Diversity vital to our
By Diona Fay Howard
November 1, 2005
class, welcome to intellectual heritage 51. Can anyone tell me what
intellectual heritage means?" says a Temple professor at the
beginning of each semester. A bold student ready to earn an A for the
course eagerly answers, "It means the legacy of great thinkers
and ideas in this world."
The professor gives a nod of approval and distributes the course
syllabus. When the eager student finally receives his syllabus, his
smile suddenly turns into a frown and he begins to question the answer
he provided a moment ago. "Why are we only studying European
philosophers?" Ironically, this young student is not alone in
questioning this situation.
Last spring, the Sankofa student organization - committed to
empowering the communities of people of African descent - in
collaboration with others, produced a list of demands they wanted the
university to address, with black scholarship in the intellectual
heritage courses included.
When sophomore Tyne Hunter reflected on how it made her feel as a
black student to not learn a sufficient amount of African and minority
scholarship within the university core courses, she said, "I
think the intellectual heritage courses as a whole seem to diminish
the intellectual works of many minority scholars. We only study
minority works in intellectual heritage 52 and, even then, it is only
three books crammed into a small period of time."
The works of people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr.
and Mahatma Gandhi are included in the intellectual heritage 52
program, which is fine, but these individuals are not the only
minority thinkers. Students have been learning about them since grade
school as though they are the only thinkers of minority descent. The
college level is where less mainstream but equally important
philosophers should be studied.
Contrary to the common misconception, European and ancient Greek
philosophers were not the only seekers of wisdom and truth. In
intellectual heritage 51, students are introduced to Socrates, Plato
and Aristotle, but are denied the fact that these philosophers were
taught in Ancient Kemet (Egypt) under Egyptian Mystery teachers.
As Innocent Onyewuenyi points out in his article, "Is there an
African Philosophy?" what American and European institutions call
Greek or Western philosophy is copied from indigenous African
philosophy of the "Mystery System."
Onyewuenyi also explains that many students are taught that Socrates
was the first person to say "Man know thyself?"
Unfortunately, people are not made aware that the expression was
commonly inscribed on Egyptian temple doors centuries before Socrates
Imhotep, an Egyptian, who is deemed as the "Father of Medicine,"
was a philosopher, poet, scribe, chief lector, priest, architect,
astronomer and magician. He lived during the Third Dynasty and served
as adviser to King Zoser. According to Phillip True Jr., "He
urged contentment and preached cheerfulness. His proverbs contained 'philosophies
of life.' Imhotep coined the phrase 'Eat, drink and be merry for
tomorrow we shall die.'"
The Greeks identified Imhotep as their own god of healing and many of
his teachings were absorbed in the foundation of Greek culture, True
wrote in an essay published on nbufront.org.
However, as True said: "As the Greeks were determined to assert
that they were the originators of everything, Imhotep was forgotten
for thousands of years [as] a legendary figure. Hippocrates, [the
ancient Greek physician] who came 2,000 years after [Imhotep], became
known as the Father of Medicine."
Works of philosophers such as Imhotep should be included into the
intellectual heritage curriculum. By doing so, Temple professors would
be pioneers in giving honor where it is due.
Excluding African philosophy but blatantly including mostly European
thinkers denies Africa the acknowledgement of its meaningful
contributions. Therefore, if the Egyptian Mystery System never existed,
would there be a Plato, Socrates or Aristotle?
Diona Fay Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.