Existentialism from a Global Perspective


The Caribbean Philosophical Association will be meeting with the Simone de Beauvoir Society and the North American Jean-Paul Sartre Society this year with the theme of shifting the geography of reason through exploring diverse lineages of existentialism:


It occurred to me that scholars and students work with a narrowly conceived view of existentialists. The following is a non-exhaustive list from the Global South and of those of color that offers a very different portrait of existential philosophy, thought, and artistic work beyond what is often taught in supposedly mainstream courses on existentialism and thus should emerge in discussions at this meeting and future research and courses. Although some may seem unusual, simply engaging their work will reveal profound meditations on human agency, the human condition and humanity, freedom and liberation, critical reflections on rationality and reason, relations of existence to essence, and more. In other words, abandoning existentialism in the hegemonic centers of the western academy is not identical with its death. Existential thought lives on in the bourgeoning debates that also occasion a different understanding of important past thinkers. We often forget, for example, that the 19th century foundations of European existential thought actually came from places understood today as part of the Global South.


Mohammed Arkoun (1928-2010)
Assia Djebar
Mohammed Chaouki Zine


Charles Wm. Ephraim (1941–2011) 
Paget Henry  (and USA)
Jamaica Kincaid  (and USA)


Carlos Astrada (1894–1970)
Jorgé Luis Borges (1889–1986)
Carlos Cossio (1903–1987)
Alejandro Korn (1860–1936)
Francisco Romero (1891–1962)


Sara Ahmed (primarily in UK)
Danielle Davis


Kamau Braithwaite (and USA)
Clevis Headley (and USA)
George Lamming


Raimundo de Farias Brito (1862–1917)
Nilton Campos (1898–1963)
Creusa Capalbo 
Paulo Freire (1921–1997)
Abdias do Nascimento (1914 –2011)
Ernildo Stein


Elias Bongmba (also USA)
Nathalie Etoke (also USA)
Achille Mbembe (also South Africa)


Enrique Molina Garmendia (1871–1964)
Jorge Millas (1917–1982)
Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)


He Lin (1902–1995)
Liang Shuming (1893–1988)
Lu Xun / Zhou Shuren (1881–1936) 
Mencius (c. 372–289 BCE)
Pan Pingge (1610–1677)
Wang Ji (1498–1583)
Wang Xuefu
Wang Yangming (1472–1529)
Xiong Shili (1885–1968)


Gonzalo Arango Arias (1931–1976)
Fernando González Ochoa (1895 –1964)
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (also UK)


Alejo Carpentier (1904–1980)
Nicolás Cristóbal Guillén Batista (1902–1989)

Dominican Republic

Junot Díaz (also USA)


Abdel-Rahman Badawi (1917–2002)
Taha Husayn (1889–1973)


Tsenay Serequeberhan (also USA)

French Guiana

Léon-Gontran Damas (1912–1978)


Jean-Paul Rocchi (also Guadeloupe)


Ayikwei Armah


Simone Schwarz-Bart


Wilson Harris (also UK)


Edwidge Danticat (also USA)
Jean-Price Mars (1876–1969)
Jacques Roumain (1907–1944)


Sri Aurobindo (1872 –1950)
Rabindranth Tagore (1861 –1941)


Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati (1926 –1999)


Ali Shariati (1933–1977)


Lewis Gordon (known primarily in USA)
Claude McKay (1889–1948)
LaRose Parris (known primarily in USA)


Masao Abe (1915–2006)
Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990)


Abdul JanMohamed (also USA)
Wandia Njoya
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o 


Layla Baalbakki 
Suhayl Idris (?–2008)
Charles Malik


Aimé Césaire (1913–2008)
Suzanne Césaire (1915–1966)
Raphaël Confiant
Frantz Fanon [also Algeria] (1925–1961)


Antonio Caso (1883–1946)
José Gaos (1900–1969)
Octavio Paz (1914–1998)
Jorge Portilla (1919–1963)
Samuel Ramos (1897–1959) 
Emilio Uranga (1921–1988)  
Luis Villoro (1922– )
Leopoldo Zea (1912–2004)

New Zealand

Garrick Cooper


Chinua Achebe [also USA] (1930–2013)
F. Abiola Irele (also USA)
Fela Kuti (1938–1997)


Ghassan Kanafani [also Lebanon] (1936-1972)


Augusto Salazar Bondy (1925–1974)
José Carlos Mariátegui (1894–1930)
(See also Gloria M. Comesaña-Santalices)


Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001)


Gloria M. Comesaña-Santalices (known primarily in Peru)
Jose Ortega Y Gasset  (1883–1955)
Don Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936)

South Africa

Steven Bantu Biko (1946–1977)
Rozena Maart (also Canada)
Noël  Chabani Manganyi
P. Mabogo More

United States***

Linda Martín Alcoff (also Panama)
Molefi Asante 
James Baldwin (1924–1987)
Robert Birt
Frederick Douglass (c. 1818–1895)
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963)
Ralph Ellison (1914–1994)
Kathryn Gines
Lorraine Hansberry (1930–1965)
Langston Hughes (1902–1967)
Floyd Hayes, III
Stephen Haymes
Charles Johnson
Maulana Karenga 
William R. Jones (1933–2012)
Nella Larson (1891–1964)
Monifa Love
Nelson Maldonado-Torres
Jacquelyn Martinez
Toni Morrison
Lucius T. Outlaw
J. Deotis Roberts
Howard Thurman (1899–1981)
Dwayne Tunstall
Cornel West
Richard Wright [also France] (1908–1960)
George Yancy
Naomi Zack

(See also those from the other countries listed as “primarily USA”)


Carlos Vaz Ferreira
José Enriqué Rodó


Hiền Thu Lương
Ly Chanh Trung
Nguyễn Văn Trung
Thich Nhat Hanh
Trần Thái Đỉnh (1921–2005)

All of these philosophers, social theorists, and artists were in dialogue with or explored the works of European and Euro-American existentialists such as Hazel Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Blanchot, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida (depending on how Deconstruction is read), Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, Maxine Greene, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The dialogue that will emerge from the above broader portrait should stimulate a more rich conception of existential thought for future generations.

Please also check out the list of laureates for the Caribbean Philosophical Association’s Fanon and Guillén Awards:


Some useful recent publications reflecting a broader portrait of existential thought:

George Cotkin, Existential America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Yoav Di-Capua, “Arab Existentialism: An Invisible Chapter in the Intellectual History of Decolonization,” The American Historical Review 117, no. 4 (2012): 1061–1091.


Lewis R. Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Paget Henry, Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy. NY: Routledge, 2000.

Hiền Thu Lương, “Vietnamese Existential Philosophy: A Critical Appraisal.” Temple University Dissertation, 2009: http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p245801coll10/id/44747

Lu Qi’s lectures on Yangming at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (July 2011): http://ecoumene.blogspot.com/2011/07/wang-yangmings-philosophy-and-its-fate.html

Roberto Domingo Toledo, “Existentialism and Latin America,” in Jack Reynolds, Ashley Woodward, and Felicity Joseph (eds.), The Continuum Companion to Existentialism (London: Continuum, 2011), pp. 215–237. 


* While Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida were born in Algeria, they are read primarily as French and more at the mainstream of the Western academy, which is why they’re reserved for the concluding paragraph.

** While geographically in Europe, Spain is geopolitically more part of the Global South, which is why it is included here.

*** Although the USA is geopolitically First World, the designation and ideas of the theorists and artists listed here are squarely located in the Global South.

© Lewis R. Gordon