Ph.D. Supervisors

I am writing a short piece on the state of Chinese Philosophy in American Philosophy Ph.D. programs (yes, I’m aware of the APA Newsletter report from a few years back and of the discussions on the predecessor to this blog).

By my count, there are presently a total of six Philosophy Ph.D. programs in the U.S. that have specialists on their faculty who are capable of supervising a Ph.D. dissertation with a focus on Chinese Philosophy:

  • DePaul: Franklin Perkins
  • Duke: David Wong
  • Hawai’i: Roger Ames and Chung-ying Cheng
  • Oklahoma: Amy Olberding
  • SUNY Buffalo: Jiyuan Yu
  • Utah: Eric Hutton

There are other ways of going about getting a Ph.D. in Chinese Philosophy (Ziporyn at Chicago, Schwitzgebel and Raphals at Riverside, not to mention programs outside the U.S.–and there are M.A. possibilities, etc.), but I am keeping my focus just on philosophers in Philosophy departments who are capable on their own of supervising Ph.D. dissertations in Chinese Philosophy.

Have I missed anybody?



12 replies on “Ph.D. Supervisors”

  1. Is it narrowly U.S.-focused, or would it be appropriate to your purpose to include all of North America? If the latter, then Vincent Shen at the University of Toronto should be on the list, and Ted Slingerland is an associate member (and I believe can direct dissertations in) the philosophy department at UBC.

  2. Yup, narrowly focused. It just makes the argument cleaner. And the situation in the U.S. with respect to Chinese Philosophy can be extrapolated (as far as I know) to just about any country that is dominated by a culture of European descent (what U.S. universities might consider peer-institutions for the purpose of curricular comparisons). So there is no point in complicating the picture.

  3. My initial specialization was in South Asian thought, but I have graduated one dissertation and am directing three more dissertation projects on Chinese Philosophy at Southern Illinois Carbondale. I do make it a practice to ensure that one other bona fide specialist in the relevant area is the outside reader on each committee. But, for pre-Qin thought, some Tang-Song Buddhist thought and Song-Ming Confucian thought, students can do a Ph.D. in Chinese philosophy at our program.

  4. I can’t think of any more. With retirements looming in the next 10 years, that list is likely to shrink to by a third. The next generation of scholars is fortunate there are other ways.

    • Well, the two I was thinking of were 1) getting training in Philosophy at B.A. level and also B.A. and/or M.A. levels from Asian Studies/Languages/History departments, then getting a Ph.D. in philosophy, working with sympathetic non-specialists; or 2) getting a ph.d. abroad in one of the good philosophy departments in Asia that has specialists. With 2, if one wishes to teach, research, and publish while working in the U.S., what needs to be overcome is lack of knowledge among U.S. departments about the quality of those programs overseas. 1 is not a bad route, especially since there are plenty of us who are willing to engage with, mentor, or otherwise support grad students working toward research in Chinese philosophy, from outside of their departments.

    • I’ll toss out a third possibility, although with the caveat that PhD candidates following this track are (at the moment) unlikely to end up teaching in philosophy departments. There are several programs that have the flexibility to support graduate training similar to what one might receive in a philosophy program. By “similar” I essentially mean what Steve lays out as A-G in his piece in the APA Newsletter (copied and pasted below). Here at IU, for instance, all PhD students are required to have an “outside minor” where they take at least 12-credit hours from another department/program. One of their qualifying exams then comes from this minor field. There is also a possibility of doing a dual PhD. I believe there are similar possibilities at BU and Harvard (I’m less familiar with the other programs listed below).

      One strength of this approach is that it allows students to produce nearly the same kind of work they would produce in a philosophy department while utilizing the track record of the institution to place them in tenure track positions. A major weakness is the degree to which philosophy departments would recognize their training as being sufficient for a tenure track position in a philosophy department (Steve’s point H). Much of this, of course, also depends on the temperaments of those supervising graduate students (I recognize, for instance, that students who might study with me require training beyond what I can offer in terms of Steve’s points D and E), departmental culture at these institutions (the degree to which, for instance, philosophy is seen as part of religious studies), and the departmental culture of the institutions that hire these graduates (will they, for instance, allow a religions of Asia course to be taught quite like an Asian philosophy course).

      Here are some of the programs I thought of:

      1) Boston University (Religious Studies). John Berthrong, Bob Neville.
      2) Harvard University (Religious Studies/EALC). Michael Puett.
      3) Indiana University (Religious Studies). Aaron Stalnaker, Michael Ing.
      4) Pennsylvania State University (History). Erica Brindley, On-cho Ng.
      5) University of British Columbia (Asian Studies/Philosophy). Edward Slingerland.
      6) University of California—Berkeley (EALC/History). Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Michael Nylan.
      7) University of Chicago (Religious Studies). Brook Ziporyn.
      8) University of Pennsylvania (EALC). Paul Goldin.

      From Steve’s article in the APA Newsletter:

      A. Broad foundation in the Chinese philosophical traditions—texts, commentaries, and secondary literature

      B. Deep understanding of at least one time period or tradition, including engagement with Chinese (and perhaps Japanese or Korean) scholarship

      C. Strong linguistic and sinological training

      D. Broad foundation in relevant history of Western philosophy

      E. Deep understanding of relevant area(s) of philosophical research cognate with one’s interests in the Chinese tradition

      F. Original and insightful dissertation project

      G. Excellent teaching skills

      H. Prospective employers (especially U.S. philosophy departments) recognize that the student has acquired A though G

    • For those determined to work within a philosophy department, I think Manyul’s option (1) is indeed best. Most philosophy departments looking to hire Chinese philosophy specialists will likely also want to know they are getting someone conversant in lots of other areas of philosophy, and possibly even working in some of those areas as well (I see way more comparativists in philosophy departments than pure sinologists). My main advice for anyone wanting to do Chinese philosophy in a philosophy department would be to make sure you get solid philosophical training. Without this, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get a job in a philosophy dept. Given that most philosophy departments will only have a single specialist (the majority of those Brian mentions above, for example), it’s probably going to be necessary or desirable to work with some people from outside as well. This is exactly what I did, for example.

      That being said, given the state of Chinese philosophy within philosophy departments (not great, as Brian’s initial list indicates), I would be inclined to advise students to take the route Michael suggests. There just seem to be more opportunities for study of Chinese philosophy in religious studies, history, and EAS departments these days, as well as more departments that seem desirous of hiring Chinese specialists. Many colleagues (including Michael) working in such departments are doing essentially the same kind of work that I’m doing in a philosophy department, so I don’t think that the disciplinary boundaries necessarily limit what kind of work one pursues. I’ve actually recommended this route to most of the students I’ve had who have expressed interest in further study of Chinese philosophy.

    • what needs to be overcome is lack of knowledge among U.S. departments about the quality of those programs overseas.

      (I suppose a problem even for programs on Brian’s list is lack of knowledge among U.S. departments of the quality of those Chinese philosophy programs. These programs mainly amount to just one person, whose work is hard for colleagues to evaluate. (I taught for a year once at a good philosophy department with many excellent mainstream people, whose specialist in Latin American Philosophy, I was told, had some difficulty reading Spanish.))

      Toward the aim of making the best education also the most effective for career success in the States, one wants some way for applicants from outside the States to inform their target departments quickly and credibly about the excellence of their programs: excellence (a) in Chinese philosophy and (b) in philosophy generally.

      For (a), surveys such as Brian Leiter’s might help a little, especially if carried out in a more broad-based way.

      (b) is harder: if US departments don’t know about departments elsewhere, who could be surveyed for reliable comparisons between the two?

      I wonder if it would be possible for some association(s) of Chinese philosophy to assemble some testimonials on line from philosophers highly regarded across Anglophonia, about the general quality of philosophy departments elsewhere that offer good programs in Chinese philosophy? Applicants could then reference these in their cover letters: “HKU’s overall philosophy program has received 5 stars …” or whatever.

      Would it make sense for one or more of our various associations, and/or this blog, to prepare a Guide to (or Suggestions for) Evaluating Job Applicants in Chinese Philosophy, and send it to all programs advertising positions? It would be difficult.

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