-first-century/