Asian Studies Department focuses on Asia and East-West relations

In the 21st century, Asian countries such as China, India, Korea and Japan are recognized as dynamic partners and competitors of the United States in global economic and political arenas. The Department of Asian Studies in the College of the Liberal Arts is reshaping undergraduate and graduate coursework at Penn State and faculty and student research projects to analyze and understand the trans-regional issues facing Asia and the United States.

The new department has emerged from the success generated by the Asian Studies Program, which was launched by the college in 2009 based on recommendations of a faculty task force.  For more than 25 years, the college had offered an inter-departmental major in East Asian studies and a minor in Asian studies, guided by faculty from several departments. The faculty taught affiliated courses in their home departments, while the Department of Comparative Literature offered Asian languages.

"Given the importance of Asia in our contemporary world and the significant expertise of our faculty, we moved forward in consolidating all of the faculty working in Asian-related disciplines and expanding the curriculum," said Susan Welch, the Susan Welch Dean in the College of the Liberal Arts. "Today, our faculty is training the next generation of Penn State students in the history, politics, cultures, languages, and economies of Asia, and the relation between Asia and the rest of the world."

The department offers undergraduate majors and minors in Asian studies, Chinese, and Japanese as well as instruction in Hindi and Korean. Currently, the department enrolls about 60 undergraduate majors and more than 100 minors. More than a dozen graduate students are pursuing a dual-title doctoral degree in Asian studies partnered with programs in applied linguistics, comparative literature, history, or political science. Total enrollment in all the language and culture classes has grown from nearly 1,000 students in 2008 to more than 1,400 students in 2012, with the most popular being Chinese and Japanese.

On-Cho Ng, head of the Department of Asian Studies, noted, "Despite its short history, Asian studies has been productive in scholarly research by our faculty and graduate students, attracting national and international visibility. The Asian studies undergraduate major has experienced strong growth, as has the Chinese studies major. Interest in the Korean language program is growing, and undergraduates are expressing interest in its history, literature, and culture.  And we are partnering with our CIC peers to make more Korean classes available to our students through the CIC Course Share program."

Current faculty come from a wide range of disciplines, including applied linguistics, art history, economics, English, history, labor and employment relations, political science, and women's studies. They are teaching and studying topics ranging from Islam in China, the architecture of the Indian city, and Mughal political culture to contemporary Asian American fiction, medieval Japanese Buddhism, and the politics of democratization. Twenty-two tenured and tenure-line faculty hold joint appointments in Asian studies and another department and 11 lecturers are solely appointed in Asian studies. The departmental status will allow the department to hire new faculty and grant tenure directly. 

Substantial support from partners such as The Confucius Institute at Penn State, the Japan Foundation, and Nanjing University, China, as well as Penn State alumni, is resulting in the development of many learning and research opportunities for Penn State undergraduate and graduate students.

The Asian studies dual-title doctoral program is growing in partnership with applied linguistics, comparative literature, history, and political science departments.  In addition, the department will  launch a new academic journal on the  fields of Asian studies and Asian American studies; its third Global Asias Conference in spring 2015; and a new Penn State Summer Institute in Asian Studies for young scholars from other universities.

Future plans include the creation of embedded Asian studies courses, which includes a week-long of study at an Asian University at the end of a semester. Another goal is to expand the offerings of advanced language courses and  content courses not only for the College’s majors, but also for non-Liberal Arts majors interested in international development or global studies.

"The various programs will help prepare Penn State students for a complex world, train future teachers, and contribute to our nation’s greater understanding of the critical relationships with our Asian partners," Ng said.

Last Updated March 20, 2014