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Asian Studies founding director James Carter, Ph.D. (center), with SJU students on the Great Wall of China.

Asian Studies Program Helps Students Succeed in Changing
Global Paradigm

Students embracing opportunities to understand Asian culture

Bernadette B. and James J. ’69 Nealis III

Bernadette B. and James J. ’69 Nealis III

With roughly 60 percent of the world’s population residing in Asia, the continent is demanding an increasingly prominent and influential role on the world stage. Saint Joseph’s University recognized this eventuality nearly a decade ago and has grown its Asian Studies Program accordingly – thanks to a transformational gift from Bernadette B. and James J. ’69 Nealis III.

“Given the importance of Asia in our collective global future and the realignments on the world stage that the economic growth of Asian countries such as China and India will inevitably bring during the lifetimes of our students, the study of Asia must be integral to the education that Saint Joseph’s offers,” said associate professor David Carpenter, Ph.D., Director, Bernadette B. and James J. Nealis III ’69 Program in Asian Studies. “This is not just a sideline or special interest. It is a strategic imperative that will impact our students in tangible ways.”

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Formerly a modest program offering a certificate and minor, the Asian Studies Program today is competitively positioned and offers both a major and minor along with a vast array of learning and cultural experiences for students and the University community. The robust interdisciplinary program enables a broad understanding of the Asian culture and perspective through the study of the region’s core cultural values. Students study the language, history, culture and politics of Asia and are encouraged to study abroad sju-block.

The Nealis’s gift partially funded an expansion to the current seven fulltime faculty, initially through positions in political science and economics and more recently in Chinese language, history and theology and religious studies. The gift also supports the Asian Studies Lecture Series, China Summer Program, study abroad scholarships and participation in conferences and cultural celebrations.

Today’s Saint Joseph’s Asian Studies major, the core of the Asian Studies Program, requires intermediate competency in an Asian language, two “Foundational Heritage” courses, seven electives courses and a senior seminar in Asian Studies. Language competency can be met through courses at Saint Joseph’s (in Chinese and Japanese), as well as through intensive language programs elsewhere (for those interested in languages not taught at Saint Joseph’s, such as Hindi). The Senior Seminar, designed to enable students to synthesize what they have learned through their coursework, typically takes the form of a research seminar or thesis. These papers are expected to be nominated for presentation at the Greater Philadelphia Asian Studies Consortium Undergraduate Conference each spring.

Built on a solid foundation and now staffed by an exuberant and talented team of scholar-teachers, the Asian Studies Program expects its healthy trajectory to continue. The program as a whole has experienced growth in many areas – majors and minors – as well as growth in the Chinese program.

The University recently introduced a range of new courses, including “Experiencing China through Contemporary Literature, Music and Film;” “Modern South Asia;” “Chinese Economy;” and “Death and the Afterlife in Chinese Religions.”

For the long term, the groundwork has been laid for introducing a double major in international business and Asian studies. Adding Asian Studies as a second major is also common with English, history and international relations. Saint Joseph’s is prepared to welcome the next generation of students into the Asian Studies Program. As the University becomes better known as an undergraduate destination for the study of Asia, the founders and keepers of the program anticipate an exciting future.

Evolution of the Asian Studies Program

  • 1986: The Department of Theology and Religious Studies hired an historian of religions with a specialization in South Asia, the first tenure-track line at the University dedicated to the teaching of Asia.
  • 2003: Asian Studies Program created.
  • 2006: Eight Asian Studies students graduated.
  • 2007: Nealis gift is announced, ushering in a new resolve to build the Asian Studies Program.
  • 2007: Nealis delivered a lecture as executive in residence at the Haub School of Business.
  • 2008: Saint Joseph’s Summer Program in China launched, providing 13 SJU undergraduates one month of travel and study, with stays in Nanjing, Tiantai, Ningbo, Xi’an and Beijing.
  • 2008: The first two students were accepted into the Asian Studies major.
  • 2008: Dr. Kaz Fukuoka joined the Political Science department to teach a range of courses on Japanese politics.
  • 2012: Upon the recommendation of University’s first full-time Mandarin instructor, Juan Julie Yu (Yu Laoshi, to her students), the University approves a minor in Chinese language and culture.
  • 2012: Amber Abbas, Ph.D., South Asia historian, and Susan Andrews, Ph.D., East Asian religions scholar, joined the faculty.
  • 2012: National China town hall meeting convenes at Saint Joseph’s.