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Prospective Students

Penn State currently offers dual-title PhD degrees in four fields: History, Comparative Literature, Applied Linguistics, and Political Science. Students who will be applying to any of these disciplines and who also plan to incorporate some aspect of Asia into their research may apply for this special degree. [See "What are dual-title degrees?" below]
Asian Studies faculty teach and conduct research in a broad range of fields, including History, Comparative Literature, English, Religious Studies, Applied Linguistics, Art History, Economics, Political Science, and Labor Studies.

At the heart of the program's collective work is a commitment to incisive scholarship, rigorous thought, and cutting-edge research on the historical and contemporary cultures and societies of Asia. We are interested in making connections across historical periods and geographic regions, and we pay heed to conceptions of Asia that do not orient it solely towards a history dominated or determined by its modern encounter with Europe.

Our graduate program offers highly competitive training in a variety of Asian fields. We have faculty actively training students in each of our partner fields: Applied Linguistics, Political Science, Comparative Literature, and History. The following thematic areas constitute current areas of core strength, defined by our having at least three faculty members who can contribute to graduate training in these areas. While we do not limit graduate training to these areas, we strongly encourage students who are interested in these areas to apply:

  1. Asian American, Chinese diasporic, and Sinophone literatures
  2. Early modern social, intellectual, and religious history of China and Japan
  3. Borderlands, margins, ethnic identity, and frontier history of East Asia
  4. East/West comparative literature, visual art film, theater, and philosophy
  5. Intellectual history and religious studies of pre-modern China and Japan
  6. Modern and contemporary Chinese film, visual culture, performance, and print culture
  7. Book history and textual cultures across Asia
  8. Migration studies. 

Prospective students may wish to study our list of faculty to gain a sense of their expertise and the significance of their past and current research projects.

What are dual-title degrees?

The dual-title PhD in Asian Studies bestows an additional title (Asian Studies) to one’s title in one of the four primary fields. It is not a second PhD degree, but rather, it designates an additional area of expertise, certifying that a student has undergone rigorous, interdisciplinary training on Asia in conjunction with training in one's home department at the PhD level.

Penn State dual-title degree programs give students a solid grounding in the fundamental methods and background of a single discipline, while allowing the student's work to be extended through participation in an interdisciplinary program that will connect students to faculty across the university, allow them to do creative, high-level scholarship, and make them compelling candidates on the academic job market.

How do I apply for a dual-title PhD?

To apply for a dual-title PhD in Asian Studies, you must apply to the home department appropriate to your undergraduate training and your professional goals. We ask that you indicate on your application that you wish also to be considered for acceptance into the dual-title degree program with Asian Studies.

Please consult the websites of those departments for information on application and admission (Applied Linguistics, Comparative Literature, History, Political Science).

Once you are admitted by the home department, your application will be forwarded by that department to the Asian Studies graduate committee, which reviews them and admits students to the dual-degree program. Students who have been admitted to PhD programs at Penn State but did not apply for admission to the dual-title program in Asian Studies may apply for admission in their first year of graduate study at Penn State, and will be considered alongside the regular applicant pool.

Successful applicants will have some background in Asian Studies and knowledge of one or more Asian languages. Their statements of purpose should indicate an interest in pursuing research in Asian Studies, and articulate a clear direction for their scholarship.

What will the degree requirements be?

Though requirements differ by department, all Asian Studies dual-degree candidates must meet similar basic qualifications in addition to the PhD requirements in their home departments.

Coursework: 15 credits of Asian Studies coursework at the 400 or 500 level. Nine of these credits will come from AS 501, 502, and 597; the remainder may come from AS or from the student’s home department.

Language requirement:  Students should show strong all-skills proficiency in one Asian language and either two years’ college study (or equivalent knowledge) of another Asian language, or else an alternative proficiency appropriate to the student’s field.

Graduate committee, examinations, dissertation:  A representative of the AS program will serve on the student’s committee, which will take departmental practice into consideration in determining how to include an appropriate AS component in the student’s candidacy and comprehensive examinations and in the dissertation.

For more detailed information please consult the guidelines for specific programs, which are listed below.

What is the Asian Studies Seminar?

The heart of the dual-degree PhD in Asian Studies will be the Asian Studies Seminar, ASIA 501/502. This yearlong seminar, which counts for 6 credits, is required for all dual-degree candidates.

The 501/502 course sequence serves as a vehicle for understanding the discourses that have defined "Asia," what is "Asian," and "Asian Studies" from various disciplinary perspectives. Its overall focus is ultimately interdisciplinary, and the goal is to prepare students for jobs that focus more exclusively on Asia.

The unifying theme of the course is "Critical Studies of 'Asia'," which provides a study of the various discourses on, definitions of, analytical categories, and conceptualizations of Asia and its cultures and histories.

The seminar is divided into six five-week units. The six different units will not only focus on the central unifying theme mentioned above, but will also incorporate a variety of interdisciplinary approaches. These will provide a methodological window onto a given topic, which may be broadly defined (e.g., Empires, Nationalism, Critical Interpretations of Classical Texts, Translation), or more narrowly specialized (e.g. The East Asian Economic Miracle; Democratization in the Philippines, The Postcolonial City; Zen Buddhism) ­ to be decided upon by the instructor.

Over the course of the year the seminar allows students to develop a strong sense of the interdisciplinary possibilities of the field, and get to know a number of faculty in the program.

In the year following the Asian Studies Seminar, students in the course are given the opportunity to invite two scholars in Asian Studies to campus to give lectures and have lunch with the graduate students in the field. This opportunity allows students to remain connected to their classmates in the program, and to help create the intellectual life of the program.

Dual-Title PhD in Applied Linguistics and Asian Studies

Admissions information for graduate study in Applied Linguistics. Graduate faculty with expertise in Asian Studies include Susan Strauss (Japanese/Korean) and Xiaofei Lu (corpus linguistics).

Dual-Title PhD in Applied Linguistics and Asian Studies


The Applied Linguistics Department is currently training specialists in language teaching and research. It has faculty strengths in cognitive linguistics, sociolinguistics, computational linguistics, linguistic anthropology, pragmatics, and corpus linguistics.

Admissions information for graduate study in Applied Linguistics. Graduate faculty with expertise in Asian Studies include Susan Strauss (Japanese/Korean) and Xiaofei Lu (corpus linguistics).

Dual-Title PhD in Comparative Literature and Asian Studies


The Comparative Literature Department is currently training intra-Asian and East-West comparatists using Chinese or Japanese. It has faculty strengths in modernism, transnational and diasporic literature, Sinophone studies, new media, book history, and post-colonial and gender studies.

Admissions information for graduate study in Comparative Literature. Graduate faculty with expertise in Asian Studies include Jonathan Abel (Japan), Charlotte Eubanks (Japan), Reiko Tachibana (Japan), Eric Hayot (China), Shuang Shen (China), Nicolai Volland (China) and We Jung Yi (Korea).

Dual-Title PhD in History and Asian Studies


The History Department is currently training specialists in early modern or modern Chinese history. It has faculty strengths in pre-modern Chinese history and intellectual history, the history of ethnicity and borderland regions, modern social and cultural history, and Christian missions to China.

Admissions information for graduate study in History. Graduate faculty with expertise in Asian Studies include Jessamyn Abel (Japan), David Atwill (China), Kathlene Baldanza (China & Vietnam), Erica Brindley (China), Ronnie Hsia (China), Kate Merkel-Hess (China), Prakash Kumar (India),  On-cho Ng (China), Maia Ramnath (India), Gregory Smits (Japan) and Ran Zwigenberg (Japan).

Dual-Title PhD in Political Science and Asian Studies [in process]


The Political Science Department is currently training specialists in Comparative Politics and International Relations. It has faculty strengths in democratization, comparative political economy, international political economy, and conflict studies.

Admissions information for graduate study in Political Science. Graduate faculty with expertise in Asian Studies include Gretchen Casper (Southeast Asia, democratization), and Vineeta Yadav (India and China, comparative political economy).