Current Sociology
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0011392114524513
2014 62: 584 originally published online 19 March 2014 Current Sociology
Walter D Mignolo
and the opening of independent thoughts
Spirit out of bounds returns to the East: The closing of the social sciences
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DOI: 10.1177/0011392114524513
Spirit out of bounds returns
to the East: The closing of the
social sciences and the opening
of independent thoughts
Walter D Mignolo
Duke University, USA
The cycle of the ‘social sciences’ as they were historically formed at the beginning of the
nineteenth century is coming to its close. The Gulbenkian Report (1995) was an effort to
maintain Western epistemic hegemony by ‘opening the social sciences,’ acknowledging
the challenges from the Third World (geopolitics of knowledge) and from the outcome
of the Civil Rights Movement in the US (disciplinary formations around ethnic, racial,
gender, and sexual issues). The ‘opening’ was indeed the beginning of its ‘closing.’ Relevant
social and cultural knowledges do not require the normative control and regulation of
Eurocentric social sciences, even in their generous opening. New knowledge formation
is emerging from the experiences, needs, and memories of the non-European world in
contentious dialogue with 200 years of Western epistemic hegemony. Hegel’s Spirit is
indeed returning, disillusioned and at the same time empowered to begin a different
parkour, to the global East and the global South.
Border epistemology, decoloniality and dewesternization of knowledge, Eurocentrism
The problem of Eurocentrism in the social sciences is not only that its fundamental
categories were created for a particular time and place and later were used in a more or less
creative or rigid manner to study other realities. … The problem resides in the colonial
imaginary from which Western social sciences constructed [their] interpretation of the
world. (Lander, 1998: 71)
Corresponding author:
Walter D Mignolo, Duke University, 224 Franklin Center, Box 90402, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
524513CSI0010.1177/0011392114524513Current Sociology MonographMignolo
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Mignolo 585
If we are to adopt the alternative religion of science, the question arises as to where this places
us in relation to what is alleged to be the scientific tradition of the West? … . I fear that we must
first insist on pointing out that the scientific attitude cannot but have been part of the human
tradition from the start … . The suggestion that it belongs to any one cultural sphere is, like the
Marxist pretension to universality, merely another manifestation of arrogance. In this case, it is
the arrogance of a temporarily dominant civilization though perhaps we would want quickly to
concede that the distortion is probably inevitable in a contemporary and therefore short
perspective. (Best, 2003 [1977]: 19)
The institutional and theoretical dependence of scholars in developing societies on Western
social science has resulted in what has been referred to as the ‘captive mind’. The phenomenon
of the captive mind refers to a way of thinking that is dominated by Western thought in an
imitative and uncritical manner. Among the characteristics of the captive mind are the inabilities
to be creative and raise original problems. … What is regarded as a problem is the uncritical
imitation of the social sciences in the Third World. (SF Alatas, 1995: 90)
The imperial birth of the social: Modernity and
That the social sciences emerged in Europe during the nineteenth century, preceded by
European social thought during the Enlightenment, is already widely known and accepted
(Heilbron, 1995). They emerged in the same atmosphere that prompted GWF Hegel to
theorize the state through the metaphysics of ‘Spirit’ and to trace Spirit’s history from
Ancient China, through India and Persia to Greece and Rome, where Hegel felt ‘Spirit’
had arrived at (Hegel’s) home. From Greece and Rome to Europe and Germany it was a
short distance and an easy ride. Hegel anticipated, with accuracy, that ‘Spirit’ would
move from Europe to the US. He couldn’t anticipate that ‘Spirit’ would one day cross the
Pacific and return (Spirit’s) home. And that is where we are now: the irreversible shift to
the ‘Eastern Hemisphere’ (in Hegel’s cartography). But the ‘East’ today is fused with the
‘global South’ where Spirit returned. The formation of BRICS countries is a case in
point, the point where East and South meet. Economic growth brought back the confi-
dence that the success of Hegel’s universal history deterred. If Spirit was born in China,
in Hegel’s narrative, and found its home in Europe and Germany, where Hegel was writ-
ing, the Spirit returned to the East in a double guise: the economic success that China
learned from Euro-American capitalism and the response to the humiliation that Asia
endured through over a century of colonial subjugation.
The social sciences expanded around the world. They became the empire companion.
Like in any other sphere of imperial expansion, those who are happy with the expansion
are those enacting it. Those who have to endure the consequences may adapt and sur-
render, or delink. Edgardo Lander, a sociologist from Venezuela, Lloyd Best, an econo-
mist from the British Caribbean, and Syed Farid Alatas, a Malaysian sociologist based in
Singapore are not proud of the subjection and un-freedom that derived from the triumph
of Western social sciences, as it is clear in the three epigraphs.
Basically, the scenario is the following: the idea of social thought and of the social
sciences emerged in Europe; the first during the Enlightenment, the second during the
nineteenth century. They were part and parcel of building Western civilization and the
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concomitant Western imperial expansion. That is, the social sciences are part of the west-
ernization of the world. By the end of the twentieth century, it was already obvious that
‘Third World’ scholars and intellectuals were denouncing the imperial bent of the social
sciences. The Gulbenkian Report (Wallerstein, 1995) (see below) attempted to address
and to correct the problem by ‘opening the social sciences.’ This was the moment of
rewesternization that responded to what was already going on since the 1970s: the call
for dewesternizing and decolonizing the social sciences. This article addresses the issues
of why dewesternization and decolonization of knowledge confronted the imperial
assumption that knowledge is universal and is not connected with historical configura-
tions (Western knowledge, Chinese knowledge, Islamic knowledge, etc.). If knowledge
is universal and doesn’t have an owner, then Western categories of thought, social disci-
plinary actors, and institutions have to relinquish the keys that they held for 500 years,
theologically, and for 300 years both secularly and theologically.
‘Open’ the social sciences: A move toward
The Gulbenkian Report (Wallerstein, 1995) was an important moment in the history of
the social sciences and, by extension, of the humanities. It constituted an effort to re-
westernize the social sciences oblivious of the fact that by 1995 conversations about
de-westernizing and decolonizing knowledge were already underway in several disci-
plines and in mainstream universities and research institutes around the globe; not of
course, in Western Europe and the US. The committee responsible for the report assumed
that there is no sustainable knowledge beyond the social sciences and that they are neces-
sary and good for the world, not only for Western social scientists. That is another mani-
festation of the arrogance Lloyd Best was talking about. The attempt was to maintain
control of knowledge around the world by ‘opening’ the social sciences and letting them
bring in locals where the social sciences were already being contested. Notice, however,
that the above epigraph by Farid Alatas is dated 1995, the same year as the publication of
the Gulbenkian Report. It comes as no surprise that the Gulbenkian Report is already an
effort to re-westernize the social sciences, to open them up in order to maintain control.
Alatas was telling us that it is already too late: indigenization and Islamization of the
social sciences, whatever their shortcomings, were alert to the fact that it was already too
late for Western social sciences to maintain imperial epistemic control. Epistemic
dewesternization (e.g., Islamization) and epistemic decolonization (e.g., indigenization)
have reached the point of no return toward epistemic multipolarity or better yet epistemic
The report recognized the challenges and at the end this question was formulated:
‘what kind of social sciences shall we build?’ Social sciences could be rebuilt, as the
Gulbenkian Report suggested. But, seriously, there is no need to do so. Who really ben-
efits from it?
People around the world have been and continue to be good thinkers
without recourse to the ‘social sciences.’ Why would one think that they should be
expanded around the world parallel to the expansion of Christian missions? Or perhaps
that is one reason. Beyond the reasons Western social scientists may have to defend and
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promote the social sciences, they are not the only options. There are other options to
make sense of history, society/community, economy, political organization, international
relations, social movements, inequalities in gender, sexual and ethnic relations, etc.
There are by now three options on the table. Re-westernizing the social sciences, as the
Gulbenkian Report did. Second, appropriating and delinking them at the same time from
the tyranny of epistemic western-centrism, let’s call this option dewesternization. And,
finally, reformulating the principles and structures of knowledge revamping categories
and belief systems that Eurocentric social sciences have disavowed. Let’s call this option
decoloniality of knowledge and being.
Responses from Latin America: Decolonizing the social
After the Gulbenkian Report was published, 11 conferences were organized around the
world and 11 monographs (pre-congress monographs) were printed in preparation for the
Congress of the International Sociological Association in Montreal, in 1998. In his inter-
vention, Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander noticed the enduring image of ‘back-
wardness’ in the colonial history of South America and the Caribbean which created an
affliction, among the elite of European descent (but not among Pueblo Originarios and
people of African descent), ‘of living in a continent that is not white, urban cosmopoli-
tan, and civilized’ (1998: 65).
What has not been said loudly enough is that the introduction of the vocabulary of the
social sciences and the centrality of the concept of ‘society’ have erased all over the world
the concept of ‘community’ and its equivalents that were in the heads and the hearts of
people all over the world. The idea of ‘society’ displaced the idea of res publica in
European history and concepts of ‘community’ (and its equivalent) in non-European civi-
lizations (cf. ummah in Arabic, Ayllu in Quechua Aymara). However, ‘community’ has
been appropriated in Western media and diplomacy in international relations: the ‘interna-
tional community.’ The expression includes in the community all those states that play by
the rules, and not for instance, Russia and China. However, the time of hegemony and
domination has passed: China is redefining the ‘international community’ from its own
perspective and not allowing Western diplomacy and media to speak, unilaterally, for the
‘international community’ (Ching, 2012).
Lander points to a set of concepts that emerged in Latin America at the border between
local genealogies of thoughts (‘non-scientific’) and the social sciences: dependency,
internal colonialism, structural heterogeneity, pedagogy of the oppressed, research
action, intellectual colonialism, philosophy of liberation, coloniality, decoloniality, etc.
To be sure, it was not by ‘applying’ Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas that those concepts
were created. Reflecting on the shortcomings of the Gulbenkian Report in the post-scrip-
tum of his article, Lander makes a couple of crucial points. One of them has already been
quoted in the epigraph above. The second follows:
It is not the same to assume that the historical patrimony of the social sciences is parochial, as
to conclude that it is colonial: the implications are drastically different. If our social science
patrimony were merely parochial, it would be enough to expand the reach of the experiences
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and realities studied. … The problem is a different one when we conclude that our knowledge
has a colonial character and is based upon assumptions that imply systematic processes of
exclusion and subordination. (Lander, 1998: 72)
From a decolonial frame of reasoning, in the second decade of the twenty-first cen-
tury and 19 years after the Gulbenkian Report, the relevant questions would be: Why
restructure the social sciences? Who benefits from it? What about – instead – addressing
their decolonization and dewesternization? If such questions are asked, there is already
ample evidence that the processes had already begun several decades ago. In the mid-
1970s, Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda (2009) had voiced the call to ‘decolo-
nize the social sciences’ (see also Fals Borda and Mora-Osejo, 2003; Mignolo, 2008).
Fals Borda’s critique of area studies joined forces with the claims of dependency theo-
rists and theologians and philosophers of liberation.
The consequences were to make evident that dependency was above all epistemic,
and because of it, economic and political. If dependency theorists did not address the
issue head on, it was clearly implicated in their writing: economic dependency is not just
the materiality of agreement and financial transactions. In philosophy, Enrique Dussel
was not only asking for a philosophy that liberates people but a philosophy that liberates
itself from the Eurocentric regulations of philosophy. Similar demands were already at
work in Africa (Mignolo, 2009). The interrogation of epistemic dependency in philoso-
phy and the social sciences was parallel to the struggle for decolonization in the eco-
nomic and political spheres.
Interestingly enough, the collective project of modernity/coloniality (to which I
belong and from which perspective I am building my argument) that emerged through
the International Sociological Association and the pre-congress volume on ‘Sociology in
Latin America’ has something to do with it (Morán, 1998). Two panels organized by
Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander brought together Anibal Quijano (sociology,
Peru), Fernando Coronil (anthropology, Venezuela), Arturo Escobar (anthropology,
Colombia), and Walter Mignolo (semiology, Argentina). Edited by Edgardo Lander, a
selection of papers from these two panels was published in a volume titled La coloniali-
dad del saber: Eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales. Perspectivas Latinoamericanas, pub-
lished in 2000 (see Lander, 2001). That is to say, at the very heart of a conference of
which the focus was to ‘open the social sciences,’ the Eurocentrism of the social sciences
was also beginning to be ‘announced.’
Responses from East and South East Asia: De-westernizing
and decolonizing the social sciences
One of the pre-congress volumes of the International Sociological Association was
edited by Su-Hoon Lee (Lee, 1998) connected to the Gulbenkian Report, and was
devoted to Sociology in East Asia and its Struggle for Creativity. In his introduction
Su-Hoon Lee focuses on the consequences, in East Asia, of the exportation–importation
of the social sciences. We know the story already: first, the social sciences were born in
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Europe embedded in the imperial/colonial imaginary of its enunciation; second, the rest
of the world, little by little, had to deal with it as if the social sciences were an absolute
necessity of intelligibility. For these reasons, it is now necessary both to decolonize and
to de-westernize the social sciences. The process is already underway; we do not need to
ask how to do it. My argument is both a report and an argument supporting both
dewesternization and decoloniality of knowledge; while for others (Gulbenkian and
UNESCO’s reports), the need is to re-westernize, that is, to ‘open the social sciences’ in
order to keep the control of knowledge among people who were trained in them. This
suggests that the imperial expansion of the social sciences is a fact of life that happened.
However, the social sciences are not an absolute necessity and their practitioners have no
right to make other forms of knowledge obsolete or traditional in order to preserve their
own privileges as ‘social scientists.’
To accept that the social sciences were exported/imported doesn’t mean that everyone
has to bend to their dictates. Dewesternization and decoloniality of the social sciences
are positive and at the same time critical responses of dissent. Positive in the sense that
both options are not ‘against’ western social sciences but ‘for’ the restitution of knowl-
edges and ways of knowing that the social sciences silenced, suppressed, repressed or
disavowed. Both processes, de-westernizing and decolonizing, presuppose border think-
ing and border epistemology. Why? Simply because local ways of knowing, categories
of thoughts, non-European languages, have to be reinvested in ways of knowing, catego-
ries of thoughts and languages that belong to different local histories. Westernization and
rewesternization are territorial: their effort is to know, to control. Dewesternization and
decoloniality are grounded in border thinking and border epistemology: their effort is to
reinvest disavowed epistemologies into the present to overcome the tyranny of the social
sciences as well as the universality of Western principles of knowing and accumulated
An interregnum on European sociology and a note on dewesternization and decoloni-
ality are in order before moving ahead. With these two options we leave the realm of the
belief in the one and only: rewesternization by opening the social sciences. Once we
enter in the realm of the geopolitics of knowing, sensing and believing and we do not
believe any more in the universality of the social sciences to solve, from the experience
of Europe that grounded their foundations, the problems of non-European histories, local
histories that were destabilized by the interference of local European designs, the mean-
ing of dewesternization and decoloniality has to be seen first in their loci of enunciation.
And the issue here is the potential temptation of European scholars to take the lead and
to ‘dewesternize’ and ‘decolonialize.’ If that happens (and it may happen), it would be
indeed rewesternizaton disguised as dewesternization or decoloniality. It has only to be
remembered that dewesternization and decoloniality are not grounded on the same
Greco-Roman and European Renaissance-Enlightenment in which the social sciences
are grounded. The issue is crucial at this moment, and the topic of this article.
Dewesternization and decoloniality place the legacy of Euro-American sociology and
social sciences in a bind, for any attempt to dewesternize the social sciences in Western
Europe or the US by maintaining the imperial legacy of the disciplines would be not to
dewesternize but to really open the social sciences under a different guise and maintain
the legitimacy of one universal locus of enunciation.
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When a French-European scholar (Roulleau-Berger, 2011) makes a claim for ‘désoc-
cidentalizer la sociologie,’ one can ask what is the meaning of such claim? Does it mean
that the ‘dewesternization’ of sociology and of the social sciences is now a European
project for the rest of the world, or does it means that ‘dewesternization’ is a project for
European sociology and social sciences? If the claim carries the first meaning, it is no
longer acceptable, while if the claim carries the second meaning it is welcome (Roulleau-
Berger, 2011).
A second example would be for instance the claim for ‘decolonizing
German theory’ (Steinmetz, 2006). That claim could be made within the genealogy of
German theory, in Europe, or can be done from the exportation to and importation from
the ‘Third World’ of German theory. One thing is to make the claim in Europe and in
Germany and another quite different to do it in Japan. Why? Because German theory in
Europe is grounded in the history of Europe while in Japan it was exported/imported and
was confronted with ways of thinking, knowing, and believing is grounded in the history
of Japan and not in the history of Europe.
The bottom line is that while sociology and the social sciences were embedded in the
imperial/colonial and Western imaginary, de-westernizing and decolonizing them can no
longer be a ‘universal’ project from Europe for the rest of the world. Geo- and body-
politics of knowing are of the essence to march toward pluriversality as a universal pro-
ject. To imagine that a ‘decolonial universalism’ is possible can only be a Eurocentric
dream following the path of Hegel’s universal history – European actors and institutions
will now take the lead in decolonization because people in the rest of the world are not
capable of decolonizing themselves! The question then becomes that of relevance/irrel-
evance. Relevance/irrelevance has been also underlined by Su-Hoon in his introduction
to the volume Sociology in East Asia. It means that the concern cuts across the regions
from East Asia (Su-Hoon’s location) to South East Asia (Farid Alatas’s location).
What is at stake in the relevance/irrelevance distinction? First and foremost that ‘rel-
evance/irrelevance’ cannot be dictated universally from a single and historical locus of
enunciation (e.g., a sort of normative sociological universal principle), but relevance/
irrelevance are relative to the universes of discourses and of meaning for which, and in
which, something is relevant or irrelevant (SH Alatas, 1977). The problems and issues
that prompted the birth of the social sciences in Europe are not universal problems and
issues. The problems European expansion created in the rest of the world are up to intel-
lectuals dwelling in those locales to identify, debate, understand, and solve. It would be
pretentious, not to say absurd, for a European sociologist to make recommendations for
the social sciences in Latin America and in Africa. In this case, the discipline of sociol-
ogy would look like the IMF or the World Bank. It would be pretentious and arrogant if
Western social scientists appointed themselves to solve the problems that European
imperialism created in other latitudes. And it would be pure submission if thinkers from
other latitudes identify their problems starting from Western social sciences instead of
starting from the consequences of coloniality of knowledge in their own local histories.
In a recent interview published in Religioscope, Farid Alatas echoes the concerns that I
have already indicated in my comments on East Asia and South American social
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sciences. It would not be inaccurate to say that these concerns can be found today all over
the world. One difference that can be noticed is that in South America the social sciences
were not openly entangled with race and religion due mainly to the fact that the majority
of social scientists were and are people of European descent.
However, it was and it is
an issue among Afro-Caribbean thinkers confronted with the social sciences. In South
Asia, on the contrary, and particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, both religion and rac-
ism are unavoidable. But let’s read what Alatas (2008) has to say:
Religioscope – In different parts of the world, we have seen in recent years claims
that knowledge should be associated with some specific cultural or
religious heritage. There are people claiming a Hindu science; there
are those claiming an Islamic knowledge – or an Islamic approach to
knowledge. In order to see the wider picture, before coming to Islam,
could you elucidate the meaning of those different claims to indi-
genizing or religionizing knowledge?
Farid Alatas – If you put it in the larger context, there has been the consciousness
that the Western cultural roots of the social sciences and humanities
pose a problem for the development of social sciences in non-West-
ern societies. So people have been thinking about developing new
epistemological, metaphysical and cultural bases for the social sci-
ences. This has taken the form of the indigenization of knowledge
and the indigenization of the social sciences; it has also taken the
form of the nationalization of the social sciences to make them more
in line with national interests in some countries. It has furthermore
taken the form of the decolonization of the social sciences to allow
them to be informed by local, or national, or indigenous interests – as
opposed to colonial interests.
I can anticipate the concerns of a well-intentioned secular scholar in the social sci-
ences and the humanities with some of Alatas’s affirmation. And indeed both ‘indigeniz-
ing’ and ‘decolonizing’ the social sciences takes away the ‘universal’ pretensions of the
narratives that European told to themselves … and still do.
Decolonizing, indigenizing
as well as de-westernizing are instead projects attempting to delink from the global (if
not imperial) ambitions of Western social sciences. Certainly, they are not without prob-
lems. But because of them, neither the early westernizing nor the recent rewesternization
of social sciences can be taken for granted. Or if you wish, universalization is a European
indigenous imperial project, while decolonization and dewesternization are non-
European indigenous projects of delinking from imperial universals. Knowing and
knowledge do not need the social sciences. Once this premise is accepted, then harmoni-
ous cooperation toward the good of humanity (instead of competition to remain in con-
trol and efforts for not being controlled) can be worked out at all ends of the spectrum.
Farid Alatas’s concerns also resonate with Native American scholars working toward
‘Indigenizing the Academy’ (Mihesuah and Wilson, 2004). When the goal of the social
sciences, and the disciplines in general, is transforming scholarship to disempower com-
munities (and in this case mainly Native American communities who did not benefit very
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much from the progress of the social sciences), we are facing a situation of ‘disciplinary
decadence.’ What lies ahead is then the decolonization and dewesternization of knowledge
rather than opening and rebuilding the social sciences grounded in the Western model.
Indigenous European social sciences (as well as Western Christianity) are alien to the his-
tory, sensibilities, memories, and concerns of indigenous people in the rest of the world.
These issues run parallel to the questions in the domain of economy: the matter is not to
rebuild capitalism but to decolonize political economy and the belief that there is no better
option than an economy of accumulation of wealth (to the benefit of whom?). The parallel
question that endangers the Western legacies of the social sciences is the question concern-
ing the state. Rebuilding or refounding the state would be a pure re-westernizing project.
De-westernizing and decolonizing the state are issues that have to be solved ‘there’ (and
not from ‘here’) where the form-state arrived in the boats of Western colonizers and entre-
preneurs, and when they left, the form-state remained. For, who are the ‘we’ who want to
rebuild the social sciences (or save them, as in the case of saving and rebuilding capitalism
to cope with the financial crisis) and what for? What will restructuring the social sciences
do for the ‘transformation and empowerment of communities’ of thinkers who were born
and raised in languages alien to the Greco-Roman tradition and Western imperial lan-
guages? Or for ‘societies’ that were not formed in the history of European monarchies
followed by secular nation-states? What is needed are powerful ways of thinking and
research revealing how coloniality has been and continues to be the cause of global injus-
tice and how the rhetoric of modernity disguises it under the rhetoric of modernity.
Why would scholars and citizen intellectuals in Zimbabwe or China, in Bolivia or
Singapore, in Uzbekistan or South Africa be praying to enter the house of the social sci-
ences built by Western scholars and citizen intellectuals in their own languages, subjec-
tivities, and memories? Why would they/us be interested in importing the social sciences
to their/our locales? Why would they/us fear to think on their own, as Rodolfo Kusch
(1978) argued, in the 1970s, alluding to the Argentinian intelligentsia who needed a
European thinker as a security blanket before beginning to think? Why should the
European modern and secular nation-state be a model of governance for the rest of the
world? And why would two political parties, state and a civil society which votes, be
equated with democracy and demanded for the rest of the world? The social sciences,
particularly sociology and political sciences, should have much to say about these ques-
tions. But there is not much research available on these topics. And here is the crucial
point we, scholars in the social sciences and the humanities around the world, are facing
today: who needs disciplinary knowledge and what for (see Mignolo, 2009)? Only the
fear of thinking on their/our own would prevent ‘Third World’ thinkers and intellectuals
from disobeying the imperatives of Western social scientists.
In Malaysia, an annual conference was initiated in 2010 on ‘Decolonising Our
Universities’ under the auspices of Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International.

The following year the conference was held in Penang, Malaysia, 27–29 June 2011.

Farid Alatas’s intervention explains why globalizing sociology would not work for many
Asian and African scholars. Although there was not a unanimous view during the confer-
ence, the message largely was that the requirements and the demands of the social sci-
ences (Western of course) do not fit into the soul, the skin, the needs, the history, the
memories, the problems, and the way of thinking about them in non-European local
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histories. What is being claimed instead is to ‘decolonize and indigenize’ sociology and,
by extension, knowledge in general.
One of the strategies Alatas has been consistently
advancing is to build genealogies of thoughts based on thinkers local to South East Asia
rather than local thinkers from Western Europe. Why Weber, Alatas would ask, and not
Ibn Khaldun?
It is not that Weber should be ignored but, rather, that Khaldun has prior-
ity over Weber when it comes to dealing with South East Asian issues rather than issues
of Western Europe (and Germany, to be more exact).
This imbalance is already revealing of the differential of power installed by colonial-
ity and, at the same time, it reveals the force of non-European thinkers: Alatas can think
with both Ibn Khaldun and Max Weber while Euro-American sociologists, in general,
can only think with Weber and about Ibn Khaldun. Border thinkers have an epistemic
potential that territorial and imperial thinkers have lost.
Although Alatas (2013a, 2013b) devoted two books to Ibn Khaldun’s thoughts, Said
Nursi (Ottoman Sultanate, 1878 – Republic of Turkey, 1960) has a special place in build-
ing genealogies of thoughts and in his proposal for a ‘sociological theology.’ Nursi is
indeed a gold mine for anyone interested in flying away from the prison house of the
Western social sciences canon (Alatas, 2011a). To consider Nursi seriously in the social
sciences may sound like either an aggression to Weber’s disenchantment of the world or
a return to the traditions that modernity already overcame. In a sense, it is both. But truly
it is neither. It is both from a Weberian perspective. It is neither from a decolonial per-
spective. It is rather epistemic disobedience and delinking through border thinking:
reformulating Muslim principles and goals of knowing, believing, and sensing by incor-
porating (and not submitting to) Western knowledge: incorporating knowledge but not
ways (e.g., what in Western sciences is called ‘method’) and principles of knowing.
‘Sociological theology’ is indeed the natural consequence of assuming the globalization
of sociology while at the same time rejecting its claim to universality. If in Europe sociol-
ogy detached itself from theology, there is no reason for that in South East Asia or in
Turkey. Why? Because two alternative options would be to assimilate to Western social
sciences or to ignore them and to work with your back to Western social sciences. And I
would not discard this option. However, what border thinking allows is to delink and to
overcome the social sciences. ‘Sociological theology’ is one of those instances.
But why Said Nursi? Nursi was born in the Ottoman Sultanate and died in the Republic
of Turkey. He was a Muslim border thinker.
By that I mean that he was dwelling in his
own tradition, but at the same time critically evaluating the insertion of European moder-
nity (the tradition of Europeans) into his own society. He did not give up theology. On
the contrary, since for him theology provided the tools to think and understand society,
in the past, present and planning the future, European sociology had to be incorporated
within theology and not theology surrendering to European sociology.
Nursi lived in the trying years of the Ottoman Sultanate going through the process of
secularization and modernization; and he also lived during the radical years when
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk helped the process of ending the Ottoman Sultanate and opened
the gates to the modern/colonial nation-state. Caught in between the history of the
Sultanate and the invasion of European ideas and actors (in a combination of European
expansion and local collaboration), Nursi recognized the importance of modern science,
in Turkey, in the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth
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Although he was a Muslim believer he did not see a conflict between the two, thus pro-
posing to teach religion in secular schools and secularism and science in religious schools.
That belief made of him a border thinker, very undesirable for both Muslim believers and
the proponents of ending the Ottoman Sultanate and creating a modern state. He was even
less desirable once the modern state was formed under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk. Accepting the relevance of science did not mean abandoning the Q’uran and for
that reason he devoted over two decades (1925–1948) to writing comments on the Muslim
Holy Book that exceeded 6000 pages; now known as the Risale-i Nur Collection. And this
is what a border thinker precisely is: someone who does not reject the advent of Western
epistemology, yet at the same time does not bend to it. The solution to the dilemma cannot
come from the writers of the Gulbenkian Report or from the UNESCO Report.
I am bringing border epistemology into the conversation because I see it as the una-
voidable step a social scientist (as well as all scientists, thinkers, artists, and communities
in general) in the ex-Third World will have to take in order to delink from the social sci-
ences at the same time as recognizing their existence. Border thinking emerged because
modernity/coloniality created contact-zones that were never about the encounter of
equals. If contact zones had been of equal power on the two sides of the zones, border
thinking wouldn’t be necessary and it wouldn’t have emerged. But contact zones in the
modern/colonial world are in the ‘/’ that unites and divides modernity and coloniality.
The border is always a zone of degrading and being degraded, of receiving at home those
whose home is elsewhere or feeling the difference when we move to the home of those
who want to manage us. Inequality in the contact zones is not natural or historical: it is
built from one side of the contact zone, the side that controls knowledge. Decolonizing
the ‘captive mind’ is, then, the first step in every project of decolonization, indigeniza-
tion, dewesternization, and other similar projects that emerge from the refusal of submis-
sion and obedience to Western global designs.
Nursi lived and experienced the inequalities and power differential of the contact
zones: he felt that he and the people of the Ottoman Sultanate were being told what to do
to jump onto the band wagon of progress. ‘Progress’ was not a historical process, but the
European narrative of its own history. And that would have been all right. But the narra-
tive of its own history was used as a justification to impinge over other histories in the
name of ‘progress.’ This is one manifestation of Eurocentrism. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
accepted the European narrative. Living under Ataturk’s republic, Said Nursi’s experi-
mented with both, the insertion of French and European ideas and institutions (chiefly
education) under the Ottoman Sultanate and under Ataturk’s republic. In both instances,
his line of thoughts was always grounded in his being: he was where he thought and felt,
and his thinking and feeling were shaped by Muslim and Ottoman histories rather than
by Christian and secular Europeans and the history of European imperialism.
Concluding remarks: Geopolitics of knowing, points of
origination, and routes of dispersion
‘Eurocentrism’ is an epistemic issue, not a geographic one (Quijano, 2009 [1990]). It is
the single word that condenses the title of this special issue edited by Professor Gurminder
K Bhambra: ‘Knowledge Production in a Global Context: Power and Coloniality.’
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My argument up to this point has highlighted the darker side of the World Social
Science Report (2010) by UNESCO, and the good intentions and blind spots of the
Gulbenkian Report, Open the Social Sciences (Wallerstein, 1995). I have suggested that
Spirit returned to the global East and to the global South, which means the South of
Europe and the US also. Hegel’s fictional character, Spirit, began its journey in China,
around 3000 years ago. While Hegel told the story of how the West was born, now we
have to tell the story of how the East and the global South are reborn. This article has
drawn the general line of Hegel’s single story through the reverse destiny of the social
sciences, and kept in the background the humanities and the arts.
The naturalization of the Western foundation of knowledge (theology, secular episte-
mology, and secular hermeneutics) has been called and will continue to be called into
question. The ‘Islamization of knowledge,’ with all the shortcomings pointed out by its
critics (Abaza, 2002; SF Alatas, 1995),
is telling us something important: that, since the
European Renaissance to now, the world has witnessed a growing process of
‘Westernization of knowledge.’ That means that the diversity of knowledge and ways of
knowing in the planet were colonized and appropriated by Western languages, institu-
tions, actors, and categories of thoughts based in Greek and Latin, not in Arabic, for
example. The call for the ‘Islamization of knowledge’ and/or of ‘the social sciences’
points toward a concern that Farid Alatas rephrases as the ‘call for alternative discourses
rooted in the Islamic tradition.’ Phrasing it in that way, it points toward a planetary
revival of ‘discourses rooted in local non-Western traditions’ (distinct of course from
‘local Western traditions’). Spirit’s return to the Eastern Hemisphere and the global
South means just that, that Hegel’s fictional narrative is ending and exploding in many
directions in which Western legacies are absorbed and recast within local interests, needs,
desires, energies. Except, of course, in those cases in which non-Western locals see their
role as promoting rewesternization. The struggle is on and will last for a while.
Non-Western ways of knowing mean that there are other questions, genealogies of
thoughts, experiences and feelings, issues that cannot be confronted by expanding the
social sciences to the non-Western world. The social sciences emerged to solve problems
in Europe and contributed to make of Europe what it is in terms of institutions of knowl-
edge, actors, and categories of thoughts. It contributed to European and US imperialism.
It is doubtful the social sciences would be of help to non-Europeans who want to solve
their problems, one of them being Western imperialism economic, political, cultural, and
epistemic. Thus, de-westernizing and decolonizing knowledge (and knowing) means to
delink from the belief that there is one way of knowing and therefore of being. It is a long
road to walk, but the walk has started (Kumar, 2007–2013). Pradana Boy (2011: 98) adds
to this point in his article titled ‘Prophetic social sciences…’ that:
It has been long believed in the Western positivistic tradition that knowledge is value-free and
objective. But, the claim of Western knowledge objectiveness is subject to doubt of non-
Western social scientists, including Muslim theorists. Even in the Western society, the
skepticism over the objectivity of science has also long-existed. Structuralism and functionalism,
for example, contained bias of bourgeois society seeking for dynamic equilibrium.
Similarly, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi (quoted in Boy, 2011: 98), one of the leading critics of
Western social sciences, pointed out that such objectivity is a ‘vain claim.’ And I should
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add that such claims are grounded in the pretense of truth without parentheses, that is, of
the uni-versalization on one truth. He stated:
Western social scientists impudently declare their investigation objective. But, we know that
they are biased and that their conclusions are of limited significance … theory after theory was
erected to force the data into a mold, the categories of which were part and parcel of the Western
Furthermore, it can also be seen that Western social scientists study other religions as
part of their scientific objective. In this relation, Faruqi argued:
The Western mind was still a long way from realizing that understanding the religions,
civilizations and cultures of other peoples requires an opposite bias, empathy with the data, if
the data were to be understood at all. (quoted in Boy, 2011: 98; see also Zaidi, 2006)
I close with a quotation by Alatas (1995:89), the Malaysian sociologist, that echoes
the one by Lander, the Venezuelan sociologist, quoted in the epigraph:
The 1970s also witnessed the call to the indigenization of the social sciences in the Third World
as result of dissatisfaction with what was perceived as irrelevant social scientific theories and
methods and faulty paradigms of development. What Islamic social science and the call to
indigenization have in common is the critique of modernist discourses of man and society and
the rejection of the universality of social scientific concepts that originated in the West.
The basic research for the argument that unfolds here was realized from January to June of 2012,
while I was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Advanced Center for Cross-Disciplinary Studies of
the City University of Hong Kong.
1. You will find the answer, if you look at the UNESCO’s World Social Science Report (2010)
Available at:
social-science-report/. In this report, Malaysian sociologist based in Singapore, Syed Farid
Alatas, keeps insisting on knowing and at the same delinking from disciplinary formations
that emerged to respond to European needs and not to the needs of the world. Quite the
contrary, ‘converting’ people to the social sciences, like missionaries converted people to
Christianity, means putting the institutions before people’s needs.
2. Notice that the fiction of backwardness and laziness (a vocabulary in the fictional narrative of
modernity) was common to South East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines). See
the classical study by Syed Hussein Alatas (1977).
3. See Manuela Boatcă’s review of this book (2012).
4. Kuku Shuzo is an interesting case. A philosopher from Japan who goes to study philosophy
in Germany and when he returns to Japan, realizes that European philosophy, and German
philosophy in particular, were not embedded in his life experience. He changed direction.
His explorations turned to be grounded in Japan histories, memories, and experiences, of
course, after his European experience. But he realized simply that knowing, sensing, and
believing are not the work of a detached mind but of an embodied brain and heart. See
Shuzo (2004).
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5. If I had more space I would have delved more into the ‘New World Group,’ a collective of
brilliant thinkers in the British Caribbean (ranging from economist, sociologist, writers such
as Lamming, CLR James, and VS Naipaul), who were deeply concerned with the question
of ‘dependency’ at all levels and not only economic. For them the question of ‘racism’ was
unavoidable and the question of the social sciences not an issue: they have ‘problems’ to deal
with and they dealt with them from the perspective of their disciplinary formation but ‘using’
them rather than submitting to disciplinary imperatives. They were, in this sense, brilliant and
magnificent un-disciplinary (but very disciplined) thinkers. See Meeks and Girvan (2010).
6. Again, the recent UNESCO report on the social sciences repeats the fiction of the grandiosity
of their own invention. It looks like propaganda rather than ‘report.’
7. A paramount argument is the one advanced more than a decade ago by Maori anthropologist
Linda T Smith (1999). Regarding similar arguments vis-a-vis Christianity, see the brilliant
essays-narrative-argument by First Nation Canadian scholar and activist Leanne Simpson
8. Sessions 3 and 4 of the Conference ‘Decolonising Our Universities’ focused on the state of
the social sciences in the global South. Session 3 was dedicated to discussion of the World
Social Science Report (WSSR) published in 2010 by UNESCO. The session began with
Daryl Macer of UNESCO Thailand summarizing the report, admitting that the idea of social
science in the report is closest to that of the West and that UNESCO believes that social
sciences need to support a global agenda of development goals. These interesting remarks
were followed by radical critiques by social scientists from the regions. It is worthwhile
watching the two-hour-long Session 3 not only for what is said but for the feelings, the sens-
ing, that is nourishing the ex-Third World social scientist conviction that the implicit and
explicit recommendations of both reports are an aberration at this time. ‘Notes on decolonis-
ing universities: Part one’ (2011) In: TV Multiversity. Available at: tvmultiversity. blogspot.
com/2011/07/notes-on-decolonising-universities-part.html (accessed 15 June 2013). In
Session 4, in this same link, interested readers will find the complete presentation by Farid
Alatas I mentioned in note 1 and provided another direct link to. The question remains: why
globalize the social sciences, to the benefit of whom? The crucial point has been made in
the interventions: was there not knowledge of the social and individuals, among communi-
ties and civilizations that have lived for thousands of years before the social sciences were
invented in Europe? This is a crucial question for it shows that while social science has the
right to exist, the pretense to force it globally is an aberration, an effort to re-westernize, that
is, to keep control of knowledge from the left and from the right. Decolonization means,
precisely, delink from such global designs.
9. ‘Notes on decolonising universities: Part one’ (2011) In: TV Multiversity. Available at: tvmul- (accessed 15
June 2013).
10. ‘Decolonising our universities’ (2011) Syed Farid Alatas. Available at :
watch?v=W9we3ZNew_c (accessed 15 June 2013). It is illustrative to listen to the address
of Pavan Varma, ‘Decolonising universities’ (2011). Available at:
watch?v=KVfevgW608c (accessed 15 June 2013). Varma addresses the ‘colonization of the
mind.’ How it happens and what are the consequences, and what to do?
11. See Syed Farid Alatas (2013a) Applying Ibn Khaldun. The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in
Sociology. The title is already indicative of the project: you do not ‘apply’ Western ‘methods’
to ‘study’ Ibn Khaldun but, rather, you ‘apply’ Ibn Khaldun to decolonize sociology. This is
one way of engaging decolonial thinking. The other is to overcome the disciplines. This route
is the one followed by the project modernity/coloniality/decoloniality: a transdisciplinary
project. Transdisciplinarity is not similar to interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinarity preserves the
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disciplines, transdisciplinarity transcends them. It is precisely the colonial matrix of power
that takes the place of the disciplines. As far as the colonial matrix of power is a concep-
tual construction, such constructions reflect on the principles of decolonial knowledge and,
therefore, dictate the ‘method’: the analytic dimension and the prospective dimension. Both
dimensions constitute decolonial ways of thinking.
12. A highlight of Farid Alatas’s approach to Said Nursi is an interesting exchange with stu-
dents at the 4th Graduate Conference on Nursi Studies – Istanbul (2012). Available at: www. (accessed 15 June 2013). See also a recent lecture by
Farid Alatas (2013). Available at: (accessed 15
June 2013).
13. Farid Alatas on Said Nursi: This is an impor-
tant interview to understand the distinction he makes between Al Gazhali, Ibn Khaldun, and
Said Nursi. The second was addressing issues of the modern/colonial world while the first
was thinking in a non-modern and non-capitalist world order. At the same time, it should be
contrasted with the renewed efforts of rewesternization to counter de-westernizing and deco-
lonial forces and controlling knowledge in South Asia. Claude Alvarez (2012), for example,
asks: ‘The question few people ask is: Why do Indians or Iranians or Chinese for that matter
allow themselves to continue to be fed a diet of what Europeans or Americans decide is social
science? Is it possible that they could survive for thousands of years without intensive know-
how about social, political, scientific or military organisation? Why are we unable to resist the
notion that European sociology or anthropology or American political science or psychology
is some kind of absolute which cannot be questioned? Or are we simply too lazy to surrender
this colonial inheritance and rethink anew?’
14. On Said Nursi, see Serif Mardin (1989), especially Chapter III. My thanks to Bruce Lawrence
for educating me on Said Nursi and recommending this book.
15. The UNESCO World Social Science Report 2010 has this to say: ‘Social science from
Western countries continues to have the greatest global influence, but the field is expanding
rapidly in Asia and Latin America, particularly in China and Brazil. In sub-Saharan Africa,
social scientists from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya produce 75% of academic publica-
tions. In South Asia, barring some centres of excellence in India, social sciences as a whole
have low priority. These are a few of the findings from World Social Science Report, 2010:
“Knowledge divides”.’ Available at:
resources/reports/world-social-science-report/ (accessed 15 June 2013). The bias of the report
is obvious. However let’s note that it is mounted on the presupposition that the social sciences
are the best way to go with respect to human understanding of communities, memories, inter-
national relations, and cosmopolitan localism.
16. Today capitalism is global but the sensibilities and politics depart from economic negotia-
tions. In the same way that the US and the core states of the European Union are neoliberal
states that allow for (a certain degree of) free speech and expression, there is also room – in
the United Arab Emirates – for departing from Western influence in thoughts and expressions
and searching for reconstructing identities that Western hegemonic knowledge and media told
them to despise. The Sharjah Biennial 11, 2013, is one of many examples of re-emerging pro-
jects. See Mignolo (2013). Available at: (accessed 15 June 2013).
It would be misleading to overlook these projects, both as curatorial events and the individual
artists who participated, because it is founded by one of the hereditary states of the UAE.
If we do this, we have also to disregard critical experiments, in Europe, supported by Tate
Britain, Kassel Documenta, the Cuban Biennial, and other similar cases. Dewesternization of
the social sciences runs parallel to dewesternization of museum, biennial, and artistic prac-
tices in general.
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17. It should be pointed out that when Abaza compares ‘Islamization’ with ‘Christianization
or Hinduization of Knowledge’ she misses one important point: knowledge cannot not be
Christianized because hegemonic knowledge is Western Christian and secular knowledge. It
is the hegemonic knowledge to which Islamization of knowledge is a response and an attempt
to delink. It is another matter whether it is for better or worse, or if there other options. The
fact is, simply, that it is, and it is for a reason.
18. Zaidi offers a clear contextualization of when and how the debates of reconstruction of
Islamic knowledge started and why they came into being. Obviously, there is no such debate
in Western Europe or the US on the reconstruction of Christian and secular knowledge.
And if there is, the reconstruction takes place within the same Western tradition. Like post-
modernity for example, of earlier critique within modernity itself (like Marx, Freud, and
Nietzsche). The key word here is ‘reconstruction.’ The key words that define different types
of reconstruction (indigenization, Islamization, decolonization, dewesternization) are all
manifestation of the imperial expansion of Western modernity. Imperial expansion leaves
to type of options: you either assimilate to the variants of Western modernity or you do not
feel at ease with assimilation and therefore have to reconstruct the categories of thoughts of
your own tradition (and not that of the tradition of Western modernity) in order to maintain
you sanity, your integrity, your well-being and reject humiliation and dispossession, from
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Author biography
Walter D Mignolo is William H Wannamaker Professor of Literature and Romance Studies
(Spanish), Professor of Cultural Anthropology, and Director of the Center for Global Studies and
the Humanities. He was visiting Distinguished Professor at the Institute for Postcolonial and
Transcultural Studies, University of Bremen (May–June 2011); Research Visiting Fellow at the
Advanced Institute for Cross Disciplinary Studies, City University of Hong Kong (January–June
2012); invited as a Distinguished Scholar to the Center for Indian Studies in South Africa (CISA),
Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg (July–August 2013) and at the Stellenbosch Institute for
Advanced Studies (STIAS), South Africa (July–August 2014). He has recently published The
Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Duke University Press,
2011) which forms a trilogy with The Darker Side of the Renaissance (1995) and Local Histories/
Global Designs (2000, 2012). He is co-author, with Madina Tlostanova, of Learning to Unlearn:
Decolonial Reflections from Eurasia and the Americas (2012). Several of his publications have
been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Korean, and French.
Le cycle des « sciences sociales » telles qu’elles ont été formées historiquement au
début du dix-neuvième siècle arrive à sa fin. Le Rapport de la Commission Gulbenkian
de 1995 a tenté de maintenir l’hégémonie épistémique occidentale en « ouvrant les
sciences sociales » en reconnaissance des défis émanant du Tiers-Monde (géopolitique
des connaissances) et des répercussions du Mouvement des droits civiques aux États-
Unis (formations disciplinaires consacrées à des problèmes d’ethnique, de race, de
genre et de sexe). Cette « ouverture » a en fait représenté le début de sa « clôture
». Les connaissances sociales et culturelles pertinentes ne requièrent ni le contrôle
normatif, ni la réglementation des sciences sociales centrées sur l’Europe, même
dans leur généreuse ouverture. L’acquisition de nouvelles connaissances est en train
d’émerger à partir des expériences, besoins et souvenirs du monde non Européen dans
le dialogue querelleur avec les deux cents ans d’hégémonie épistémique occidentale.
L’Esprit de Hegel est bien de retour, désillusionné et en même temps habilité à débuter
un différent parcours du combattant vers l’Est et le Sud du globe.
Décolonialité et désoccidentalisation des connaissances, épistémologie des frontières,
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El ciclo de las ‘ciencias sociales’ como se las conoce históricamente desde los comienzos
del siglo diecinueve, está llegando a su fin. El ‘Informe Gulbenkian’ (1995) fue un esfuerzo
para mantener la hegemonía epistémica occidental mediante la ‘apertura de las ciencias
sociales’, reconociendo los desafíos del Tercer Mundo (geopolítica del conocimiento)
y delos resultados del Movimiento de los Derechos Civiles en los Estados Unidos
(formaciones disciplinarias sobre asuntos de índole étnica, racial, de género y sexual).
La ‘apertura’ fue en realidad el comienzo de su ‘cierre’. El conocimiento social y
cultural relevante no requiere del control normativo y de la regulación de las ciencias
sociales eurocentristas, aún incluso en su generosa apertura. La formación de nuevos
conocimientos surge de las experiencias, las necesidades y los recuerdos del mundo
no europeo en un diálogo polémico con los doscientos años de hegemonía epistémica
occidental. El espíritu de Hegel sin duda está de vuelta, desilusionado y a la vez vigoroso
para sortear nuevos obstáculos, en el Este y en el Sur Global.
Palabras clave
Decolonialidad y desoccidentalización del conocimiento, epistemología fronteriza,
at SEIR on June 10, 2014 Downloaded from

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