November 21, a day marked for World Philosophy Day since 2002, passed by like any other day in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). A visit to the University of Peshawar’s (UoP) philosophy department was a telling peak into the region’s relationship with a discipline which tackles mankind’s’ earliest existential queries.
Neither students nor administrative staff were in sight; classrooms, the library and the chairman’s office seemed out of commission. At least on this day, one would have expected vibrant discussions questioning the nuances of metaphysics, logic or moral philosophy.
Department chair Dr Sher Wahab sat in his office with faculty members and discussed recommended readings on logic and reasoning for students. He dug out a notice from his drawer mentioning World Philosophy Day: “Who should I put this up for? The teachers know about it, but there are hardly any students in the department.”
Philosophy has been listed as a discipline at UoP, but only attracts the attention of those who want to enrol for the sake of gaining admission to the university. “There is simply no merit needed to seek admission in this department,” shared the professor.
Wahab shared former UoP vice chancellor Professor Dr Qibla Ayaz’s plan to boost admissions to the ignored programme. Students would be offered a scholarship which would include all university expenses. The department chair forwarded three names for this purpose two year ago which are still being processed by the administration.
World Philosophy Day is observed on the third Thursday of November every year to discuss fundamental issues pertaining to reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. “We are the people who need it the most, but we continue to ignored it,” emphasised Wahab.
“Four teachers are not enough. It needs to be done at a much larger scale to increase awareness. The love for philosophy can’t be injected. It needs to be adopted over generations,” Wahab added.
In comparison to other departments, philosophy students amount to a meagre 15. Humanities, arts and social sciences departments on the other hand run two shifts – morning and evening – with 50 students in each for their masters programme.
Out of 15, only six students show up regularly, complained the disgruntled professor. Not even a single student bothered showing up on November 21, he added.
Examining the lack of interest in philosophy, Dr Mian Sohail, a PhD in ontology, argued people in the region pursue subjects which have high market value. “This isn’t a student-based, political or cultural problem. Philosophy just does not equip you to provide food on the table.”
Sohail agreed it is a struggle to spread awareness about the importance of the subject. However, “as much as I want, I cannot make people prioritise it. Philosophy is not our piece of cake; it doesn’t exist in our genes.”
Frontier College for Women and Jinnah College for Girls have small philosophy departments, the discipline is no longer taught at Mardan Post-graduate College.
“The very presence of philosophy in a society like this is in grave danger,” argued Sohail.
Assistant professor Dr Shuja remains somewhat optimistic about the future. “Most social science fields incorporate different philosophical subjects.” He admitted, however, K-P has not produced any philosophers of late, although he mentioned Dr Iqbal from Mardan who observes November 21 with his colleagues.
Shuja feared the philosophy department at UoP would shut down as the number of students seeking admission nears zero.
Source: The Express Tribune.