Interview with Helen De Cruz

Particularly interesting to read about how it was non-Western philosophy that drew her to the subject.

But when I was in my final two years, about half of the program’s credits (world art studies) could filled in with anything students liked. I chose courses such as Introduction to Indian Philosophy and Religion, Islamic Philosophical Theology, Chinese Philosophy and Thought, Comparative Study of Culture (with lots of Native American philosophy, especially as our professor had been studying Navajo culture for years). Our courses on African art and Oceanic art also looked at philosophical ideas, such as the Luba theories on memory and material culture, or the Polynesian concept of mana.

So I found my way slowly into philosophy through all this non-western material. My two absolute favorite courses were Islamic philosophical theology and Indian philosophy and religion. Both professors were passionate about the topic. With our Indian professor, we watched a 5-hour film of the Mahabharata with the class, and we went to a Jainism exhibition in Antwerp. We saw several of the classic darśanas (literally, points of view, of orthodox Hindu thought), as well as unusual heterodox schools such as materialism. Our Islamic philosophical theology professor loved the Mu ‘tazila school and greatly disliked Al Ash ‘ari and Al-Ghazali, blaming them for the decline of everything that was good and proper in Muslim philosophical thinking. He also was a very careful and thorough teacher, trying to impart some Arabic as we went along (always showing the root of each philosophical term as this would help us in our understanding—I am still not sure how that would work). I cherish those courses as they broadened my mind. In spite of my professor’s lack of sympathy for Al-Ghazali, I was, and still am, an admirer of his rigorous and engaging writing.