Workshop: Infusing Asian Philosophy into the Traditional Curriculum

Hey, Everyone,

I’m the program chair for the SACP panels at the APA East meeting, and I’m thinking of running a workshop for non-Asianists who want to include some Asian philosophy in the classroom.

The reason I’m writing is that I’m looking for ideas.

First let me tell you how I’m thinking about it. Suppose you could choose one text to include in a traditional philosophical anthology. The anthology would be in any specific area of philosophy or would be a basic introductory text. You would get to choose a short piece to represent any part of any Asian tradition that could be covered in one class period. That’s the first part of how to think about it. The second part of how to think of it would be: now what if a colleague came and asked you how to teach that text in the classroom? How would you explain it, or what kind of extra resources would you provide (in a reasonable amount) so that a non-Asianist could competently teach it without having to get a degree in it?

So, given those two ways of framing the issue, how should I approach this kind of panel? Should I open it to all Asian philosophy in general? Or should I focus on a specific philosophical area, such as ethics or epistemology? If the latter, which area would be a good first candidate?

Have any of your colleagues every shown an interest in such a thing? I broached the topic with a couple of colleagues today. One said that he’d be interested in a text from the Chinese tradition that he could use for an Intro class and would love to know how to teach it. Another said he’d be interested in an epistemology text from any non-Western tradition.

Do you think this kind of panel would garner any interest from non-Asianists at the meeting? Would people show up for a workshop on how to infuse Asian works of philosophy into their classrooms?

Finally, would any of you have an interest in answering this kind of call for papers? This would be pretty basic stuff from a specialist’s perspective.

Or is it a really bad idea to think that some non-Asianist could sit through a thirty minute lecture on an Asian text and then be competent to teach it?

Or is it a bad idea because we’d be ceding our turf?

All ideas are welcome. Feel free to shoot me down.

15 replies on “Workshop: Infusing Asian Philosophy into the Traditional Curriculum”

  1. There is of course an immense literature on introducing China into the Western undergraduate curriculum. The problems of introducing it into the philosophy curriculum seem to be distinctly greater, since any one-day extract from Chinese thought would presumably have to qualify as philosophy under one of the regular categories of Western (meaning essentially, classical Greek) philosophy. But the worlds of ancient Greece and ancient China could hardly be more different. The overwhelming problem for the classical Chinese thinkers, who worked in the context of a modernizing society and an increasingly powerful state, was not personal eudaimonia, but the question of public order on the one hand, and the question of restraining the power of the ruler on the other hand. The attempt of several schools of Chinese thought (Mician, Confucian) to establish a populist position, which gave the people certain social expectations and certain political rights, failed miserably, but even the existence of that sort of advocacy is of immense interest, not only for understanding ancient China, and by contrast for understanding ancient Greece, but also for understanding issues all too current in our present world.

    The trouble is that none of this can be very easily related to anything Aristotelian, or Kantian. In a course on political theory, there would be no problem. The problem consists in the fact (or what I suspect to be the fact) that courses in philosophy do not routinely consider political questions, being focused instead on individual questions.

    The only suggestion I can offer is to refer to a book of mine currently in press: The Emergence of China. This book is also helpful to the nonspecialist teacher, in that, as the series title (Ancient China in Context) indicates, it not only gives readings from the original texts (more than 500 of them; take your pick), but *explains them as part of a developmental sequence.* The teacher need thus not be tasked, or crash-trained, to supply that context. It is there already. Emergence is not a sourcebook; it is a history. A history with its source texts very much front and center.

    Undergraduates have found this book (in prepublication classroom testing) to be not only intelligible but intriguing. The issue of Upright Gung (a Chinese transfer of the problem at the root of Plato’s Euthyphro) has been particularly fruitful in sparking student arguments as well as in-class discussions. Emergence provides not one, but several, versions of that little social parable.

    More information, including sample readings and a link to a live order page, can be found at

    Hope this may be of some use.

    My sense of the larger question is that the only valid reason for bringing something nonwestern into the Western curriculum is not to ratify or confirm Western horizons of awareness, but to expand them: to encourage people to see the supposedly familiar in a new light, or from a fresh perspective.

    Respectfully suggested,

    E Bruce Brooks
    Warring States Project
    University of Massachusetts at Amherst

  2. Bruce, good to know of this book. It looks like it will be very useful. I agree with your assessment of the value of Chinese philosophy in a traditional philosophy classroom.

  3. Jana, thanks for that link. Yes, I think this kind of resource would be a vital follow-up to any lecture on introducing a Chinese epistemology text into a traditional epistemology curriculum.

  4. You might also get some interesting answers if you get this posted on the Indian Philosophy Blog. This is a broad question and they’re quite active over there. It might even be interesting to see if something might come of getting this posted on the stalled Japanese Philosophy Blog.

    • Okay. Thanks, Theodore. I’m surprised I’m not getting much of a response here. Not sure what to make of it. And I was wondering if there was a similar blog for Indian Philosophy (mea culpa on that one).

  5. Dear Brian,

    We did something similar during the American Political Science Association annual meeting in August, and I thought it was successful. We had about a dozen people show up (some of whom already work in non-Western political thought and some not). Those who didn’t were mostly interested in the question of how to integrate the material in already existing syllabi and courses.

    More information can be found here:

    I hope this is helpful,


  6. Sorry; I’ve been trying to get to this post, Brian. Just for info’s sake, there was an APA session at the 2013 Central Division Meeting in New Orleans, organized by the Committee on Inclusiveness and Committee on the Teaching of Philosophy: “Workshop on Teaching Philosophy Inclusively.” I was part of that panel and gave a little advice about this very topic. The folks there who worked on philosophical texts by women had some great ideas about setting up lists of suggested works and compilations. I haven’t followed up on it, but I hope they did do that. We could set up a whole page here on the blog if you are inclined to collect and organize… Let Steve and me know.

  7. Thanks, Manyul. I know just what you mean about not being able to get to posts quickly. I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to comment on a post, and then other commitments get in the way.

    Regarding the panel. Do you recall what the response was from attendees, particularly to the inclusion of non-Western philosophy?

    • The attendees were all very interested and wished there were centralized, web-based guides; some had positive experience feedback about anthologized material — mostly Pojman’s general philosophy source textbooks that include some impressive breadth of non-Western material, if not the most recent translations or best introductory text.

      Might be worth exploring what is out there for websited guides and linking to any existing ones, in addition to trying to set up a new one. Maybe the APA Committee has some idea about what’s out there.

  8. Good question, Brian.

    From the Indian side, there are a number of good points of entry through which a non-specialist could creatively engage important philosophical dialogues.

    Metaphysics (and esp. the metaphysics of selfhood): Selections from the Sermons of the Buddha and Questions of King Milinda, along with passages from Vasubandhu denying any genuine self vs. early Nyāya arguments that a self is needed to account for synchronic and diachronic synthesis of experience.

    Epistemology: passages from “knowledge -source” (pramāṇa) epistemology in, again, Nyāya and Buddhist sources, would be a natural point of connection to major concerns in contemporary philosophy.

    There’s SEP entries on Classical Indian Epistemology, Analytic Philosophy in classical India, etc.

    Just some ideas.

  9. If I was to find myself in a class where the teacher was going to briefly teach something from the (early) Chinese corpus, I would hope that he or she would talk a bit about the nature of early Chinese texts: how they are edited, composite, multiiauthored texts which contain a plurality of views. That way, inconsistencies in the texts can be properly understood and people could refrain from ascribing philosophical positions with specific individual thinkers, but rather with groups of people or trends or “schools of thought.” (Of course, “schools of thought” are often misunderstood as tight-knit groups with but one name – e.g., Confucians, Daoists – and homogenous views).

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