An anthropological investigation into philosophy can provide us with insights and information about traditions of knowledge and intellectual practice elsewhere in the world, in social contexts very different from our own. The project needs to engage with – and first of all be able to identify – philosophy as part of social discourse, and as a social practice, within any given region. Here, I am carving out one particular approach about how this could work, in relation to the Swahili context and against the background of discussions in African philosophy. Philosophy, as socialized discourse and practice, overlaps with other (more established) areas of anthropological interest, like literature and religion. These overlaps, of genre and of discipline, can be investigated and made useful, as points of orientation. However, one difficulty of introducing the project of an ‘anthropology of philosophy’ to an interdisciplinary audience with widely disparate expertise and backgrounds, is dealing with all the subject-specific matters and questions in appropriate depth. Here, I am trying to find a balance, presenting several subdisciplinary ‘turns’ that lead to an anthropology of philosophy. Thus, the interdisciplinary overlaps provide entry points into the characterization of this project.
Towards an Anthropology of Philosophy
Within the last few decades, anthropology has developed various interdisciplinary subfields of research on ever more complex and subdifferentiated areas, thus creating a broader range of ‘anthropologies of …’ that are investigated in their own right. To push this research ahead, knowledge from other disciplines needs to be brought in, and has indeed become more crucial for anthropology than ever before (Moore 1999, 4). Now, philosophy is a specific field of human activity, an intellectual yet socially contextualized endeavour.