The Philosophical Rasika Report: Listings of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy (2017 Edition; Part I: North America)

Preface to the 2017 Edition

Since the original guide to Ph.D. programs in North America was first compiled in 2014, some scholars have been newly hired, have moved, or have retired, necessitating revisions to the list. Among these moves are:

Michael S. Allen (Hampden-Sydney College) moved to University of Virginia
Douglas Berger (Southern Illinois University) moved to Leiden University
Purushottama Bilimoria (Deakin University) moved to Graduate Theological Union
Nicholas Bommarito hired by University at Buffalo, SUNY
Arindam Chakrabarti (University of Hawaii at Manoa) will move in 2018 to Stony Brook University, SUNY
John D. Dunne (Emory University) moved to University of Wisconsin at Madison
Jonathan Edelmann (Mississippi State University) moved to University of Florida
Pierre-Julien Harter hired by University of New Mexico
Sonam Kachru hired by University of Virginia
Rita D. Sherma hired by Graduate Theological Union

The larger points made in the introduction, however, remain as true in 2017 as they were in 2014.

Introduction

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 over 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, Prakrit, 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. With the exception of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the language of instruction of the Ph.D. programs on this North America list is English.

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 lists of Ph.D programs in Indian philosophy, Part One for North America and Part Two for Europe were originally compiled by Andrew J. Nicholson (me) and Elisa Freschi, respectively, in 2014. (The original lists can be found here and here.) We plan to continue to revise these lists approximately once every three years. Elisa Freschi’s revised list for Europe will appear in November 2017. Additionally, in December 2017 we plan to add a Part Three, a guide to Ph.D. programs for Indian Philosophy in India. I wish to thank Amod Lele, Shyam Ranganathan, Borayin Larios, and Elsa Cross for helping me with the North America list. Any errors or omissions are my own fault.

List of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy – North America (Revised October 2017)

Canada

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

Mexico

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Filosofía y Letras)

United States

Binghamton University, State University of New York (Philosophy)
Boston University (Religion)
Columbia University (Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies; Religion)
Cornell University (Asian Studies)
Emory University (Religion)
Graduate Theological Union (Hindu Studies; Buddhist Studies; Jain Studies)
Harvard University (Committee on the Study of Religion; South Asian Studies)
Indiana University (Religious Studies)
New York University (Philosophy)
Princeton University (Religion)
Stony Brook University, State University of New York (Philosophy)
Temple University (Religion)
University at Buffalo, State University of New York (Philosophy)
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 Florida (Religion)
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.

8 thoughts on “The Philosophical Rasika Report: Listings of Ph.D. Programs in Indian Philosophy (2017 Edition; Part I: North America)

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  2. Andrew, thanks for updating this! As you point out in the comments, ranking these programs would be folly. And yet it’s hard for people not to infer rankings from, for instance, rankings of the philosophy programs in which some faculty are embedded. Perhaps it would be worth discussing the kinds of factors students should weigh as they look at programs? They will need to rank in some way, if only to make a final decision if admitted to multiple places.

    For instance, while program A and program B might be ranked differently, with respective to some particular evaluating metric qua philosophy, it seems other considerations are important, such as the relationship between programs of study (like the philosophy department and area studies), availability of languages, how hospitable the faculty is to Indian philosophy, as well as the points you raise about particular areas of focus.

    I wonder if you or others have further advice about how students can begin to make sense out of which programs best suit their needs?

    (I can offer my own experience from UT Austin, which is that having access to the South Asian studies faculty was immensely important for my own education, as was the excellent library–a resource which I didn’t fully realize was so tremendous until I left. Independent of my experience at UT–as I did get a good job–I would also reiterate your point about placement, since that doesn’t track rankings as much as people might think!)

    • Hi Malcolm,

      You’re right that it is still a fairly bewildering environment for prospective graduate students these days, even with all of the new resources that weren’t yet available when you and I were starting to consider our graduate school options.

      You’re also right that being at a university that has a robust Asian languages department is huge when it comes to studying Indian philosophy. Note the four universities listed where it is possible to study Indian philosophy either in a Dept. of Asian Studies or in another department:

      Columbia University
      Harvard University
      University of Chicago
      UT Austin

      It is not just coincidence that these four schools are among the best for the study of Indian philosophy in the United States. They also seem to have some of the best placement rates of their students into tenure track jobs, from what I’ve heard anecdotally.

      To avoid unnecessary repetition, I’d encourage readers to take a look at the extensive comments section from the Philosophical Rasika Report when it was first published 3 years ago: http://indianphilosophyblog.org/2014/03/17/the-philosophical-rasika-report-listings-of-ph-d-programs-in-indian-philosophy-part-i-north-america/

      Among the topics discussed in that section were the pros and cons of getting one’s PhD in a philosophy department versus a Religious Studies or Asian Studies department.

      One new development in the 2017 guide that deserves pointing out: P.-J. Harter received his PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he studied with Dan Arnold (an excellent philosopher who happens to teach in a Divinity School, BTW). Harter was hired by the University of New Mexico’s philosophy department. So it now appears that there is at least some possibility that philosophy departments will make a tenure-track hire of someone whose PhD is not in philosophy per se.

      As someone whose PhD is in S. Asian Languages and Civilizations, I admit to having my own biases here. I think that oftentimes for Indian philosophy, some of the broadest and deepest *philosophical* training occurs outside of philosophy PhD programs. It appears that hiring committees are also beginning to recognize this.

      • Andrew, thanks for pointing out that last comment thread. You’re right that much there is useful for students thinking about where to go.

        I also agree that broad & deep philosophical training occurs outside of philosophy PhD programs! The pragmatic question is, of course, whether hiring philosophy programs will recognize this. (P-J. Harter’s hire is promising, and it will be worth keeping an eye on the places which are currently hiring in Indian philosophy.) One consideration for students might be how they can acquire some familiarity with the sort of contemporary philosophy they’re most likely to need to know given their career goals. That is, philosophy departments are also looking for someone they can talk to, and some ability to make conceptual connections and “speak the language” will be valuable.

        That, as you point out, doesn’t require you be in a philosophy department–a look at Dan Arnold’s work will demonstrate his facility with contemporary analytic philosophy.

        Also, so as not to crowd the thread with comments, a reply to Matt’s remark—I second the encouragement to talk to scholars. And I encourage all my undergraduate students to also talk to graduate students and alum from the programs. They are in a better position than profs to talk about the program from a student’s perspective.

  3. Malcolm, regarding this:

    “I wonder if you or others have further advice about how students can begin to make sense out of which programs best suit their needs?”

    I think it is imperative to talk to people who are in graduate school or in the field to get personal advice. Hopefully this blog may serve as a resource for scholars-to-be, not only because of the posts and materials, but also email addresses!

    Prospective students, please take the initiative to reach out to a few people! Getting such advice was crucial for my own early steps in my career.

  4. At times, I’ve advised students on the fence to consider MA programs first, as these give a taste of serious scholarly life without the time and financial commitment. Would it be difficult for us to list the subset of the above programs that have MA-only programs?

  5. Pingback: PhD programs in Indian philosophy in Europe—2017 edition | elisa freschi

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