Many people, whether they’re from the United States, China, Korea, or Japan, become curious when they hear what I study. Isn’t Confucianism drab and irrelevant?
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 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 philosophy, the cultural approach seemed to be the only way to study it in the 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.