The Philosophical Rasika Report: Listings of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy (Part I: North America)

When I was an undergraduate I was lucky to have a mentor who had recently received her Ph.D. in a field related to my interests, and who gave me good, up-to-date advice on the most prominent scholars and programs in my field. Now that I find myself advising my own undergraduate students, I have been struck by just how confusing the situation for the academic study of Indian philosophy will seem to an outsider. First of all, most scholars in Europe and North America who work on Indian philosophy did not earn their doctoral degrees from Philosophy Ph.D. programs. Furthermore, most Philosophy Departments in North America and Europe will not even consider an applicant for doctoral training whose main research interest is Indian philosophy. I found this out the hard way two decades ago when I went against my mentor’s advice and applied to a prominent philosophy graduate program. I later found out that my application had been immediately set aside by the admission committee because I had stated in my personal essay that I intended to pursue research in both classical Indian and 19th century European philosophy. The committee eventually lost my application and never even gave me the courtesy of a rejection letter.

Making up for such Eurocentric biases of philosophy departments, nowadays Indian philosophy is often taught in two other places: Religious Studies departments and Asian Studies departments. The three different types of programs tend to have different foci. Departments of Asian Studies, also sometimes labeled as Oriental Studies or Indology, often have a philological focus. This is especially the case in Europe. Religious Studies departments tend to provide their students with training in philosophy of religion, comparative religions, and theology, tools that can often be useful in approaching texts and thinkers from South Asia. Finally, there are a few Philosophy Departments that have successfully incorporated Asian philosophy into their curricula, and where it might finally be possible to research Pyrrho, Nāgārjuna, and Zhuangzi side-by-side. In the lists we have compiled for the Indian Philosophy Blog we have included all three types of programs. In choosing programs to apply to, students would be well advised to track down representative publications by one or two of the scholars of Indian philosophy in each of the programs they are considering. This will give them a sense of the kind of training they would receive and the kind of writing they would be expected to produce for their Ph.D. dissertations in each program.

The lists compiled here are specifically for Ph.D. programs. Undergraduate students should be aware that in most cases they will be expected to earn an M.A. in a relevant field before they can be admitted to a Ph.D. program. Most departments that offer the Ph.D. also offer the M.A., with some exceptions. Students applying to an M.A. program will typically be expected to have one or two years of background in a relevant language (Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, etc.). Admission into a Ph.D. program often requires the equivalent of two or more years of language study. Undergraduate students of Indian philosophy whose universities do not offer instruction in Asian languages would be wise to pursue summer study elsewhere. University funding is not always available for the M.A. For the Ph.D., however, students studying in North America should insist on full funding: a complete tuition waiver plus a substantial stipend.

Students are, naturally, most concerned with getting into an M.A. or Ph.D. program. However, they should also give a great deal of thought to how long it will take to get out, how much debt will accrue during their studies, and what kind of job they should expect to find after they graduate. Because of the extensive language training required for original research in Indian philosophy and the expectation that many students will spend time doing research abroad, completion of a program of study in Indian philosophy often takes longer than a comparable program in European philosophy. After they are admitted, students should grill the graduate program director on the program’s job placement rate and on what kinds of jobs its recent graduates have received. (2-year research fellowships? 3-year Visiting Assistant Professorships? Tenure-Track Professorships?)

A very serious factor students must take into account is the amount of debt they will amass and whether they will ever make enough money as a professor in a humanities department to pay off those debts. This is a particularly large problem in the United States. Because of the high cost of graduate studies and the daunting odds of landing a tenure-track job, some prominent voices have warned against anyone pursuing a humanities doctoral degree in the United States. Though the situations in Indian philosophy, South Asian Studies, and Religious Studies are better than in some other humanities disciplines, students should arrive in graduate school with their eyes wide open. B.A.-, M.A.-, and Ph.D.-holders should also keep in mind that it is possible to have a fulfilling, intellectually rewarding career beyond the ivory tower.

In my opinion, it would be folly to try to give an overall ranking of Ph.D. programs in Indian philosophy. The types of disciplinary approaches and topics covered are too diverse. However, it is useful to ask questions about the top programs for the study of specific topics in Indian philosophy, such as Kashmir Śaivism or Yogācāra Buddhism. Perhaps the comments section would be a good place to begin such a conversation.

The list for Part One covers Ph.D. programs in Canada and the United States. Elisa Freschi will later post a Part Two containing listings for much of Europe. Since the contributors to the Indian Philosophy Blog are based in North America and Europe, I thought it would be best to begin there. If there is enough interest, we may also prepare lists for Asia and Oceania at a later date. I wish to thank Amod Lele and Shyam Ranganathan for helping me with the North America list. Any errors or omissions to this list are my own fault.

List of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy – North America

Canada

McGill University (Religious Studies)
McMaster University (Religious Studies)
University of Alberta (Philosophy)
University of British Columbia (Philosophy)
University of Calgary (Philosophy)
University of Manitoba (Religion)
University of Toronto (Religion)

United States

Binghamton University (Philosophy)
Columbia University (Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies; Religion)
Cornell University (Asian Studies)
Emory University (Religion)
Harvard University (Committee on the Study of Religion; South Asian Studies)
Indiana University (Religious Studies)
Princeton University (Religion)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (Philosophy)
Temple University (Religion)
University of California at Berkeley (South and Southeast Asian Studies)
University of California at Santa Barbara (Religious Studies)
University of Chicago (Divinity School; South Asian Languages and Civilizations)
University of Hawaii (Philosophy)
University of Iowa (Religious Studies)
University of Michigan (Asian Languages and Cultures)
University of New Mexico (Philosophy)
University of Pennsylvania (South Asia Studies)
University of Texas at Austin (Asian Studies; Philosophy)
University of Virginia (Religious Studies)
University of Washington (Asian Languages and Literature)
University of Wisconsin at Madison (Languages and Cultures of Asia)
Yale University (Religious Studies)

About Andrew Nicholson

I am an Associate Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the author of two books, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Intellectual History and Lord Śiva's Song: The Īśvara Gītā.

29 thoughts on “The Philosophical Rasika Report: Listings of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy (Part I: North America)

  1. Just a small note: The University of Texas you’ve listed is, I take it, the Austin campus. It might be worth making sure people know that, since we have several UT campuses.

    • Thanks Malcolm–fixed.

      If readers have any other suggestions for edits or additions to the list, they can post them in the comments or e-mail me at andrew.nicholson[at]stonybrook.edu. I have a feeling I’ve missed some programs. For a working definition of an “active” program, it should have current Ph.D. students or have graduated such students in the past five years.

    • To follow Malcom’s post, I’d like to just add that my experience in the Philosophy Department of the University of Texas at Austin lacked any manifestations of the Eurocentric bias that is unfortunately still out there in some places. My non-Indianist, predominantly analytically-oriented professors were always supportive, and often quite interested in the details of what I was doing. I know that such things can manifest in unseen ways, including admissions choices, and people can put on a good show regardless of how they actually feel. But all of that said, on a personal level, my experience was overwhelmingly positive.

      • As a current student, I’d like to second Matt’s comment about the positive experience. My dissertation committee includes Ray Buchanan, Josh Dever, and Hans Kamp, all of whom work in broadly Anglophone contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics. They have all been genuinely inquisitive about the various philosophical schools, and supportive of my project. And, of course, my committee chair, Stephen Phillips, is well-known for his ability to navigate both Indological and philosophical circles. Various other faculty members have also, at different times, expressed interest in Indian philosophy. I’ve also been able to work with members of the Asian Studies Department (primarily Patrick Olivelle and now Don Davis) and have found my interactions with them quite fruitful.

  2. Thank you so much for this, Andrew.

    If I may build upon something you said above, in your kind advice to a potential graduate student in Indian philosophy: when trying to decide what kind of department in which one would be “at home”, it helps to remember that in any field, much if not most of your coursework will not directly be on Indian philosophy, or in the specific field of Indian philosophy in which you are most interested. Therefore, it helps to reflect on what kinds of things you would most like to read and think about in support of your interests in Indian thought, since that is where you will actually spent most of your time before your dissertation. In an Asian Studies program, you will get a strong basis in language, history, and cultural studies. So, ideally, you would be reading texts in Indo-tibetan languages and secondary literature on history and cultural studies. In Philosophy, you will study leading philosophers, philosophical analysis of their works, and most likely, contemporary philosophical methodologies (e.g., analytic approaches to metaphysics, etc.), hopefully becoming trained in analysis and dialectical rigor. In Religious Studies, there seems to be a lot of variance in what is out there, and it is hard to generalize what you will get (Andrew provides a few suggestions above) but I think it may be hard to find deep engagement with contemporary philosophical methodology, unless there are people in that particular department who happen to be trained in such and with whom you can work.

    So, it helps to think of the sorts of things one would like to spend her time reading outside of her core interest to help see what kind of department would make the most sense. Of course, we often don’t have tons of choices; what typically makes a department a good one for Indian philosophy is the presence of one or two top-tier specialists, and it helps to cast a wide net.

  3. Hi Andrew, another error to fix: Harvard Divinity School does not offer a PhD, but a ThD (which is generally aimed toward Christian theology and/or seminary teaching, though it can have a comparative element or even a non-Christian focus). The relevant PhD program is in the Study of Religion.

  4. Alex Watson is compiling a list, although I don’t know where it will be come out. With reference to Britain, PhDs in Indian Philosophy can be undertaken in these places. Furthermore, the northern English Universities – Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds – also collaborate on joint theses.

    Lancaster University (Religious Studies; Philosophy)

    University of Cambridge (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Divinity)

    University of Cardiff (Religious and Theological Studies)

    University of Edinburgh (Sanskrit Studies; South Asian Studies)

    University of Kent (Religious Studies)

    University of Manchester (Arts, Languages, and Cultures)

    University of Leeds (Theology and Religious Studies)

    University of Liverpool (Philosophy)

    University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (Religion; South Asia)

    University of Oxford (Oriental Studies; Theology and Religion)

    University of Sussex (Philosophy)

  5. Pingback: PhD programs in Indian Philosophy in Europe | elisa freschi

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  7. Thanks for this detailed and comprehensive information about studies in Indian philosophy. I will like to be in touch for more information.

    • While you can reach me directly at andrew.nicholson[at]stonybrook.edu, I suggest that you contact the departments directly where you are considering graduate study. You can find names of faculty and their e-mail addresses on the department homepages.

  8. The list is long, but the problem is that some of the most outstanding scholars in the field don’t necessarily have graduate programs at their school.
    David Lawrence, University of North Dakota; and Sthaneshwar Timalsina, San Diego State, are the outstanding examples that come to mind.
    Arindam Chakrabarti, of course, can teach anything, and Hawaii has a famous and well-established program.

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    • Khandakar can be the maker of sugar or the one who deals in selling sugar. And Nasiruddin in subcontinent is a name of a person whose parents could not find a local name for their child and had to import it from Arab.

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