Many people, whether they’re from the United States, China, Korea, or Japan, become curious when they hear about what I study. Isn’t Confucianism drab and irrelevant? It’s old (needless to say, I take “old” as a compliment because one could easily choose “archaic,” “outdated,” or “dead”).
Well, I also had no idea I’d be studying East Asian stuff, let alone Confucianism, because I had a similar thought. Even though I loved philosophy since I was a teenager, I didn’t find Confucianism “philosophical” enough. Therefore, as an undergrad, I studied continental and analytic philosophy in the comparative literature and philosophy departments. Out of curiosity, I took a course and attended a seminar on Chinese philosophy, but my interest in East Asian philosophy remained shallow and broad.
The turning point was a summer break after my fifth semester in university. I took a course on Korean neo-Confucianism at Seoul National University, and I found it full of clear, systematic, and original arguments. Since then, I decided to study more about Confucianism, so I got more training in Classical Chinese and neo-Confucian philosophy.
Another turning point came when I met Dr. Harvey Lederman from the Philosophy department after my first semester in graduate school. When I applied for Ph.D. programs, I had planned to study how several Confucian concepts married certain politico-cultural ideas, as they are reflected in the contemporary East Asian media. Though I had been interested in Confucianism as a philosophy, the cultural approach seemed to be the only way to study it in U.S. graduate schools. But meeting Dr. Lederman changed that assumption, and I promptly switched back to a philosophical project.
In addition to philosophy, I’m still interested in contemporary East Asian politics. I’ve also developed an interest in the Constitution and criminal law in high school and was a law school hopeful once upon a time, and I love to think about it to this day. My research projects integrate these various topics, with the main axis being Confucian philosophy.