Last week, the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia announced that it is adding a philosophy course to its secondary school curriculum. Prior to this, philosophy had been wholly absent from education at all levels in Saudi Arabia.
The course is called “Critical Thinking and Philosophy” and will be part of the nationwide high school curriculum, which is mandated by the Saudi Ministry of Education. The government has contracted with DialogueWorks, a British educational consultancy focused on philosophy, to train teachers for the course.
I asked one person familiar with this development why the teaching of philosophy hadn’t been allowed before in Saudi Arabia. He said, “There is no official statement of the reason, but there used to be a stigma around philosophy in Saudi Arabia. Some religious people think it is in conflict with Islamic traditions, so it must not be taught. They are the same people who were against women’s driving. Now, the government is ‘socially’ more open-minded, so they allowed women to drive for the first time last year, and this year allowed teaching philosophy.”
Hassan Alsharif, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Kansas (who appears to be the first person ever from Saudi Arabia to have pursued a PhD in philosophy*), is interviewed about the introduction of philosophy into the Saudi Arabian high school curriculum here (in Arabic). In an email, he says, “I’m so happy that my country is getting more open-minded to other intellectual works, especially philosophy.”
*UPDATE: This turns out to not be correct. Ahmed Alenaizan writes: “Dr. Nader Alsamaani (a Saudi professor in Qassim University in Saudi Arabia) has earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Birmingham in the UK; he was supervised by Professor Yujin Nagasawa. I personally am pursuing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Connecticut.”