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Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
Heesoon Bai ·Claudia Eppert ·Charles Scott ·Saskia Tait ·Tram Nguyen
©Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
Abstract In this paper, we propose an understanding of philosophy of education as
cultural and intercultural work and philosophers of education as cultural and intercultural
workers. In our view, the discipline of philosophy of education in North America is
currently suffering from measures of insularity and singularity. It is vital that we justly and
respectfully engage with and expand our knowledge and understanding of sets of con-
ceptual and life-practice resources, and honor and learn from diverse histories, cultures,
and traditions. Such honoring provides responsive conditions for our coming together in
and across differences in order that we may productively and creatively address and
overturn grammars of violence, destruction, and dis-ease in these complexly troubled
times. Committing ourselves to deconstructing historical and contemporary beliefs, values,
and practices that are compromising human and planetary ﬂourishing, we undertake
responsibilities to go cross-cultural and intercultural.
Keywords Intercultural philosophical dialogue · Global citizenship ·
Wisdom traditions · Navigating cultural differences through dialogue ·
Buddhist social transformation · Social responsibility and critical pedagogy
H. Bai (&) · C. Eppert · C. Scott · S. Tait · T. Nguyen
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
C. Eppert ·
C. Scott ·
S. Tait ·
T. Nguyen ·
Stud Philos Educ
In short, it is the task of Philosophy to know, to love, and to heal—all in one. It
knows as much as it loves and heals. It loves, only if it truly knows and heals. It heals
if it loves and knows…. It is not foreign to the nature of Philosophy to act with
wisdom, to love with discernment, and to perceive with detachment. (Panikkar 1992,
Panikkar (1918–2010), a philosopher, theologian, mystic, and poet, indeed a magniﬁcent
world-soul, devoted most of his life to fostering intercultural, interfaith, and inter-
philosophical understanding and fellowship. In his essay, “A Nonary of Priorities,” Panikkar
proposed that, in our times, the renewal of Philosophy has to come from cross-cultural studies
of philosophy. The latter, Panikkar explains, “does not study other philosophies but changes
the very perception of what Philosophy is” (1992, p. 236). Following Panikkar’s insight, we
suggest that cross-cultural and intercultural
perspectives and approaches also beneﬁt
philosophy of education and have the potential to change the very conception and perception
of what philosophy of education can be and what we as educational philosophers do. This
suggestion, we believe, is particularly pertinent and urgent today when the ﬁeld of philosophy
of education within North America, let loose from its historical moorings in the traditions of
Anglo-American analytic and Eurocentric “Western” philosophy, has important opportuni-
ties to reorient itself and venture in new directions that might enable us to increase our service
and contribute to a world currently very much mired in social and environmental problems on
a global scale, and facing serious survival challenges.
In this chapter, we propose an understanding of philosophy of education as cultural and
intercultural work and philosophers of education as cultural and intercultural workers. As such,
we are committed to deconstructing historical and contemporary beliefs, values, and practices
that are compromising human and planetary ﬂourishing. Again, taking the lead from Pannikar,
we also propose that philosophers of education world-wide become leaders searching for,
exploring, and exemplifying worldviews/values and practices that might move us away from
damaging epistemologies and ethics and towards love’s knowledge and healing. As we shall
contend, this search is best facilitated by undertaking responsibilities to go cross-cultural and
intercultural. In our view, the discipline of philosophy of education in North America is
currently suffering from measures of insularity and singularity. It is vital that we justly and
respectfully engage with and expand our knowledge and understanding of sets of conceptual
and life-practice resources, and honor and learn from diverse histories, cultures, and traditions.
Such honoring providesresponsive conditions for our coming together in andacross differences
in order that we may productively and creatively address and overturn grammars of violence,
destruction, and dis-ease in these complexly troubled times.
As to be anticipated, putting this proposal to work is not without signiﬁcant challenges
and complications, some of which we will detail in this paper. However, it is our con-
viction that the beneﬁts outweigh the costs, and we are certain of our application examples
speaking to these beneﬁts.
Throughout this chapter, we deploy the terms “intercultural” and “cross-cultural” in recognition that the
former refers more to an in-between relationship open to cultural identity transformation, including cultural
innovation or hybridity, based on mutuality and reciprocity while the latter refers more to cultures moving
across geographies and being compared and contrasted for their differences and commonality. Generally
speaking, interculturality signiﬁes a greater degree of critical and dynamic understanding of culture and
possibilities of cultural innovation and transformation than cross-culturalism. But the two are not mutually
exclusive, and in any case, the latter is necessary for the former.
H. Bai et al.
Philosophy of Education and Transformation of Culture
When problems develop that threaten the sustainability of people and their environment,
we have to look at the hosting cultures and their contribution to these problems. The
dominant cultures of today spreading all over the planet are characterized by the reduction
of all values to monetary value, disappearance of the sacred, pervasiveness of instru-
mentalism that leaves trails of a trashed world behind, and unbridled consumption and
corresponding production that is overwhelming the carrying capacity of the planet (Bai and
Cohen 2007). Late capitalist societies seem mired in what Eppert (2013) is calling a
‘separationist ethos’ (p. 36); that is, an ethos that stresses differences and dualisms in
conﬂict, an individualism that posits self before and over others and environment, a narrow
utilitarianism that justiﬁes the use and abuse of others, a materialism that enables the
‘consumption’ of others and environment, a scientism that supports objectiﬁcation, and so
on. The beliefs, values, and practices that go with these characteristics are an integral part
of hegemonic cultures.
In times such as ours, when suffering and trauma abound, when violence and violation
continue (their scale and reach enabled by modern technologies), when species are
increasingly becoming extinct, and when ecosystems are collapsing (Macy 2007), phi-
losophies are being addressed to engage in conversation and contemplate how we might
globally contribute to a world in which our children, species, and environment can live
well and thrive. How do we venture forth from this mire individually, communally, and
collectively? And, as Gough (2004) and Mall (2000) pose, how do we form solidarities in
order to help heal and sustain our present day world?
For philosophers of education, too, the same questions as above are to be raised. The
context of education is broad in contemporary culture. There is formal schooling, such as
K-12 and beyond; and various other social contexts are involved in educating human
beings. Parenting is an essential and prominent context of education; workplace envi-
ronments provide leadership and professional development and also constitute signiﬁcant
educational venues. Wherever humans are engaged in the transmission and transformation
of worldviews and values, habits and practices, education of some manner and kind is
taking place (Bai and Romanycia 2013). All those involved in education need to participate
in examining worldviews and values, and their enactment, assessing how they do or do not
serve mutual ﬂourishing and sustainability, and making suggestions and showing examples
of different possibilities of imagining and handling reality. This is where philosophers of
education as cultural and intercultural workers can enter the scene and offer much needed
contributions, by inviting contemplative critique, challenging beliefs and values underlying
inequities, and shedding light on past and present ways of wisdom and being-in-the-world.
Philosophers of education the world over who are working with and learning from diverse
cultural resources and traditions would be in beneﬁcial positions to speak to and offer
insight into possibilities for addressing the complexities of global times.
Can We Recognize Philosophers as Cultural Workers?
Throughout history, philosophers, also known in different cultures as wise elders, or sages,
have been leaders of people. As leaders, their vocation was to identify weaknesses and
sicknesses in the culture that were compromising mutual ﬂourishing, and point to practices
of thinking, perceiving, feeling, acting, and interacting that would promise better ﬂour-
ishing. In other words, philosophers have long been cultural workers and, in many
Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
instances, have risked criticism, ridicule, ire, hatred, and even their own lives in order to
contribute to society’s fuller wellbeing. We have no better example than Socrates who was
put to death by his fellow citizens for ‘corrupting’ the youth of his days with his new
visions of the world.
The entrenchment of conventional truths, of which culture is largely composed, and
which can threaten to induce a state of ‘sleep’ in the citizenry (Saul 1995) can be so strong
that anyone who stands up and points to what is not working in the culture and suggests
different ways to look at and work with social realities may indeed risk much. As Hall
(1976/1981) observes, culture is largely unconscious. It is largely unconscious because
individuals participating in a given culture are inducted into it as if what the culture
presents is naked reality. Elements of a given culture—beliefs, values, customs, ethos,
technologies, practices and habits—are presented to individuals as pre-givens, with a sense
of truth that “this is just what reality is all about.”
In addition to Socrates (470-399 BCE), other philosophers or sages from the Axial
Period who travelled unchartered and ‘risky’ territory include Confucius (551-479 BCE),
Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BCE), and Zarathustra (ca. 628-551 BCE). The Axial Age is
very special for humanity. It was a major turning point in human history in terms of
ontological shift: a call to humanity by the Axial Elders
for a move out of ethnocentric
and heteronomous mindsets and into a “cosmic centric” (Panikkar 1992) and autonomous
moral agency (Bai 2014). Bai has argued that this Axial Age call to humanity has not yet
been fulﬁlled, and is still in—we may add, slow—progress.
Philosophy inescapably emanates from, responds to, and experiments with culture. Let
us muse a little on how this works. Broadly speaking, culture is composed of worldviews,
values, habits and practices. Different cultures mean different sets of these contents. In
other words, different cultures have different ways of conceptualizing, interpreting, con-
ﬁguring, and negotiating reality. This insight is key for us. Unaware of this insight, we can
all-too-readily get entrenched in ethnocentric notions that one’s own worldview possesses
exclusive truth claims, and other worldviews are mistaken, invalid, and inferior.
It may be helpful to identify a physical analogy here and contrast such ethnocentrism
with an example of how intercultural understanding and interchanges may have worked
more fruitfully. Different cultures have different ways to respond to hunger: with different
food ingredients and preparations, i.e., cuisine, and dietary customs. Cultural history has
shown ample examples of how cuisines and customs of different cultures mingled and
mixed, always adapting, adopting, and changing. In the domain of worldviews and values,
cultural exchange and interchange, however, have not been as curious, adventurous,
generous, kind, and fruitful as in the cuisine-culture scene. Culture wars between different
worldviews and values have been the norm throughout history. Many bloody battles have
been and are still being fought in the name of Reality and Truth Claims.
If we understand the function of philosophy as cultural work, the aim of which is to
attend to the problematic aspects of a culture or cultures and introduce and implement
alternate ways of negotiating reality, then philosophy’s primary activity would be to search
for worldviews and values that promise or have been shown to be efﬁcacious in responding
to the problems that a culture is experiencing. Philosophy of education in North America
can contribute fruitfully to such activity by engaging in philosophical cross-cultural and
We have left out from our list of Axial Elders the name Lao Tze because of the disputed historicity of this
ﬁgure, but an acknowledgement needs to be made that the Daoist thought is part of the Axial teachings.
H. Bai et al.
As part of embarking on this path, however, it is important that we more fully unpack
both what we mean by North American or “Western” “philosophy” and also how we are
given to understand “culture.” A ﬁrst major hurdle for educational philosophers educated
in a “Eurocentric tradition” to work through is to become more aware of and unpack the
social constructedness of this tradition and to become more open to the viability of
alternate worldviews as philosophies with considerable wisdom, legitimacy, and value. Let
us now take a brief further look at scholarship that seeks to expose and contend with the
entangled (and dark) history behind so-called “Western” philosophy. From there, we will
propose philosophical moves, based on Hadot’s (1995) argument, reinforced by Foucault
(2001), that philosophy represents a way of life, and speciﬁc and rigorously ontological,
epistemological, axiological, and methodological orientations.
Unpacking and Learning from History of Interculturality
It is by now well documented that economic, cultural, and intellectual exchange between
occidental and oriental geographies has been prevalent since ancient times. Scholars have
refuted the socially constructed trajectory that Western philosophy derives directly and
linearly from the Greek, and have also shown long histories of considerable inﬂuences of
ideas between East and West (Armstrong 1993,2006; Clarke 1997; Dussell 2000; Hobson
2004; Smith 2008). As religious studies scholar King (1999) maintains, rooting Western
culture “in ancient Greece is as problematic as the exclusion of Africa and Mesopotamia”
from its multifarious histories (p. 11). Such scholarship places into signiﬁcant question any
claims for the homogenous identity of Western philosophy and deeply problematizes
essentialist claims still shadowing contemporary educational understanding that East and
West are remote from and inaccessible to one another (Eppert 2013,2014). Indeed, phi-
losopher Ram Adhar Mall (2000) asserts, “[t]oday we cannot carry on as if the ancient
classical-occidental model of history were still valid. It must be stated that Greek historical
thought is closer to the Asian than the Christian-European” (p. 121).
King (1999) pointedly challenges the parochialism of Western philosophy and con-
tinued resistances of European and American philosophers to engage non-mainstream
thought from a number of angles. For example, he reﬂects on the West’s own diverse and
shifting understanding of what counts as philosophy over the centuries and the unfortunate
increasingly narrowing professionalization of its purview as it came over time to separate
itself from mythos, orality, the natural sciences, theology, tradition, psychology, and the
common everyday (as opposed to the professional elite and ‘high culture’) (pp. 2–5). This
increased differentiation, he asserts, has resulted in philosophy tending to be “conceived of
as an abstract and solely mental activity, to be sharply distinguished from the physical and
spiritual realms” (p. 5). He observes how these shifts were variously, i.e., politically,
socially, culturally, and institutionally, by the secularization of philosophy such that today
“many contemporary philosophers retain an air of anti-religious secularism that shapes
both their awareness of the nature of the discipline in which they are trained and their
understanding of its variegated history” (p. 5).
Additionally, Western philosophy has been deeply implicated in practices of colo-
nialism and imperialism. King writes that the conception of philosophy as “the exercise of
rationality” involved a constructed demarcation and disassociation from what it described
as ‘non-philosophy’, which in ancient times was attributed to sophists, who were foreigners
in Athenian society, as well as to women, slaves, and oral storytellers, and later came to
encompass that which was non-European (pp. 6–9). He notes that the secularization of
Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
philosophy and its increasing professionalization within higher education, along with its
increased alignment with the sciences, was one way in which it could further marginalize
‘spiritual’ non-Western philosophy (p. 5). He further observes that modern Western phi-
losophy, informed by European Romanticism, has also revered autonomous individuality
and creativity, which serves to “underplay the role of tradition and community in all
creative and critical thought”, [and] also perpetuates what might be called ‘the trickle down
theory of knowledge’ that emphasizes key ﬁgures but neglects broader contexts (p. 7).
King advocates that philosophy in American and European societies can beneﬁt from
more fully contending with their own historical, political, and social situatedness, attending
to the “ruptures, heterogeneities and discontinuities” in its histories and becoming more
embracing of diversity in time and space (p. 9). He asserts: “[I]ntellectual resistance to
engagement with ‘other cultures’ is severely hampered by the tendency to reify the concept
of ‘culture’ and to conceive of ‘cultures’ as self-contained and static entities” (p. 11). The
implication of King’s observation for the recognition of philosophers of education as
cultural workers is then to recognize culture as ﬂuid and organic rather than isolated and
sovereign. King’s point is similarly made by Mall (2000) who emphasizes that wisdom is
no one’s possession, and that cultures have always borrowed from and been inﬂuenced by
one another. Like King, he urges American and European philosophers to remember that
the Western way of doing philosophy is not the only way, nor is it necessarily the ‘right’
way; dualistic either/or notions of ‘right/wrong’ are precisely what have underpinned much
of imperialistic and colonial drives: “no culture is a windowless monad, so all cultures
possess to varying degrees intercultural overlappings” (p. 15). For Mall (2000), philosophy
is intercultural ﬁrst and subsequently Greek, Indian, Chinese and so on; it is by its very
“nature intercultural” (pp. 1–2). By ‘intercultural’, Mall does not mean eclecticism,
abstraction, aesthetitization, romanticism, or exoticism (p. 5). Rather, he articulates
intercultural as a moral and mental category, a philosophical conviction, attitude and
insight that no “philosophy is the philosophy, and no culture is the culture” (p. 5). Both
King and Mall speak to the importance of intercultural philosophical dialogue in today’s
globalized world, and King reminds that linguistic differences, while needing to be care-
fully attended to, should not prevent such dialogue, especially considering that many
‘Western’ philosophers do not know ancient Greek, and study Plato and Aristotle in
translation (p. xiii).
In sum, insofar as philosophy follows the insights of many of its own contemporary
theorists and ethicists, it is challenged to be open to and enter into hospitable relations and
respectful dialogue with diverse philosophies and manners of philosophizing.
Dialogical Encounters for Intercultural Learning
The search for alternate, promising worldviews, values, and inter/cultures able to promote
human ﬂourishing, especially within the contexts of a world that is increasingly digitally
connected, ever quickly changing, and complex, is not solely or even primarily the solitary
endeavor that philosophical inquiry has sometimes been imagined as, both East and West.
Rather, if nothing else, the times require that our intercultural inquiries be carried out
collaboratively by engaging as educators with those from other traditions, religions,
geographies and so on, following the leads of philosophers as ancient as Socrates and as
contemporary as Tu Weiming (see, for example, Tu 2007). Tu is regularly engaging with
those from East and West in his attempts to understand and promote wellbeing and sus-
tainability in a world where the traditional, modern, and postmodern increasingly intersect.
H. Bai et al.
In North American higher education, campuses are increasingly comprised of students
from diverse national, cultural, ontological and epistemological backgrounds. This reality
presents a wonderful and appropriate contemporary philosophical challenge for those of us
working on these campuses: namely, to learn more deeply from difference and to practice
an ethics of hospitality. We are proposing what Paulo Freire (2006a) referred to as the
student–teacher contradiction, in which the dynamics and roles of teacher and student
continually shift between the players such that they see themselves as student–teachers and
as teacher–students. Our work as philosophical intercultural workers calls us to radical
humility, requiring us to become students, embracing what Zen Buddhists call Shoshin
(初心) or “beginner’s mind”—a consciousness characterized by openness, emptiness, lack
of preconceptions, and eagerness to learn—as we seek out and learn from those repre-
senting other cultures, epistemes, and ways of being. Such rigorous and humble
philosophical practice also helps us avoid falling into the modernist western cultural trap of
privileging our knowledge and ways of seeing. It is this sort of rigor that was, as Hadot
(1995) argued, at the heart of philosophical practice; philosophy consists of what he termed
the “spiritual practices” enjoined upon us by the Greek schools of philosophy. These
practices involved reason, study, engagement with others, as well as learning to live and to
die. They are analogous to an athlete’s training or applying a medical cure.
As Freire (2006a,b) proposed, critical pedagogy requires dialogue. Hadot (1995)
articulates dialogue as one of the rigorous “communal spiritual practices” (p. 90) of phi-
losophy wherein we open ourselves to change, to discovery, and to an engagement with
another. Theorists such as Freire, Hadot and Buber share a vision of dialogue not simply as
a form of verbal conversation but rather as an ontological means of encounter or meeting
(Buber 1958/2000), and in referring to philosophy of education, we are suggesting that it
represents, far more than any set of educational practices, an ontological orientation to
teaching and learning. When dialogue is conceived as a particular relational way of being
in the world, it brings with it or requires the rigorous practice and development of par-
ticular sets of capacities or virtues (Aristotle 2000). Buber introduces seven of these
capacities (1947/2002, 1958/2000, 1965). The ﬁrst he referred to as becoming aware:
listening in its broadest sense incorporates the senses, intellect, emotions, and intuition.
Second is conﬁrmation of the other, a respect for another as Other and a validation of
another’s ontological status. Third is inclusion or empathy, which he articulates as the
ability to incorporate others’ experience or presence within the expanding sphere of one’s
own experience. Fourth is presence, the afﬁrmation of one’s own ontological and episte-
mological standpoints. Fifth is the willingness and ability to explore the unknown and
different, what Buber (1947/2002, 1948) referred to as the “holy insecurity.” Sixth is
ability to cognize and grapple with paradox. Finally, there is an ability to synthesize what
is being perceived or see the big picture and how all its parts connect to create a whole:
what Buber (1965, p. 62) referred to as a “synthesizing apperception.”
Freire (2006a) deﬁned dialogue as “the encounter between men [sic], mediated by the
world, in order to name the world” (p. 88). It is a direct, open meeting between people that
occurs in general and speciﬁc contexts that mediate that meeting, and it allows and
challenges participants to speak to and address their ontological, epistemological, lin-
guistic, and cultural realities: their worlds. As languages of various kinds are often an
essential interactive element, these dialogues can be seen as a form of what Merrill Swain
refers to as “languaging”: a “dynamic, never-ending process of using language to make
meaning” (2006, p. 96).
As Buber (1947/2002, 1958/2000), Freire, and a number of contemporary sociocultural
theorists suggest, we establish our humanity through such encounters, and dialogue thus
Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
becomes what Freire (p. 88) refers to as an “existential necessity”; according to Hadot
(1995), it “corresponds exactly to a spiritual exercise” (p. 93). It is also an act of creation,
in which the participants are not only sharing their realities but also creating, in and
through the dynamics of their meeting, hybridized new realities in a synthesizing fashion.
Freire furthermore asserts that such dialogical encounters require a loving commitment
to others and the world, humility, faith in humanity, and hope for the possibility of
becoming more fully human; he suggests that the horizontal dynamics that are thus
established contribute to developing profound trust in others and in humanity. He further
asserts that dialogue requires critical thinking, but, signiﬁcantly, he grounds critical
thinking itself in a relational ethos that requires the discipline of being able to discern an
“indivisible solidarity between the world and the people and admits of no dichotomy
between them” (p. 92). We are required, Freire maintains, to be in and with others and the
world. That, we would suggest, is at the heart of our philosophical praxis as intercultural
Encountering Otherness and Navigating Cultural Differences
While cross-cultural and intercultural dialogues present unique opportunities for address-
ing limits on self-understanding imposed by the situatedness or context and one’s own
inquiry, history has shown repeatedly that the worldview of knowledge-seekers inevitably
inﬂuences what is noticed and deemed worthy of exploration and what is disregarded or
left unseen. As suggested previously, the outcome of one’s interaction with or inquiry into
another culture or worldview, in other words, is colored by one’s own, historically and
socially contextualized worldview or ideology (Mannheim 1929/1936).
The view that ideology plays an important role in the act of understanding and inter-
preting anything has profound consequences for those who wish to study diverse cultures,
and especially for intercultural philosophers who hope to ﬁnd “conceptual resources” in
non-Western cultures that can challenge the discourses of modernity and its deleterious
productions. If indeed the intention of philosophers as inter/cultural workers is to expe-
rience fresh insight and inspiration from alternate worldviews, then a primary and integral
aspect of this work must involve developing an awareness of the mostly tacit pre-theo-
retical understandings and social practices that form the context for one’s encounter,
dialogue, and exchange with diverse philosophies, traditions and practices. Without such
awareness or contextualized understanding, there is a danger that the traditions turned to
among philosophers embedded in ‘Western’ belief systems may be selectively translated
and so accommodated to hegemonic values and assumptions that they may accede the
many rich resources they have for critiquing and serving as alternatives to them.
McMahan (2008) offers a valuable example of how this has played out in relation to the
ways in which Buddhist philosophy has been taken up in the modern West. He documents
how Buddhism’s encounter with modernity not only changed it, but how the conditions of
modernity—as manifest through various ideological forces, textual sources, historical,
social and cultural practices, overt philosophies, and tacit assumptions—created implicit
parameters for what interpretations of Buddhism became possible and impossible.
McMahan demonstrates how certain elements of Buddhist traditions have been selected
because they serve the needs and interests of the modern world, while others (that may be
more typical of Buddhist experience throughout history) have been ignored, suppressed, or
reconstituted in terms of modern discourses. In its accommodation to Western thought,
culture, and social practice, aspects of Buddhism have been reformulated to ﬁt into
H. Bai et al.
particular metanarratives of American and European culture, and now into an increasingly
globalizing modernity. This, notes McMahon (2008), could have two potential and
It could position Buddhism to bring novel conceptual resources to the West and
modern world that might indeed offer new perspectives on some of modernity’s
personal, social, political, and environmental ills… At the opposite end of this
continuum are forms and fragments of Buddhism that have been absorbed into
western culture so thoroughly that they lose any potential to offer any real alternative
to or critique of its values and assumptions or offer anything new. This is where
Buddhism fades into vague New Age spiritualities, self-help therapies, and purely
personal paths of self-improvement. While there may indeed be personal beneﬁts to
such approaches, they are largely subservient to popular values and often merely
instrumental to their ends: making money, working efﬁciently at the ofﬁce, having a
rich and satisfying private life. At the continuum’s furthest extremes, these fragments
fade into popular culture, splintering into shards of Buddhist imagery that become
tropes for countless commercial products (pp. 260–261).
There is ample evidence that Buddhist philosophy and practice can offer the West—and
more broadly, the contemporary world—vital perspectives, insights, and critiques. Indeed,
many intercultural philosophers have made it their business to explore and exhibit how
Buddhism’s sophisticated techniques of meditation and its vigorous ethical philosophies
can be fashioned into formidable critiques of materialism, consumerism, and the
pathological aspects of global capitalism (e.g., Loy 2003,2008; Macy 2007). However,
care needs to be taken in the ongoing translation of these and other philosophies and
practices because, as McMahon points out above, there is a danger that they could become
so thoroughly accommodated to popular (post)modern cultural and intellectual discourses
that they assume unprecedented meanings and purposes and, in the worst case scenarios,
lose the power they have to really challenge (post)modernity’s status quo and offer
alternative possibilities (Nelson 2012).
The work of philosophers as inter/cultural workers, as such, requires not only becoming
more receptive to the inﬂuence of ideas from diverse cultures and worldviews, as if this
were a neutral affair of just “looking out.” Properly and sensitively done, it also involves a
“looking in”, or the development of awareness of the ways in which what is seen in any
“other” is inﬂuenced by mostly tacit social concepts, ideologies, and practices. To the
extent that philosophers as inter/cultural workers can remain attentive to the ways in which
their meeting with different cultures is always and inevitably circumscribed by the norms,
values and concerns of their own cultural tradition(s) and prejudices, the possibility for a
more honest interaction wherein knowledge and understanding is actively and mutually
negotiated opens up. After all, human beings are not only social beings—the products and
creators of culture. They are also meaning-makers participating in what Shotter (1993)
calls “conversational realities” occurring in cultures that are themselves historically
evolving processes subject to constant revisions, reinterpretations, and transformations.
Indeed, on an alternate note, it is important to remember that cultures are organic, and
are always inﬂuenced by encounters and exchanges. As such, while it is important to take
note of the above, we concurrently need to recognize that traditions are themselves con-
tinually in ﬂux, bearing birth to new and alternate traditions and changing ideas to meet the
challenges of changing times. Buddhism itself constitutes a prime example of such ﬂux as
it began in India and then moved eastward, shifting and changing as it blended with
previous traditions in different cultures, and these last decades is now taking root in the
Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
West (Bresnan 2003, p. 374). As cultures are organic, so is it natural that intermingling and
translations take place as the needs of the times invite. In some ways, and history has
shown this to be the case, the editing of traditions is inescapable, but it is critically
important for those engaged in the work of translation to become conscious of participation
in the editorial process—of the ways in which what is chosen and left out will impact how
well and humbly we meet and learn from one another. Value distinctions can be made
between various interpretations of text(s) and traditions(s), especially if the interpreter/
editor displays some degree of depth and attention to context.
Cultural Learning from the Wisdom Traditions
We—the authors of this chapter—are variously familiar with the cross-cultural and
intercultural dimensions of philosophy. Some of us are bi-cultural, and all of us have
studied Western and Eastern philosophies and adopted long-term practices associated with
the latter. Some of us have variously had opportunities to work closely with and learn from
students and scholars who represent different nations and cultures, epistemologies, and
ontological orientations. Our personal experiences and academic studies have committed
us to performing cultural work in education. Of particular interest for us have been the
teachings of Eastern wisdom traditions, especially Buddhism and Daoism. We recognize
Buddhist and Daoist philosophies, and their embodied practices, as having much to offer
for critically countering the harmful worldviews and values that are central to the
increasingly global hegemonic cultures of instrumentalism and consumptive materialism
that utilize binary, linear, dualistic, and fragmented individualistic ways of thinking. It is
worth noting that there is, as well, an intersection between these dialogical and contem-
plative practices, as noted below. The intersection lies in the primary grounding of the
Asian philosophical traditions in relationality, and we would suggest that in our work as
educators and philosophers of education this orientation—one that is philosophical,
ontological, and epistemological—offers a way forward in the world. We are undertaking
and would encourage further explorations into relational contemplative orientations and
practices (Bai et al. 2009,2014; Scott 2014; Eppert 2014). Even in the midst of deliberate
solitary contemplation, Freire (2006b) still understood the “essentiality of to be with” (p.
In our view, it is precisely because many Eastern philosophies are embedded not in a
separationist but rather in a relational ethos—understanding reality as inherently interde-
pendent rather than isolationist—that they can speak well to contemporary social and
environmental crises. They resonate in the attention given to the integration of self with
environment and cosmos and also the integration of mind, body, soul, and spirit (Eppert
2008,2009). Moreover, they tend to variously emphasize not an either/or approach to
dualisms but rather balance, ﬂow, and integration. They too contend with possibilities for
healing from aggression, suffering, and trauma (Eppert 2008,2012). That said, it is
important to keep in mind, as King (1999) reminds, that just as scholars need to be wary of
homogenizing occidental intellectual thought, so too are oriental philosophies participants
in need of rigorous debate, argumentation, and differentiation. King attends, for example,
to materialist Indian philosophy that radically counters Western generalizations regarding
the mysticism of Indian thought, and he worries that this philosophy will be neglected
because of the West’s general attraction to India’s more spiritually oriented philosophies
(p. 22). When engaging in intercultural philosophical dialogue, it is wise not to impose
socio-constructed assumptions and expectations on the philosophies of others. As King
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writes, “the western philosopher would do well to adapt Mr. Spock’s famous line from the
television series Star Trek, and admit that—‘It’s philosophy, Jim, but not as we know it!”
King provides a number of reasons for which one might want to consider it worthy to
engage in intercultural philosophical dialogue. Doing so can provide greater understanding
of one’s own background and traditions, including its ‘blind-spots’ (p. 37). Moreover, such
dialogue reﬂects more fully the “cultural and intellectual diversity of humankind” and can
“provide intellectual stimulation, new and creative syntheses of old ideas, and the potential
for the development of new approaches, orientations, and world-views” (p. 37).
An Example of Intercultural Philosophical Work in Global Citizenship
In this last section of our chapter, we wish to give an example of the kind of intercultural
work that philosophy of education can undertake in the way we have been theorizing and
proposing. In this example, we propose the intermarriage of philosophical worldviews in
order to not only open a respectful space for intercultural dialogues but also make way for
possible intercultural collaborations in contending with issues that cannot be solved
effectively from a single perspective. The realm of global citizenship is where the present
illustration takes place. In what follows, we will brieﬂy mention two different views on
social transformation, as a facet of global citizenship practice, and then present how an
intercultural application of Buddhist philosophies conceive of social transformation, which
may add another dimension into global citizenship practice.
First, social transformation, framed within (neo)colonial visions, is supposed to have
much to do with poverty alleviation, and hence, from this perspective, global citizens are
expected to help “an unfortunate Other” (Jefferess 2012, p. 27) through charitable action
(Jefferess 2012; Tarc 2012; Taylor 2012). This way, global citizens are believed to have
“the ability to act, and speciﬁcally to ‘make a better world’ for .… others” (Jefferess 2012,
p. 29) by ‘reaching down and uplifting the less advantaged.’ Some scholars implicitly and
explicitly posit that although this action is helpful in some way, it may not actually make a
signiﬁcant social change; rather it may end up perpetuating extant unequal power relations
and social injustices (Cook 2012; Jefferess 2012; Tarc 2012). For this reason, at least from
a post-colonial perspective, global citizens should extend their action from charitable work
to critiquing socio-political structures that give rise to social injustices or to uncovering the
“systems and structures that produce poverty and suffering” (Jefferess 2012, p. 38). In turn,
this approach, despite its possible positive effects, from Buddhist perspectives, should also
be carefully considered because “deconstructing or destroying things does not mean
something better will necessarily come about. Condemning things does not necessarily
require insight or fortitude” (Mukpo 2013, p. 37).
For Buddhists, social transformation must be both an external and internal path. In other
words, it must be grounded in two pillars; namely external actions or actions toward things
seemingly independent of the self and internal actions or actions to transform our own
mind (Hattam 2004; Jones 1989). Even social transformation must begin with or be pri-
marily conditioned by the transformation of the mind, both individual and collective, that
has to do with liberating ourselves from the illusion of a separate self and resulting endless
desires to solidify the ego-self (Jones 1989; Loy 2003). Notably, the futile effort to fulﬁll
insatiable ego-based thirsts, within the Buddhist worldview, gives rise to greed, hatred,
delusion, and other unhealthy emotions which, in turn, bring about human suffering (Loy
2003; Nhat Hanh 1998; Rahula 1959). Especially, at the collective level, through a
Towards Intercultural Philosophy of Education
Buddhist lens, “[s]ociety can be nothing other than a product of mind. Because our minds
are under the inﬂuence of a powerful illusion, society must in large part be ‘delusion
institutionalized’ (Jones 1989:69)” (Hattam 2004, p. 260). Thus, society cannot be radi-
cally transformed if our inner actions are not prioritized. Indeed, according to Buddhist
social theorist David Loy (2003):
If we have not begun to transform our own greed, ill will, and delusion, our efforts to
address their institutionalized forms are a likely to be useless, or worse. We may
have some success in challenging the sociopolitical order, but that will not lead to an
awakened society. Recent history provides us with many examples of revolutionary
leaders, often well intentioned, who eventually reproduce the evils they fought
against. In the end, one gang of thugs has been replaced by another. (p. 35)
However, inner action does not merely mean liberation from suffering brought about by
ego-centric desires. It also means continuous cultivation of compassion and wisdom, which
is the gateway to not only individual enlightenment but also social and global
enlightenment. To do this, ﬁrst and above all, we should have faith and conﬁdence in
our individual and collective good nature (Nhat Hanh 2006,2007; Mukpo 2013). At least
at the individual level, Nhat Hanh (2007) explains, “[w]hen you have the energy of faith in
you, you are strong … the word faith [emphasis original] is better translated as
“conﬁdence” and “trust,” because it is about something inside you and not directed toward
something external” (p. 15). He continues:
If we look carefully, we can see that the energy of awakening, compassion, and
understanding is already there inside us. Recognizing these energies as an inherent
part of your very being, you have conﬁdence in these energies. And if you know how
to practice, you can generate these energies to protect yourselves and to succeed in
what you do. (p. 16)
These positive energies are probably what Buddhist teacher Mukpo (2013) calls “basic
goodness” (p. 26). He maintains that “[u]nlike information, basic goodness cannot be
transmitted, but only pointed out. The heart must wake up to what is already there. When
we recognize and trust our primordial nature, we have conﬁdence” (p. 26). Like with the
individual, society also has its basic goodness:
It [society] has also been described as “a friendly association” because just as the
nature of humanity is basic goodness, society’s natural energy is care and kindness.
From that, the ceremony of enlightened society arises… A good society is a matter of
individual minds self-empowering their instinctive goodness. (p. 79)
From this perspective, we would argue that heading towards an enlightened society and an
enlightened globe, fundamentally we, as global citizens, should trust and help others
recognize and trust this basic goodness of humanity. Certainly, we are not depicting a
utopia with a naı
¨ve or superstitious mind. Reality has shown that since so many of us have
deep “faith” in human “problems,” then our society and our world are full of “problems,”
and consequently our life is nothing but a “problem-solving” trip. So, logically speaking,
the other way around would also be true. Why do we have to begin our social
transformation process with pity (for others), doubts, mistrust, and criticisms? Why do we
not begin the process with trust in our individual and collective self-worth? If we have faith
in our good nature and cultivate it, an enlightened society and globe will emerge.
In brief, as presented above, Buddhism offers another way of understanding social
transformation by extending the meaning of action. Accordingly, action in Buddhism is an
H. Bai et al.
all-encompassing concept requiring both internal and external practices. As noted, to
facilitate our inner actions (and our outer actions as well), we must have deep faith in the
good nature of humanity, of society, and of the whole world and continuously cultivate it.
It’s time for each of us, as a global citizen, to walk with dignity, with our head up, and with
persistent conﬁdence in our inherent great potential and hence in an emerging enlightened
In the ﬁnal section above, we have witnessed Buddhist philosophies contributing to how
we might collectively re-consider possibilities for personal and social transformation. It is
now time to draw our paper to a close. Our paper has sought to recognize philosophy as an
intercultural dialogue and philosophers of education as cultural and intercultural workers.
We view this turn toward culturality and interculturality as a vital ethical imperative for the
North American ﬁeld of philosophy of education and for contemporary times. Developing
an awareness of the inescapable inﬂuence of both tradition (our socio-culturally condi-
tioned past) and prejudice (our present circumstances and agendas) on understanding and
knowledge, and being open to, engaging with, and learning from diverse philosophies is
one of the greatest responsibilities and challenges for philosophers as inter/cultural
workers. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that it is a responsibility not only that
we open ourselves to diverse worldviews but also that we do so responsively, from “basic
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