Is John Dewey’s Thought "Humanist"?


This paper asks a relatively straightforward question—Is John Dewey’s thought “humanist”? But neither the answer (Yes, but…) nor the importance of the question are straightforward. In asking this question, I wish to put Dewey’s texts into conversation with the substantial body of research literature—mostly in the humanities and social sciences, but increasingly within educational thought as well—of nonhumanist theory, broadly understood (Murris, 2016; Siddiqui, 2016; Snaza, et al., 2014; Snaza & Weaver, 2014). Before outlining the scope of this paper, it may be useful to be direct: To the extent that the answer to my question is “Yes,” Dewey’s texts seem increasingly irrelevant to the problems— ecological, political, ontological—facing us in the present moment. But I will argue that Dewey’s texts are not univocally or easily humanist, and that this mixed quality enables a dehumanist reconstruction of his ideas. This allows two related but distinct avenues for future engagements between Dewey and nonhumanist thought. On the one hand, it would enable those of us working in curriculum studies and educational philosophy to find a familiar point of reference for engaging the sometimes-daunting work on nonhumanism, even a way of thinking about curriculum studies as always already open to thinking beyond the merely human and in ways that are not restricted by “humanism.” That is, this reading might open a way of reading Dewey differently than he has customarily been read. On the other hand, a dehumanist reconstruction of Dewey might give nonhumanist thought a set of basic concepts—experience, habit, education, democracy—that enable it to translate its considerable ontological and political insights into more “practical” avenues, making good on its implicitly pragmatic politics, and directing those politics to explicitly decolonial projects.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © Foundation for Curriculum Theory. This article first appears in Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 32:2 (2017), 15-34.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.

Citation Example for Article (Chicago):

Snaza, Nathan. "Is John Dewey’s Thought 'Humanist'?" Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 32, no. 2 (2017): 15-34.