The developmentalist imperative that emerged as the charter of anti-colonial nationalism, variably limited the vision of postcolonial education that was instituted by national states in the wake of decolonization. In particular, what in German is called the Geisteswissenschaften – the ‘sciences of the spirit’, i.e., the knowledges of the humanities and social sciences – were given an even lower priority than is their general fate in technocratic advanced capitalist societies. This is because these knowledges bear an intrinsic relation to local contexts, cultures, histories and languages, which in postcolonial societies were intrinsically thought to be anachronistic, and an impediment to modernization and national advancement on the global stage of development. This had an impact on the hard sciences themselves, since the latter intrinsically depend on the ‘soft sciences’ for the considered determination of their goals and character. In South Asia, the marginalization of the Geisteswissenschaften is particularly marked in Pakistan, for instance, where the model of development adopted under the neo-colonial tutelage of the United States was even more narrowly focused on the paradigm of economic development.
The results are glaringly obvious. Even as national- and world-historical crises gather apace, we are increasingly lacking in the specific moral and intellectual resources that would enable us to forcefully engage with them. Developments within the domain of ‘religion’ – which is being rapidly evacuated of its critical ethical and intellectual content – are only the most obvious example of this process of moral and intellectual erosion and privation. This example also shows that the regnant paradigm of education in the West (where the Geisteswissenschaften are themselves under unprecedented attack from the forces of technocratic neoliberalism) may itself be lacking in the specific cognitive and intellectual resources required at the present conjuncture.
The Habib University Conference on Postcolonial Higher Education will invite global scholars, thinkers, activists and writers to reflect on the crisis, direction and goals of higher education at the present conjuncture.