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We Need To Talk About Delhi University’s Obsolete Philosophy Syllabus

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You Are Here ➔ a wet-behind-the-ears philosophy undergrad, who longs to line the dusty crevices of their brain with some good shit. Instead, you’re roughhoused by a messed-up syllabus that is overrun by ancillary texts and treated as a political plaything. In three years’ time, you emerge from the dilapidated cocoon that is college education in India, only to find that those dusty brain crevices are now lined with irrelevant shit.

Welcome to my world. Let me show you around the flotsam.

As a (mostly) sincere student, it’s maddening to be pushed around by the ideological priorities of the political party in power. Take, for instance, the blatant right-wing bias in the syllabus for our socio-political philosophy course. It offers a truckload of liberal texts, with just one not-so-relevant Communist-Socialist text. I agree that we’re all children of our time, and that the syllabus is a very political document. However, such nearsightedness costs us an unbiased education.

Another problem we face involves the rapidly-increasing superficiality of the course material. We study mostly secondary texts, and some original texts in the form of cherry-picked chapters. We leave college with our basics wheezing on ventilators. We need to study texts that form the respective bedrock of particular schools of thought, viz. Das Kapital for Marxism.

Sometimes, the course is shaped according to the whims of the syllabus committee. No one gives a rat’s fart about the perilous adventures students and their teachers have to embark on, to find that one obscure text that Dr. X of the syllabus committee read 20 years ago at a library in Weissnichtwo. What happens when nobody can find the text? Well, after a semester of panicking and attempting to find the next best thing, the teacher tells us to have faith that the question-setters won’t ask anything from that topic. Luckily for us, they haven’t. YET.

Our teachers often reminisce about the good old days of the year-long course, when they used to work laboriously, but at a luxurious pace, reading multiple original texts from cover to cover. With the truncated syllabus of the semester system, we nyoooom through the texts and skip around intellectual knots that demand to be untangled. We’re left with very little time to explore tangents in class—something that is especially important for students of a dialectic discipline like philosophy.

An area where our syllabus-makers did well, however, is balancing Indian with Western philosophy. We entered the first semester with Eurocentric expectations of our course material. To be greeted instead by the Carvakas was a slap in the face of our colonized minds. When some of my classmates complain about not “getting” Indian philosophy, I see it as a reflection of our troubling dependence on Occidental logic and grammar. Hence, it’s great that we spend a lot of time doing Indian philosophy. What we need is for this balanced perspective to be extended to other facets of syllabus-formation.

In this context, should students have a say in the syllabus they study? My answer is a resounding OHMYGODDOYOUEVENHAVETOASK.

I’d say that by the tail-end of their second year, a student has read enough and listened enough to be able to suggest changes to their course material. Recent alumni who have remained within academia would have one of the most relevant perspectives on just how useful the undergrad syllabus is, once you graduate.

Therefore, every time they meet to change the syllabus (it happens a lot, and the changes are usually just a snip here and a cleaving there to end up with an even shorter, even more useless syllabus), there should be student as well as alumnus representation. There needs to be a lot more conversation on the needs of undergraduate students, and on the needs of the discipline. Case in point: undergraduate philosophy in India, which is, quite honestly, a morass. We need to reinvigorate that shit. The best way to do so is through a syllabus revamp that takes into account the problems students face, what their minds (and bank accounts) need for the future, and most importantly, what the discipline demands in order to thrive in the groves of academe.


Image source: Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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