The Theory of Knowledge course requires all IB students to study the core theme and any two out of the five optional themes.
You have to work on the core theme (knowledge and the knower) first, where you examine your perspective on knowledge, what it means to you, and your overall thoughts on knowledge.
The optional themes taught in TOK are knowledge and politics, knowledge and technology, knowledge and indigenous societies, knowledge and religion, and knowledge and language.
Your TOK teacher can either choose the theme they would like you to explore or help you pick what you have an interest in and believe would be fun exploring.
Analyzing the 5 Optional Themes in TOK
1. Knowledge and Politics
There’s a strong relationship between knowledge and politics because knowledge tends to bring power, which greatly shapes what we consider as knowledge. If you analyze political debates and election campaigns, it’s easy to see how politicians and dominant groups deal with knowledge and facts.
The media continues to use modern technologies to disclose a staggering amount of claims made by politicians and dominant groups on a daily basis. Listening to and carefully analyzing these claims, we see how skilled politicians are in manipulating facts to win people’s thoughts – although this doesn’t mean that facts don’t matter in politics.
As far as this optional theme in TOK is concerned, and given that knowledge itself demands credibility and responsibility, we have to reflect on the difference between the truth and a lie, the distinction between facts and fiction, who possess and represents knowledge, and the circumstance under which we should trust expert opinion.
Exploring knowledge and politics will give you a different and a reasonable view on the current issues. In particular, the theme encourages independent critical thinking, particularly when it comes to concepts such as gender, race, power, values, society, and law.
Moreover, understanding the political mature of knowledge can have significant results on an ethical perspective.
For example, if we understand the effect of dominant groups and political elites by looking at example of real life situations, it becomes difficult to accept unethical political claims that we come across on a daily basis. This, therefore, shows a strong connection between ethics, knowledge, and politics.
2. Knowledge and Technology
Technology has changed the way we access information.
Unlike in the olden days, where we had to go to local libraries to search historical journals for credible information, it takes only a second to access information from search engines such as Google, Yandex, Yahoo, and Bing.
Today, you have access to a wealth of information and knowledge, which can be overwhelming especially because anyone with access to a computer and internet access can disseminate knowledge online.
How then can you identify the most accurate information? Specifically, how can we distinguish between well-structured yet unsupported claims and well-founded knowledge?
If you think about it, technology can encumber our search for knowledge because there are no restrictions to who can express and propagate knowledge. That means you’re bound to come across claims without evidence and unreliable sources of information.
Moreover, people hardly assess these claims for clarity and authenticity when they come across them, making it quite hard and nearly impossible to determine what true knowledge is.
The whole point of studying knowledge and technology as an optional theme in TOK is to bar easily manipulation by what you come across on the web. It means never accepting anything you read, watch, or hear online at face value.
So instead of choosing what you want to be your most conventional truth, analyze yourself as a knower by looking at how you deal with the information you access online and how you share knowledge. This optional theme also helps you to examine the justification of knowledge and the validity of the knowledge claims.
3. Knowledge and Indigenous Societies
In knowledge and indigenous societies, we look at how the existing community of knowers shapes what we claim to know and accept about knowledge.
Even today, in an age where westernized form of education places more significance math, reason, and scientific methods, there still exists indigenous societies that look at knowledge from a different point of view.
So by exploring knowledge and indigenous societies in TOK, we come across unique themes of languages and thought, which is something we can’t do through globalization or cognitive imperialism.
4. Knowledge and Religion
Historically, religion has been a source of knowledge for many people and communities. Beyond giving explanation for our existence, this system of belief gives us guidance on how we should live, unveils what drives human behavior, and provides sound explanation about the world we live in.
There are many arguments surrounding religion as a system of faith. Perhaps the most interesting is the belief that it offers human beings answers to everything and it should therefore be the only knowledge map that humans should possess.
In reality, the link between knowledge offered by belief systems and believers is not only incredibly varied but also incredibly complex.
Moreover, the extent to which you accept knowledge offered by religion depends on human perspectives and on whether you’re willing to accept the knowledge that religion proposes.
If anything is for certain, though, it’s that religion offers a great amount of knowledge that’s worth exploring in this optional theme in the Theory of Knowledge. We can at least understand two very important things: how religion offers us knowledge and the extent to which it can do so.
5. Knowledge and Language
The main objective of Knowledge and Language as an optional theme in the TOK curriculum is to help students to explore the link between language and power, language and thought, and the effect of human language in relation to what we claim to know we know.
As an IB student, your teacher will expect you to evaluate knowledge questions related to tools, perspective, scope, and methods and tools, and at the same time make a connection between this optional theme and the core theme, knowledge and the knower.