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The highly publicised student protests that started in SA in 2015 catapulted a “woke” conceptual repertoire into the mainstream. In the universities, its instantly recognisable vocabulary — “positionality”, “lived experience”, “trigger”, “trauma”, “invisible violence”, “intersectionality”, “pathological whiteness”, “black pain” — is now seeping into faculty discussions and management communiqués. It could soon be the basis on which some universities are run. Champions of the new social justice creed largely reject the content of nationalist and religious ideologies from the past. Yet nationalism, religious puritanism and today’s woke ideology share a common form. All three give pride of place to direct, possibly incommunicable, personal experience, often elevating it far above formal education and reasoned debate. In doing so, all three ideologies shunt people onto two sides of a social divide: on one side, those granted direct insight into what is best for society; on the other, th...

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