What Can Activist Scholars Learn from Rumi?
Posted: 8 Oct 2010 Last revised: 20 Feb 2014
Date Written: 2010
The neoliberal restructuring of higher education everywhere is accompanied by a distinctive branch of knowledge known as ‘activist scholarship.’ Drawing from a number of disciplines including education, sociology, social anthropology, social theory, law, human rights, and others, activist scholarship proclaims as its core mission Marx’s imperative that philosophy should transform the world. Activist scholars affirm human emancipation as the goal of scholarship and set themselves the task of building bridges between theory and practice. There is a spectrum of views on the theory practice nexus. At one end are those who emphasise the primacy of practice and at the other end of the spectrum are the Critical Realists. With realist philosophy as their point of departure, critical realists argue that theory informs social practices, implicitly or explicitly; and that ideas of emancipation and freedom are necessary to sustain accounts of society and history, and the dialectics between structures, agents, and emergence. These developments from different ends of the theory-practice spectrum nevertheless share certain common grounds. The shared grounds affirm (1) a nexus between theory and practice; (2) a relationship between knowledge and action; (3) knowledge as a condition for emancipation and freedom; (4) affirmation of love and solidarity for social change; (5) importance of everyday life; (6) the role of the activist scholar in social change. These themes form the subject matter of this essay.
These themes form part of a long and entrenched tradition in dissident Eastern philosophies in particular the poet-saint traditions. In this essay each of the themes in activist scholarship mentioned above are interrogated using the works of Malulana Jalal-u-din Rumi, the thirteenth century Persian poet. What can activist scholars learn from Rumi if at all?
Keywords: Activist Scholarship, Rumi, Theory and Practice, Knowledge and Action, Love and Solidarity, Social Change, Everyday Life, Research Methods, Ontology and Epistemology
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