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South Asian Focus

South-Asian Philosophy

WHY SHOULD I STUDY SOUTH ASIAN PHILOSOPHY IN A PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT RATHER THAN IN A RELIGIOUS STUDIES DEPARTMENT?

The choice of a doctoral program partially determines the kind of work students accomplish and the kind of scholars they become. This choice has significant consequences and students should weigh their interests and projects carefully before opting for one or the other. It is sometimes believed that South Asian philosophy will be studied in the same way in either kind of program. While the results in the study of South Asian philosophy might be comparable at a general level, the overall training of the doctoral candidate will be quite different. People trained in philosophy departments often ask different kinds of questions than religious studies specialists. Their methods, references, concepts, and presuppositions, in another term, their “field” are quite distinct – even if they overlap. The material itself will thus be approached in a different way, and it will occasion different kinds of conversations with different interlocutors (say, Aristotle, Murdoch, and Quine, rather than Eliade, J.Z. Smith, and Geertz). All these factors will orient the research in directions specific to the philosophical tradition.

The choice of the program not only matters for the dissertation itself, but also – and possibly more – for one’s overall doctoral training, which shapes the professional profile that a student will present on the job market. Participating in classes, attending talks, and writing papers on epistemology, feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, classical and modern political philosophy, or classical and analytical metaphysics equip a student with different skills and interests than if she took classes on theory and practice of religion, Asian religions, or theology. At UNM, doctoral students start teaching philosophy classes early on and accumulate significant teaching experience over the years, which makes them attractive to potential employers. Philosophy departments need candidates who can demonstrate their competence in teaching the courses that philosophy departments usually offer.

A final reason why students might consider studying South Asian philosophy in a philosophy department is that the field of philosophy currently lacks specialists in non-western philosophies. One of the reasons for this situation – besides the prejudices that philosophers have shown in the past towards non-western thought – is the lack of students trained within the western philosophical tradition who can also teach and conduct research in non-western philosophies. Philosophy departments are now in increasing need of such specialists, as the growth in positions in these specialties (either as AOS or AOC) over the past decade shows. By joining philosophy departments, students who specialize in these domains have the opportunity to impact the future of philosophy by enlarging its course offerings and diversifying the global philosophical conversation.

Ph.D. FOCUS IN SOUTH ASIAN PHILOSOPHY

Since its inception, the Department of Philosophy of the University of New Mexico has been defined by a pluralistic approach to philosophy. Diverse philosophical traditions, canons, and methodologies have always been represented.  Asian philosophy, specifically South Asian philosophy, has played a prominent role in the pluralistic mission of the department.

The Focus in South Asian philosophy at UNM is unique in that it offers graduate students interested in South Asian thought the opportunity to train as philosophers, rather than as specialists in Religious Studies or Area Studies.  It allows students to study South Asian intellectual traditions while obtaining a rigorous graduate education in philosophy that qualifies them to teach philosophy at the college level.  The Focus is currently in the planning stages to become a formal degree concentration which would appear on official student transcripts.  

The Focus emphasizes philosophical engagement with the theories and arguments of South Asian philosophy based on the ability to read its literature with philological and historical sophistication. The latter entails both accessing targeted texts directly in the original languages and reading primary literature extensively in translation. The development of proficiency in either Tibetan or Sanskrit is stressed. As students acquire broad knowledge of the history of philosophy, both Western and Asian, they will also develop a philosopher’s ability to think clearly, critically, and creatively. It is hoped that these diverse competencies will enable students to engage with and contribute to multiple disciplines, since South Asian philosophy lies at the cross-section of several fields of study.

Students focusing on South Asian philosophy are also encouraged to approach the field comprehensively by acquainting themselves with more than one South Asian philosophical tradition. The faculty members have broad expertise in the Buddhist and Brahmanical thought, and interests that range across the Indian, Tibetan, and East Asian cultural spheres. They practice a variety of methodologies, including those specific to the history of philosophy, comparative philosophy, and analytic philosophy. The UNM philosophy department strives to be at the forefront of the conversation that integrates non-Western philosophical voices into contemporary debates, and it welcomes its students to join in the effort.

While previous study of Sanskrit or Tibetan is not required for admission, it is highly recommended for students wishing to focus on South Asian philosophy for the Ph.D. In general, those who are admitted without previous language study should plan to acquire, either prior to arriving or at the end of their first year, the equivalent of at least the first year of Tibetan or Sanskrit by participating in an accredited intensive summer program, such as is offered by the University of Wisconsin South Asian Summer Language Institute, the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, etc. The faculty look forward to mentoring students once they have reached the intermediate level, reading philosophical texts with them in individual independent studies and small group tutorials.

Recommended Courses (Ph.D)

In addition to the general requirements for the Philosophy Ph.D., doctoral students focusing on South Asian philosophy are asked to take at least 4 courses in South Asian Philosophy that satisfy the following criteria:

(1)   Content Areas: Students should take at least one course in South Asian Metaphysics and Epistemology (SAME) and at least one course in South Asian Value Theory (SAVT).

 (2)   South Asian Traditions: Students should take a least one course that concerns primarily South Asian Buddhist traditions and at least one course that concerns primarily South Asian Brahmanical traditions.

 At this time, most graduate-level courses on topics in South Asian philosophy are taught under PHIL 426/526 (Seminar in Asian Philosophers). (Other, fixed-topic courses are planned.) Possible topics for this course, depending on student interest, are: Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Indian Logic, Vedānta, Sāṃkhya, Buddhist Ethics, Buddhist Moral Psychology, Buddhist Approaches to Race and Gender, Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, Buddhist metaphysics, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa, Yogācāra, Buddhist epistemology, Madhyamaka.

(3)   Language Tutorial: Ph.D. students are expected to take at least one graduate seminar that is accompanied by a tutorial in which related texts are studied in the original language (Sanskrit or Tibetan), and to participate in the tutorial.

 At the same time, the faculty recognize that, when it comes to learning classical Asian languages, different students have different interests, aptitudes, and needs. The faculty are prepared to adjust the expectations for language study on a case-by-case basis.

M.A.  FOCUS IN SOUTH ASIAN PHILOSOPHY

Students wishing to specialize in South Asian philosophy for the M.A. are welcome to apply to the UNM program. A formal M.A. Concentration in South Asian philosophy is currently being designed. Although study of a South Asian language is encouraged for the M.A. Focus in South Asian Philosophy as well, it is not considered as crucial.

Asian Philosophy Courses offered or to be offered at UNM

Introduction to Indian Philosophy 
Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy
Introduction to Chinese Philosophy
Buddhist Ethics
Buddhist Social Justice Philosophy
Comparative Metaphysics between India and Greece
Plato, Nāgārjuna, Wittgenstein: Towards the Possibility of Metaphysics
Introduction to Yoga

Readings in Tibetan philosophical literature
Readings in Sanskrit philosophical literature

South Asian Philosophy Faculty

Pierre-Julien Harter, Assistant Professor

Pierre-Julien Harter specializes in Buddhist philosophy in India and Tibet. His research on the Buddhist concept of the path has nurtured his wide-ranging interests in different aspects of Buddhist thought, such as metaphysics and ontology, epistemology, and ethics. He has explored the literature of the Indian and Tibetan commentaries of the Ornament of Realizations (Abhisamayālaṃkāra), and is particularly concerned with elaborating philosophically the concept of the path. He also has a specific interest in the philosophical and scholastic Tibetan literature of the 13th to 16th century, in particular the Sakyapa scholars Sakya Pandita (whose Tshad ma rigs gter Prof. Harter is partially translating), Rongton, and Gorampa. Aware that shifting scales is an essential aspect of the practice of philosophy, Prof. Harter tries to place authors and texts in wider contexts, such as Indian philosophy or philosophy in general, which is why he enjoys reading any Sanskrit philosophical texts. He tries to avoid the pitfall of regionalism, by relating Buddhist philosophy to general philosophical issues and discussions (an attempt he prefers to call “philosophy” rather than “comparative philosophy”), and the pitfall of the dream of "philosophia perennis," by grounding analyses in a textual and historical sense.

Emily McRae, Assistant Professor

Emily McRae works on Indo-Tibetan Buddhist ethics and moral psychology, especially philosophy of emotion. She has special interests in the intersections of Buddhist ethics, feminist philosophy, and critical race theory. She has published articles on issues in comparative moral psychology in both Western and Asian philosophical journals and volumes, including American Philosophy QuarterlyHistory of Philosophy QuarterlyJournal of Religious EthicsPhilosophy East and West, and The Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics. She is currently editing a volume, with George Yancy (Emory), on Buddhism and whiteness. Her translation, with Jay Garfield, of Patrul Rinpoche's The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice, is forthcoming with Wisdom Publications in November. 

John Taber, Regents’ Professor

John Taber’s interests range over the Brahmanical and Indian Buddhist traditions. He has written on Advaita Vedānta, Mīmāṃsā, Nyāya, Indian Logic, Vasubandhu, and Dharmakīrti, among other topics. Philosophy of language and arguments for anti-realism have also been enduring fascinations for him. He is currently working on translations of two texts relating to the Buddhist theory of word-meaning, the so-called Theory of Exclusion (Apohavāda), in separate collaborations with scholars in Europe and Japan: the Apohavāda chapter of Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika and the apoha section of the first chapter of Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttika (both texts dated around the same time, about the beginning of the 7th c.). Over the years he has also explored various aspects of the apparent philosophical give-and-take between these two monumental thinkers. Prof. Taber loves reading Sanskrit texts of all genres and also knows a little Tibetan. Finally, although not known as a Pali scholar, he has a profound interest in the Pali Tipiṭaka.