up2date. Das Onlinemagazin der Universtiät Bremen

“Don’t Live Your Life in a Bubble”: How to Navigate Your Academic Career

This summer, Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne is guest professor at Worlds of Contradiction.


Philosophy, languages, and mathematics – how do you connect these research fields? If you ask Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, they are all part of one universal understanding of our world. This summer, Professor Diagne is guest speaker at Worlds of Contradiction, an interdisciplinary and collaborative research platform at the University of Bremen, investigating concepts of contradiction. up2date. talked to him about combining seemingly opposing research topics and how to build a career in a new academic field.

Professor Diagne, what are you currently working on?

Right now, I am writing a book, in French, “De langue à langue”, which means “From translation to translation.” The book is dedicated to the subject of translation itself: Translation can reveal a dominance of one language over the other, while also being a way of dialogue between different cultures.

When I received the invitation from Worlds of Contradiction (WoC) at the University of Bremen, it was a perfect fit: All of my academic career has been devoted to contradictions. My fields of research include history of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, and literature. I am excited to explore new ideas in the WoC research group, which has devoted itself to contradictions across all academic fields.

What contradictions did you come across personally during your career?

When I had almost finished my studies in Philosophy, I had some time, which I used to look into mathematics, as it had always been an interest of mine. I came across George Boole’s work and I realized that logic – which is a big part of studying philosophy – translates itself into algebra. I completed my PhD in the history of mathematics and worked on introducing Boole’s work to the French audience, as it had not been translated at that time.

After completing my PhD, I returned to Senegal to teach Philosophy at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. There, I came across another contradiction: African philosophy. From a Eurocentric viewpoint, philosophy is always connected to the Greek. However, there are many other philosophies around the world, like African philosophy. Therefore, I uncovered a new field of research that I could devote myself to. It was at that time, in the 1980s, that political Islam became relevant to the public. As I come from a family of Muslim scholars and with my academic background in philosophy and mathematics, I became an expert in the fields of history of philosophy, philosophy in mathematics, African philosophy, and Islamic philosophy. I think what enabled me to do this was that I never lived my life in a bubble and always kept my eyes open: I found new, original fields of research where I could build my own niche by studying what I identified as problems and exploring new areas in meantime.

Did you ever have any doubts or worries when exploring new fields?

Of course. There are always moments when you question yourself and wonder why you undertook something in the first place. However, there are also moments where everything works out and you can see the results of your work. There is always serendipity: You just have to keep your eyes open.

How do you identify new areas you want to devote yourself to?

I always try to connect all aspects of a topic and to expand it. For example, I taught a class on Islamic philosophy and wanted to explore concepts beyond the traditional curriculum on classical Islamic philosophy. By looking into this, I came across Indian philosopher Muhammad Iqbal whose thought is in conversation with that of French philosopher Henri Bergson. This led me to explore more the encounter between their philosophies. Another example: I worked on a presentation of Senegal first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor’s philosophy. My reading led me to the the idea that I developed into a book that his philosophy is first and foremost a philosophy of African art. My reflection on classical African art has led me today to the work I conduct on provenace and restitution. I have been tasked with presiding the Scientific Committee of the French and German Fund for Resaerch on the Provenance of African cultural objects located at the “Centre Zentrum Marc Bloch” institution in Berlin.

You have combined various research areas throughout your career. What advice would you give to younger researchers?

Trust your mentors. It is normal to feel uncertainty. During the course of your degree, you take exam after exam – it is linear. Then you are asked to choose one topic on your own and devote years of your life to it. It feels like a blind date, as you simply do not know what will come out of it. A good mentor will help you see what it is you are dealing with and support you in finding a solution. Also, keep your mind open to any questions and problems you come across. They might be your next research topic. In addition, if you find repeating yourself, you are doing something wrong: We are never finished learning. There is always something new to discover. That is why we became researchers after all.

Upcoming events with Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne:

Lecture on June 26, 7 p.m., GW2 B2900: “The Languages of Philosophy and the Case of African Philosophy”

Public Lecture on July 3, 6:30 p.m. House of Science (Haus der Wissenschaft): “The Humanism of Translation”

About Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Professor Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne is currently U Bremen WoC International Guest Professor. He received his academic training in France. Being an alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure, he holds an agrégation in Philosophy (1978) and received his Doctorat d’État in philosophy at the Sorbonne (1988), where he had also completed his bachelor’s degree (1977). Before joining Columbia University in 2008, he taught philosophy for many years at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar (Senegal) and at Northwestern University. His field of research includes history of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, and literature.

About Worlds of Contradiction

Worlds of Contradiction (WoC) is an interdisciplinary and collaborative research platform which encompasses the humanities, cultural studies and sciences, social sciences, law, and educational sciences. Its aim is to develop and implement research projects, to foster early career researchers, and to implement projects of research-based learning as well as transfer projects with a special emphasis on interdisciplinary collaborative projects, all while serving to internationalize the participating academic fields.

WoC investigates concepts of contradiction and their epistemic framings, including notions such as difference, aporia, paradox, diversion, and discrepancy, across a range of different research projects. Their interest in the concept of contradiction goes beyond conventional dialectical approaches to contradictions or the purely normative notion of contradictions having to be resolved. Instead, they adopt an empirical approach to the social and cultural productivity of contradictions. They examine forms, context, methods, and conditions of living with them; that is, they explore how and to what end contradictions are used, enacted, and strategically dealt with and how they undo manifestations of heterogeneity, difference, and diversity.

zurück back

Also interesting…

Universität Bremen