Summer Project: Chinese Philosophy M.A. and Ph.D. Program Non-Rankings

[I’m bringing this up to the front for those people who had intended to add–but let slip during the summer–what they know about the programs they are or have been affiliated with. I’m still compiling more information behind the scenes and will try to have a relatively complete draft of programs by end of September. You can send me attachments of documents or confidential (or otherwise sensitive information) via email; or you may simply post your comments–questions too!–on this string.]

I thought it would be a useful and beneficial service to the academic study of Chinese philosophy for this blog to offer a non-ranked informational list of Ph.D. and M.A. programs (or the relevant graduate equivalents) that offer training to research and teach Chinese philosophy.

To make the list as useful and non-political as possible, I propose—at least—the following protocols:

Information and/or evaluation will be provided in two ways (both moderated and edited for blog presentation, by me):

1. By people who are directly or indirectly involved in administering those programs. They may provide any sort of information they see fit, promotional or otherwise, so long as it does not involve ranking of their programs relative to other programs. These people will not be anonymous.

2. By people who have experienced those programs as participants. These people may be granted blog-anonymity if they have a good rationale for it, though they cannot be anonymous to me. I’m not involved in administrating any M.A. or Ph.D. program, nor do I have any stake in raising or lowering the reputation of any particular one, so I think I can have this type of moderation-control without conflict of interests.

I’d like to generate a good deal of information over the Summer before posting the results on this blog, in the Fall when it will be most useful for those applying to programs.

I welcome any suggestions or additions in terms of the type of information I should try to collect and include. You can simply comment in response to this post or send me an email.

I’ll move this post up to the front from time to time to get more feedback and to try to get the word out about the information we need. I’ll try to post a “results” page in the Fall, around mid-September.


This is really a follow-up to the discussion I initiated a couple of years ago on Brian Leiter’s Leiter Reports blog about the state of Chinese Philosophy training in the English-speaking world.

Some issues that came up in that discussion perhaps worth revisiting on this post’s comment string, are:

  • considerations relevant to choosing between Philosophy programs and Asian Studies, Asian Literature, or Asian History programs;
  • considerations relevant to choosing between programs in the U.S., Canada, Australia and those in Asia (principally, in Hong Kong, Singapore, China (PRC), or Taiwan (ROC)–perhaps in other countries as well? let me know!);
  • considerations relevant to choosing and getting a degree from a program that does not actually have a specialist in Chinese philosophy, but working-at-a-distance with specialists at other institutions.

Please feel free to comment (in whatever capacity this matters to you)!

33 replies on “Summer Project: Chinese Philosophy M.A. and Ph.D. Program Non-Rankings”

  1. We have a Ph.D. program in philosophy at UC Riverside where a student could do a dissertation in Chinese philosophy. Lisa Raphals, a specialist in ancient Chinese and Greek thought, whose primary appointment is in Comparative Literature, has a “cooperating appointment” in Philosophy, and is able to supervise philosophy students (including chairing dissertations). I am primarily a philosopher of mind, but I have a substantial interest in Chinese philosophy and have published a couple of essays on it. I would be reluctant to chair a dissertation on Chinese philosophy because my knowledge of the language is very limited and my knowledge of the secondary literature is spotty, but I’d be happy to give feedback and serve on a committee.

    So UCR is one of the few Ph.D. programs in North America where one could actually work with two people who’ve published in Chinese philosophy. In addition, David Glidden and Pierre Keller have interest in the area, though neither has published in it.

  2. Eric’s comment provides just the sort of information I myself am curious to know about: where is it possible to do graduate work in English in a philosophy department under the supervision of at least one person who publishes in the field.

    Here in Hong Kong, there are two places: The University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. (Some very good scholars of Chinese thought work at other HK universities, but these other schools do not have departments of philosophy.) Also worth mentioning, in Asia, is the National University of Singapore. I am not sure, but a student might be able to write an internationally oriented thesis in English at National Taiwan University.

    In North America, the places I know of, besides UCR, are Duke, Connecticut, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, and Oklahoma. Toronto might also be a possibility; as at UCR, one would have to arrange for some supervision from scholars who are not in the philosophy department. Perhaps Indiana is also a possibility.

    In the UK, at Oxford, it might be possible to be admitted to the philosophy program but also work with Nick Bunnin in Oriental Studies.

    A year or two of study in a Chinese-speaking environment in Beijing (Bei Da, Qinghua), Wuhan, or Taipei (NTU or NCCU) would provide useful training, but I would generally recommend against doing a degree in these places.

    All in all, that is an awfully short list, unfortunately.

  3. I left out one other program I know of: UNSW, in Sydney, where Karyn Lai is in the School of History and Philosophy.

  4. I’m a bit concerned that the phrasing I used in mentioning the National U of Singapore may sound dismissive. In fact, I think it is among the strongest programs where one can work in Chinese philosophy.

  5. The Philosophy Department at The University of Hawaii, at Manoa specializes in Comparative (East/West) Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, Japanese Philosophy, and Indian Philosophy. By “specializes in” I mean that there are at least two full-time, well-published faculty for each of these fields. We also have a resident Islamic Philosopher and I have heard that the department may be seeking a second Islamic Philosopher as well.

    As far as I know, no where else can you get an education in these non-Western philosophical traditions by faculty who are by-and-large major publishers and editors of major journals in their field. What is more, you can acquire general competence of the full spectrum of these other non-Western philosophical traditions just by being in the program.

    You could focus solely on Chinese Philosophy if you wanted, but there is usually a comparative angle in the overall education. In this way, if you do the comparative track, it is almost as if you are getting two Ph.D.’s, one in Chinese (or Japanese, or Indian) Philosophy and one in Western Philosophy. After all, if you end up teaching Chinese Philosophy in a Philosophy Department you will need to be fully competent in components of the Western tradition as well.

    None of the faculty are “Asian Studies”. They are all faculty of philosophy.

    In the area of Chinese Philosophy in particular, there is Roger Ames, Editor of ‘Philosophy East and West’, Chung Ying-Cheng, Editor of ‘Journal of Chinese Philosophy’, and Roy Perret covers Central Asian Buddhism (among other things).

    Classical Chinese is, of course, also offered and required.
    But so are Sanskrit, Japanese, and Arabic if you want to pursue those routes instead.


  6. What I meant by “no where else can you get an education in these non-Western philosophical traditions…” is that no where else I know of has Philosophers or Philosopher faculty teaching all of these areas. Rather, they tend to be “Asian Studies”, “Religion”, or something else instead. So where you might get a more interdisciplinary education in Chinese Philosophical traditions at other universities, Philosophical rigor is always the focus of our courses, culminating exams, and so on.

    I’m not saying this is essentially better, unless you really are looking for a Ph.D. in philosophy, and taught by philosophers. But if you are looking for a well-rounded education in, say, “Chinese Thought” then you may want a less rigorous program in philosophy and instead look into some other school.

    This may be changing, since it seems that demand is increasing for philosophy instructors and scholars trained in non-Western traditions of philosophy.

  7. Hi,

    I’d like to add DePaul to the list (forgive the self-promotion). Our Ph.D. program specializes in Continental Philosophy, History of Philosophy, and Social/Polital and Feminist (all from a Continental perspective). I’m the only one doing Chinese Philosophy, although a few people are interested in broadly comparative issues (particularly one in Latin American Philosophy and one in post-colonialism). I have been and expect to teach a graduate level Chinese Philosophy course each year and a student could write a dissertation under me if they wanted. We allow all students to use some of the funding to go abroad, which would amount to half a year of funding to live in China. We have pretty good connections with the philosophy department at Fudan and are hoping to develop some exchange, although I’m not sure what will come of that. Right now we have one visiting student from there. The university offers four years of Chinese and we have a regular classical Chinese reading group. In addition, students can take at least three (maybe six) courses at other universities around Chicago, assuming they get the professor there to agree.

    The disadvantages are:
    I’m the only one and I’m not that well established.
    We are primarily an undergraduate university, so there are no other graduate level Asia related courses in the university.
    We do no analytic philosophy, so it doesn’t suit someone with that interest.

    The department website is:

    If I can add or clarify anything, let me know.


  8. The philosophy PhD program at University of Oklahoma includes one early China-oriented specialist (me), but we have additional resources that might bear mentioning. Most importantly, we now have a sinologist in our History Department – my husband, Garret Olberding. Garret trained at University of Chicago’s EALC (under Harper and Shaughnessy) and also holds a BA and MA in Philosophy. His work concerns pre-Qin through Han political rhetoric and theory, with a particular interest in the epistemological assumptions informing historical representations of discourse between autocrat and minister. In short, at OU there are now two of us working in early China, one philosopher and one intellectual historian/sinologist, and students thus will have more than one scholar with whom they may work and consult. I should add that neither Garret nor I am tenured yet (though we look forward to the day!). I will stand for tenure the year after next and he will come up in 5 years.

    The Philosophy Department at OU is self-consciously analytic. In addition to providing solid training in the typical areas of analytic philosophy, we have strengths in a couple of areas that make for a nice fit with Chinese philosophy. For example, we have several people working on virtue theory (both ethics and epistemology). We also cover some less common areas of analytic philosophy. E.g., we have two philosophers of religion and an aesthetician.

    In the department, we have recently developed teaching and assisting opportunities for PhD students wanting a specialization or competency in Chinese philosophy. We have 2 introductory level courses that allow graduate students to teach in the specialty before going on the market.

    OU has a Chinese language undergraduate major and there are both courses in classical Chinese and opportunities for independent study with the Chinese language faculty.

  9. Just wanted to say in response to one of Chris’s suggestions above that Vincent Shen at the University of Toronto has appointments in both philosophy and in East Asian studies. So even if one would want to arrange for some supervision from scholars who are not in the philosophy department, one could still have a committee chair from the philosophy department.

    It might be worthwhile noting that Toronto also has an one of the major East Asian research libraries in North America–Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library. Students might also want to check the roster of the East Asian Studies department for resources in classical Chinese and in Chinese history.

  10. Students interested in an MA in Chinese philosophy might also want to look into San Francisco State University. Justin Tiwald (who posts here from time to time) joined the philosophy department there some years ago.

  11. Agui – thanks for that resource, it looks very informative. I have had quite a few students want to move on to graduate work in these fields (and I have a few more getting ready to graduate), and my knowledge about the right graduate schools to starting looking at (outside of the obvious places) is spotty to say the least. By the way, it says at the top that the last update was 7/2008, so it is up to date.

  12. Quick note: Agui’s link doesn’t list the University of Connecticut (my old program), where one can study with Joel Kupperman. I first thought they weren’t listing schools with only one person to study in that area with, but I noticed that they only list Eric Hutton for the University of Utah, so by those lights UConn should be listed. I didn’t study Chinese philosophy while at UConn, but Alexus McLeod is (currently), so I’ll leave it to him to speak to the strengths and weaknesses of studying the subject there. When I left (in 2002), few students intentionally went there to study Chinese thought with Joel, but I believe this is no longer the case.

  13. By the way, it says at the top that the last update was 7/2008, so it is up to date.

    I saw that there too, but I’m not exactly sure how “update” is to be taken. Indiana for instance lost Campany two years ago and gained Stalnaker before that but the former is still listed under “Indiana” and the latter is not listed at all.

  14. Agui: good point — I took it to mean “reviewed” but it could just mean “last added to in…” which wouldn’t vouch for the continuing accuracy of the rest of the information.

  15. The Philosophy department at the University of Utah offers both PhD and MA degrees (the MA has a non-thesis option). Fellowships are often available to PhD students, but in some cases may be available to MA students as well. Our department is predominantly oriented toward Western, analytic philosophy, and our major strengths are in philosophy of science and ethics–including applied ethics. Currently, I am the only China specialist in the department, but I teach graduate-level classes on Chinese philosophy on a fairly regular basis and am happy to supervise qualified students in this area. For those not interested in a Philosophy degree, students in our university’s MA program in Asian Studies (thesis required) can also study Chinese philosophy with me.
    Our Languages department does provide some courses in classical Chinese, but the offerings are limited, so students interested in coming to Utah to work on Chinese philosophy would be best served by getting advanced training in classical Chinese elsewhere first.
    A while back, I posted some “Advice for Students Wanting to Pursue a PhD in Chinese Thought” that may be useful to students. That information is available at:

    Thanks, Manyul, for undertaking to collect this information!

  16. I’m happy to make a sales pitch for the philosophy department at San Francisco State. We only offer an MA degree (thesis required), but in my two years here we’ve offered very regular courses on Chinese thought and have never lacked for grad students working on Chinese topics. So it might be a good option for those who aren’t ready to jump directly into a PhD program.

    1. Breadth

    Although my research focuses primarily on the classical thinkers and neo-Confucianism, I also teach and supervise theses on Chinese Buddhism. This seems to be a bit unusual, given the current ways of drawing the disciplinary boundaries.

    2. Language training

    I work regularly with Classical Chinese texts and run a reading group with students. The Chinese program offers multiple courses in Classical Chinese language and literature, including advanced courses on specific texts.

    3. Course offerings

    As a matter of policy we offer at least two advanced courses on Chinese philosophy every year, one on the pre-Qins and the other on Buddhism (half of which is devoted to Chinese Buddhism). Other courses will soon follow.

    4. Berkeley

    SFSU has a consortial agreement with Berkeley that enables our students to take up to one course per semester there (and vice versa). This is done without applications or other bureaucratic fuss, and gives our students access to some of the world’s finest Sinologists and Buddhologists. Many MA students take this opportunity to demonstrate that they are capable of performing well in graduate seminars there, which gives them a big leg up on their applications to PhD programs.

  17. Hi Manyul et al.,

    It just occurred to me that the University of Auckland (NZ) probably also belongs on this list.

  18. As someone who works in Greek philosophy, I am always amazed that there are people working in Chinese philosophy who can’t read Chinese. I would never send a student wanting to specialize in Greek philosophy to study with someone who could not read Greek, no matter how much they might know the secondary literature and translations.

    As I understand it, the field of Chinese philosophy is quite small, and so there are not that many options available to students. However, I would think it paramount that a list like you are compiling would provide information on what people in these programs actually have the ability to read the relevant Chinese texts in the original and train their students to do so as well.

  19. Rob; yes, to the extent that I can find out that information, it will be reflected in some way on the compilation. You’re absolutely right that this is crucial information about the potential advisor.

    There are a couple of things to consider, however. There’s a bit of rumor and innuendo that surfaces every now and then about the Chinese language abilities of some prominent scholars, not to name any names. Those things surface usually in a somewhat hostile or otherwise “snarky” context of conversation. In addition, people might not want to report their own lack of language ability, and who wants to be the person to ask them directly about it if, say, they are influential people in the field? So it’s hard to confirm except through second-hand reports what someone’s ability is. My strategy, then, is to find out what I can about the person’s degree background, consider his/her published work, and report what I can about those things without explicit reference to language abilities. That may force prospective students looking at programs to do some guess-work; that’s unfortunate, I know, but unless someone can suggest a suitable alternative (and I’m open to suggestions), that’s what I’m willing to provide–so I don’t end up pissing people off.

    A different issue to consider, and I think this is what you were alluding to, is how to negotiate the possibility of having a primary advisor who does not read (Classical) Chinese, but has other important qualities and/or reputation–with the assumption that the *student* has already had adequate Sinological training in, say, an M.A. or high-level B.A. program. That may raise other questions. Any advice, defense, criticism for that strategy out there?

  20. Manyul,

    I see what you are talking about, having a primary advisor who is not able to read Classical Chinese, but has other attributes. I guess the fact that this is seen as a tenable solution has more to say about the state of your field than the suitability of the arrangement, however.

    Let’s say that in addition to my specialization in Greek philosophy I was also very well read in Aquinas. I’ve read the secondary literature, and have a very good grasp of the translations of his work, to the extent that I believe I understand his thought. Perhaps I have even written articles on him. I just can’t read Latin.

    Personally, I would not think that any of this qualified me to take on graduate students who wanted to write a dissertation on Aquinas. I simply could not conceive of doing such a thing, no matter how good the student’s Latin is. Part of the role of the advisor is to advise, to help the student understand the material and head them off then they are making mistakes. However, if I can’t read Latin, how can I tell if they are interpreting a particular text or passage correctly.

    Perhaps, given the state of your field, this is inevitable. While I understand the desire to train more students to expand the field I wonder if putting out students who are not trained as well as possible is really the way to advance the field. If I were sitting on a hiring committee in ancient philosophy, for example, it simply wouldn’t cut it for a candidate to say that they had studied greek as a M.A. student and then wrote a dissertation with someone who did not read Greek. The file would simply be tossed. The question, then, is, should search committees hold Chinese philosophy job candidates to a lower standard? I’d certainly be interested in in seeing this justified (and I admit that it may very well be possible to do so.)

  21. Right on the nose, Rob. It does say more about our field than the suitability of the arrangement–at least I’m inclined to think. I hope those with other sorts of views will jump in.

  22. Hi Manyul,

    Chinese philosophy is very much a secondary interest for Jeremy; I’m not sure what, if anything, he’s published. Koji Tanaka has published in Chinese philosophy I think. He reads classical Chinese and is familiar with much of the secondary literature. So Auckland is not a place where a student could work with a leading specialist in Chinese thought. However, someone specializing in ethics could write about Chinese thought there under the guidance of one or two people who are interested in the field, while also getting exposure to several distinguished moral philosophers. Worth considering. (And you get to live in NZ, a huge plus.)

  23. In response to Rob: As Manyul said, the lack of senior scholars in strong programs reflects the state of the field, unfortunately. And there is no indication that the situation will change anytime soon. I’d add that, because of a number of factors —- some perhaps justified, some not —- many departments are simply not interested in hiring a specialist in Chinese thought who does know the language.

  24. Even though the program and professor are included in the Humanities Net directory aforementioned by Hagop, a scholar and program that seem to get matter-of-factly overlooked in these discussions is Dr. Yi Wu of the Philosophy and Religion – Asian and Comparative Studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. I can only guess it is because of the school’s reputation, or lack thereof. I myself have to admit that I came to CIIS knees-knocking, not knowing exactly what to expect. But, after having taken two classes with Dr. Wu and presently taking a third and fourth, I can say with absolute confidence that this guy is the real deal.

    I did my M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, studying under a number of top-notch scholars, including the well-known Chung-ying Cheng and Roger Ames. Yet, Yi Wu is second to none. Granted, he never really established himself on the academic scene in America/the West. That was not his modus operandi, though. He does not really do the comparative thing in earnest. But, what he lacks on the comparative side of the ball is more than made up for by his expansive, second-to-none knowledge of Chinese Philosophy, to which his book Chinese Philosophical Terms, currently unfortunately out of print, testifies. No one I have ever studied under has such a comprehensive understanding of the tradition, able to present it without being tendentious, speaking competently not just on classical Confucianism and Daoism (Daojia) but also the Yijing, Chan Buddhism, Neoconfucianism, Mohism, Legalism, and even Daoist Religion (Daojiao), just to name a few of the big areas. Furthermore, Wu is well-published and highly respected in the East, mainly Taiwan, and, as is suggested in the recent APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophy, it is advisable that western scholars of Chinese Philosophy do some time over there. Ames even suggests that a better career could be had in China. In that light, it seems like Wu could be a decent contact. In any event, Dr. Wu is definitely a sparkling diamond in the high rough. The only question is, how much longer will he last? He is getting up in age. The word on the street, though, is that he will never retire.

    Mind you, all of that having been said, there are issues with funding and with regards to prestige at CIIS (which, truth be said, prompt me to still sniff around my options), but none of that is at all a reflection on the academic competence of Dr. Wu or, for that matter, Drs. Goodman, Ryan or Sircar. In light of what I wrote above about Wu, it is worth noting that how the CIIS program in Philosophy and Religion – Asian and Comparative Studies is set up is conducive to a healthy approach to comparative studies. CIIS’s genuine academic openness and innovative spirit are exemplified by their requiring that one (or two) of the three (or four) readers of your dissertation be outside the department/school. What this says to me, and I think I am correct, is that they provide four main tracks of Eastern philosophical and religious thinking (faculty specialist in parentheses): Hinduism (Ryan), Theravada Buddhism (Sircar), Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism (Goodman), and Chinese Buddhism and Philosophy (Wu); you then bring with you your source of comparison in the West and the scholar to go with it. The point is that there are no pretenses, no agendas in the program regarding the direction in which comparative studies and philosophy should go. Also of note, vis-à-vis the eastern milieu, there is something honest about the degree’s being in “Philosophy ‘and Religion’” and courses with titles like “The Writings of Laozi and Zhuangzi” (rather than the so-called monolith “DAOISM”). One other thing, at the Ph.D. level two years of the target language in your area, Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit or Tibetan, is required, and the language classes are for the most part taught by the according aforementioned professor. Wu teaches Chinese. So, the language is being taught in a way apropos to our needs (instead of, on the one hand, getting put through the 101-202 language grinder with the kiddies, at best learning the language inefficiently, or, on the other, taking a one-semester course for the purpose of so-called academic reading and translation into English).

    Bottom line, the program is somewhat of a diamond in the rough for East-West comparativists, particularly those who have fallen victim to the dearth of opportunity in the field, and, as I can specifically attest, especially those wanting to do work in Chinese Philosophy. Yet, it goes consistently unmentioned despite the pressing circumstances which prompt the very existence of this discussion. In any event, if anybody has any questions, feel free to ask. I am thinking that perhaps I have actually taken the plunge that some readers here may have contemplated. Are there any comments that speak to any of this? Additionally, again, in light of the Fall 2008 APA Newletter, Vol. 8, No. 1, this would be a good time to pick this discussion back up, in general and in earnest.

  25. This has been on my mind to do for a while, so without further ado:

    The University of British Columbia (UBC) should also be on the list of places to consider for an M.A. or Ph.D. The big attraction would be Ted Slingerland, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition. Ted should be well known to most for his book on Wu-Wei and his translation of the Analects (with snippets of commentary). He has recently taken an active research interest in cognitive science (broadly construed), and is a founder and director of UBC’s new (and formidable) Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC). Any student with an interest in the classical period–especially one with naturalist leanings–should take a good look at UBC.

    Caveat: Slingerland’s formal appointment is in Asian Studies, so students looking for a degree in philosophy should look into matters pertaining to supervision.

  26. UPDATE ON UNIV OF OREGON: Apparently, Erin Cline, who has been teaching at the Philosophy Department at Oregon since 2006 is leaving and will be taking a job in the Theology Department at Georgetown University, effective Fall 2009. That should knock Oregon off the already short list of places to consider for graduate study in Chinese philosophy — whatever the rankings controversy. I have no idea whether Oregon plans to replace Cline. (Further update — it’s official: )

  27. RE: UPDATE ON UNIV OF OREGON: Just to follow up on the situation at Oregon–I have indeed accepted a position in the Theology Department at Georgetown, beginning this fall, where I will continue to teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in comparative ethics and Chinese thought. Although I was not a part of discussions of future lines at Oregon, from what I understand, the Philosophy Department plans to run three searches this fall, seeking Areas of Specialization in Continental, American, and Latin American philosophy. (These lines are also meant to replace John Lysaker, former department head, who has left Oregon for Emory beginning this fall.) These areas reflect some of the current strengths and interests of the department. I left on good terms with both Philosophy and Religious Studies (I held a joint appointment), but as for why the Philosophy Department chose not to replace Chinese philosophy, I’m unsure. I do know, however, that several members of the department had become very interested in Latin American philosophy in recent years.

  28. I’m pleased to share the news that the Philosophy Department at the University of Oklahoma will be adding a new member in fall 2011: Emily McRae (University of Wisconsin-Madison). McRae’s primary research is in ethics and the emotions, and she is a scholar of both ethics and Tibetan philosophy. In addition to that, she has work on Mencius that is forthcoming in PEW. My colleagues and I are very excited that she’ll be joining us at OU.

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