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New Joint MA Program: The Departments of Philosophy and Asian & Asian American Studies

This interdisciplinary joint program brings together expert faculty in the history of philosophy in two of Stony Brook University’s departments: Asian & Asian American Studies, and Philosophy. It enables students to broaden their knowledge of philosophy by treating it as a world-wide, rather than an exclusively western, undertaking. The program provides Humanities students with philosophically informed and historically grounded perspectives on what is arguably the principal cultural encounter of our time.

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Coursework focuses on key aspects of the following philosophical traditions: Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, ancient Greek and Roman, Christian medieval, and modern European. Teaching is based on primary texts in English translation, with selective use of secondary sources. Special emphasis is placed on understanding native terms and concepts from the original languages of works studied. The historical texts that you will study belong to these areas of inquiry: ethics, metaphysics, theories of knowledge, social and political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophical anthropology, philosophical theology.

Sample Courses (specific course topics may change)

Ancient Philosophy
Ancient philosophers would have thought it odd to separate academic disciplines from one another. We will imitate their approach by immersing ourselves in their reflections and discoveries ranging from metaphysics to physics to ethics and politics. We begin with extant fragments of pre-Socratic philosophers that will challenge our interpretive abilities; we then move to more complete, systematic, somewhat arduous Aristotelian texts; finally, we will gain familiarity with the cosmological and ethical thought of ancient Stoicism.

Modern Philosophy
This course surveys key developments in western political philosophy, with particular emphasis on the period between the Reformation and the French Revolution. Our guiding (though by no means exclusive) theme will be the emergence of modern conceptions of distributive justice. After treating some basic accounts of ‘justice’, ‘right’, and ‘law’ in ancient Greek, medieval, and 16th century political philosophy, we will pay special attention to arguments concerning the nature and varieties of justice presented by the following modern thinkers: Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. In the final phase of the course, these thinkers’ arguments will be discussed in connection with selected writings by Karl Marx and John Rawls.

Classical Islamic Philosophy
This course will introduce the major philosophers and philosophical debates of Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages. Our goal will be to understand the intellectually lively nature of philosophy during this time and to gain an appreciation for the historical development of philosophical ideas. We will also explore how philosophy from the Islamic Middle Ages relates to the development of Christian and Jewish thought in the Renaissance as well as its relation to Islamic thought in the post-classical or early modern period, including Shiʿism, Sufism and theology. Topics include: How can we know things? What are the most fundamental components of reality? What is the relationship between God and the world? Is the world eternal or created? Is the connection between “cause” and “effect” a necessary one? What are philosophical understandings of religious texts? We will study these issues and the debates surrounding them in a number of philosophers, including: al-Farabi (d. 950), Avicenna (d. 1037), Ghazali (d. 1111), Averroes (d. 1198) and Maimonides (d. 1204).

Ethical Thought in India
Hindu and Buddhist thinkers have not only been concerned with other-worldly, metaphysical issues, but also ethical, social, and political issues that continue to confront us today in our everyday lives. Do we have a responsibility to act for the greater good of society, or should human beings instead avoid engaging in political affairs? Is violence ever justified, or is it always a sign of moral degeneracy, as Gandhi believed? When evaluating the moral justification for an action, should we be concerned primarily with duties (deontology) or the effects of our actions (consequentialism)? We will explore such ethical issues though careful analysis of writings that include the Mahābhārata, Śāntideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, Gandhi’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā, B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste and other works. We will conclude the semester by applying these classical Buddhist and Hindu principles to examine contemporary ethical issues (such as cloning, abortion, animal rights, and just war theory).

Buddhism and Early Vedanta
In India between the 5th century BCE and 8th century CE, Hindu and Buddhist philosophers debated one another on questions that many of us continue to ponder today: Who are we? Is there an eternal “soul” or “self,” or is all existence impermanent and fleeting? What should we do with our lives? Is the world real or just an illusion? The answers they gave frequently disagreed. Yet recent scholars have observed that there is a historical connection between Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy in India and the philosophy of Advaita Vedānta, today the most famous of all the Hindu philosophical schools. Through careful reading of some of the arguments of these Buddhist and Vedānta philosophers we will seek to understand the complex web of interrelationships between the two schools, and also begin to appreciate how their insights can help us find meaning in our lives today.

Ancient Philosophy in the Islamic World
Spearheaded by the Islamic Caliphate in Baghdad, the transfer of Ancient Greek philosophy into the Islamic world goes down as one of the greatest achievements of human civilization. This class is designed as a history of philosophy seminar to examine the key texts and doctrines in Ancient philosophy and their transmission into the Islamic world, including: logic, metaphysics, cosmology and psychology. We will consider timeless questions about how ideas change and develop over time, how schools of thought are formed, and how philosophy responds to broader issues of the period. The course will begin with a review of philosophy in the Late Antique period and the relationship between the new Christian religion and the Pagan Greek philosophical schools. In the Islamic period we will cover themes such as 1) the Neo-Platonizing Kindī School, translations of Plotinus and Proclus and spurious attributions to Aristotle; 2) the “Baghdad Aristotelians”; 3) the relationship between metaphysics and theology, and conceptions of Aristotle’s Metaphysics; 4) theories of providence and the relationship between the supra-lunar and sub-lunar worlds; 5) the so-called “harmony of Plato and Aristotle.”

Program Requirements
This 30-credits MA degree can be earned in one year. But it is recommended that full-time students complete the HPEW program as follows: Year one: 24 credits (four 3-credit courses per semester) Year two: 6 credits (two 3-credit in the semester of full-time enrollment) It is also possible to enroll in HPEW on a part-time basis (i.e., by taking fewer than 12 credit hours per semester)

HPEW Director

Alan Kim, Ph.D

Please contact the Director for additional program information at

Core Faculty