**Decolonisation of math:
background narrative**

C. K. Raju

Some 30 years ago, a
group of influential Indian intellectuals decided: we must tell our
own stories. The West has been telling our stories for us for far too
long. This resulted in the Project of History of Indian Science,
Philosophy and Culture which was pluralistic and had scholars from
the extreme left to the extreme right. My (authored) volume, a tome
of some 500 pages, took a decade, and was the 50^{th} in the
PHISPC series.^{1}

The radical new
conclusion of that book was that the calculus originated in India
over a thousand-year period from the 5^{th} to the 15^{th}
c. CE. It was used to obtain precise trigonometric values, precise to
10 decimal places. The Indian economy depended on rain-fed
agriculture and overseas trade, and these precise trigonometric
values were needed both for navigation and astronomy needed to
determine the rainy season. In the 16^{th} c. CE, Europeans
sought overseas wealth, but had a major navigational problem, in
determining latitude, longitude, and loxodromes, due to bad European
mathematics, a related bad calendar etc. Hence, the Indian calculus
and astronomy, and related calendrical texts were translated and
taken to Europe in the 16^{th} c. by Cochin-based Jesuits
with the help of local Syrian Christians for whom they set up a
college.

False credit for the
precise trigonometric values stolen from India was claimed by the
Jesuit general Christoph Clavius, and for the astronomical model by
Tycho Brahe (Kepler’s master, and astronomer Royal to the Holy
Roman Empire). However, Clavius did not understand enough
trigonometry to determine the radius of the earth. Further, the
infinite series of the Indian calculus were not *understood *in
Europe, due to contrasting epistemologies of math, even until the
time of Marx,^{2}
though the calculus was falsely attributed to Newton and Leibniz on
the infamous and genocidal “doctrine of Christian discovery”
(still part of US law).^{3}

The other key
conclusion of the book was that the philosophy of (formal)
mathematics, as globally taught today, is NOT universal. The
different philosophy of math (“normal math”), with which
the calculus originated, makes calculus very easy, and ENHANCES its
practical value. Accordingly, I started teaching calculus that way,
first in CUTS, Sarnath,
then in the math department in Universiti Sains Malaysia,^{4}
then in CISSC, Tehran, and
in Ambedkar University Delhi,
etc., with significant success. In Malaysia, this came into the
limelight, and involved heated public discussions, as part of the
effort to decolonise the university, since 2011. It, further,
emerged that the history and philosophy of science also needed
extensive decolonisation. I summarised this real story of calculus in
a 2015 talk at MIT.^{5}

The #RhodesMustFall agitation in South Africa gave a fresh impetus to attempts to decolonise the university, and especially to decolonise math which was a major stumbling block for blacks in post-apartheid South Africa. I gave a talk at the University of South Africa on decolonising mathematics. This made some racists there very nervous, because it threatened their claims of intellectual superiority. Accordingly, one racist professor “explained” that blacks and women were bad at math because they needed to be taught to think like the dead white men who had created the subject.

I responded with an
article “To decolonise math stand up to his false history and
bad philosophy” in the *Conversation*. The article went
viral, before it was CENSORED by the South Africa editor. Numerous
news portals across the world, who had earlier reproduced it, also
took it down, except for Science 2.0 which highlighted my claim that
Euclid was a black woman.^{6}
In India, the Wire put it back, but the Scroll permanently removed
it. (The censored article was reproduced in full in an article “Black
thoughts matter”,^{7}
and also in the recent Rhodes Must Fall book,^{8}
and no one has yet pointed to a single wrong statement in it.)

Subsequently, in a
series of 5 lectures “Not out of Greece” at the
University of South Africa,^{9}
I explained why the tall claims of early Greek achievements in math
and science (not covered in *Black Athena*) are racist history
without substance, as Afrocentrists rightly maintain.

Eventually, there
was a historic debate^{10}
in the University of Cape Town on decolonising math and science
proper (and not just its history). I explained in detail in a keynote
in Durban why math needs to decolonised,^{11}
and its formalist philosophy rejected, regardless of its true church
origins. I had hoped to explain the effect on science, in two
lectures on this topic at Palestine Technical University, which were
blocked by Israel’s refusal to grant a visa for no specified
reason.

Though both formal math and racism are based on the same rhetoric and myths of “superiority”, people understand racist prejudices, but most people are ignorant of formal math or the prejudices it injects. They accept the formal mathematician’s rhetoric that formal math is “superior”, and this rhetoric is repeated in current school texts. But, in the last two decades, formal mathematicians have proved to be be intellectually bankrupt, and desperately avoiding serious debate on any aspect of the formalist philosophy of math, since it is by now apparent that it will collapse like a house of cards. Actually, the philosophy of formal math originates not with the Greeks, but in the superstitions of rational theology adopted by the crusading church. It is not certain that the Western psyche can tolerate the complete crash of its long-held claim of intellectual superiority.

1C.
K. Raju, *Cultural
Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the
Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16th c. CE*
(Pearson Longman, 2007).

2Dirk
J. Struik, “Marx and Mathematics,” *Science
& Society*
12, no. 1 (1948): 181–96, also CKR, “Marx and
mathematics”, a series of 5 articles to appear in Frontier
Weekly.

3C.
K. Raju, “The Meaning of Christian ‘Discovery,’”
*Frontier
Weekly*,
January 2015
http://www.frontierweekly.com/archive/vol-number/vol/vol-47-2014-15/47-29/47-29-The%20Meaning%20of%20Christian%20Discovery.html,
“Doctrine of Discovery,” accessed June 18, 2020,
https://www.manataka.org/page94.html.

4C.
K. Raju, “Teaching Mathematics with a Different Philosophy. 1:
Formal Mathematics as Biased Metaphysics,” *Science
and Culture*
77, no. 7–8 (2011): 274–279 arXiv:1312.2099, ; C. K.
Raju, “Teaching Mathematics with a Different Philosophy. 2:
Calculus without Limits,” *Science
and Culture*
7, no. 7–8 (2011): 280–285 arXiv:1312,2100.

5C. K. Raju, “Calculus: The Real Story“, Talk at MIT” (Cambridge, Mass., USA, April 26, 2015), http://ckraju.net/papers/Calculus-story-abstract.html., abstract at http://ckraju.net/papers/Calculus-story-abstract.html.

6C. K. Raju, “Was Euclid A Black Woman? Sorting Through The False History And Bad Philosophy Of Mathematics | Science 2.0,” October 24, 2016, https://www.science20.com/the_conversation/was_euclid_a_black_woman_sorting_through_the_false_history_and_bad_philosophy_of_mathematics-180581.

7C.
K. Raju, “Black Thoughts Matter: Decolonized Math, Academic
Censorship, and the ‘Pythagorean’ Proposition,”
*Journal
of Black Studies*
48, no. 3 (2017): 256–78.

8C.
K. Raju, “To Decolonise Math Stand up to Its False History and
Bad Philosophy,” in *Rhodes
Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of Empire*
(London: Zed Books, 2018), 265–70.

10*UCT
Panel Discussion on Decolonising Science*
(University of Cape Town, 2 Mar2018),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWdqR-z6jIc&feature=youtu.be;
*Decolonising
Science Panel Discussion: Part 1*
(University of Cape Town, 2017),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckbzKfRIi6Q&feature=youtu.be.

11C.
K. Raju, “Decolonising Mathematics,” *AlterNation*
25, no. 2 (2018): 12–43b,
https://doi.org/10.29086/2519-5476/2018/v25n2a2.