Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy

Statement on Rankings

Beyond Rankings: How to Choose a Program in Continental Philosophy

The American Philosophical Association has expressed reservations about the usefulness of all-purpose rankings of programs in philosophy. SPEP concurs that such rankings are not particularly helpful to prospective students in deciding about graduate school, or to their faculty advisors. Students want to know which programs will match their interests and abilities, and generic rankings cannot help individual students make decisions that are tailored to their particular interests. The main problem is that students often do not know how to determine the depth and breadth of programs that claim a strength in some area. SPEP provides a list of programs that have requested to be included as friendly to continental philosophy, but students who wish to focus on continental philosophy or include it as a substantive part of their studies should certainly evaluate all programs claiming a strength in continental philosophy to find ones that will really complement their interests. SPEP advises prospective graduate students to be aware that some rankings of philosophy programs, such as the Philosophical Gourmet Report, are largely subjective and should accordingly be taken with a grain of salt.

SPEP remains independent of all rankings and does not endorse any of them.

SPEP believes that the following list of things to look for in graduate programs with concentrated strengths in continental philosophy may assist students in considering particular programs. In addition to print publications, most departments now have websites containing all kinds of information valuable to students researching graduate programs. The difficulty lies in knowing what to look for. SPEP suggests that students begin their research by looking for the following pieces of information on websites and in other department publications:

  1. How many faculty members claim a specialization in continental philosophy or in continental figures or traditions? What proportion of the total faculty claim such a specialization? Serious graduate work is often best carried out in programs with several faculty members engaged in continental scholarship, rather than just one or two.
  2. Department websites will often include faculty curricula vitae (academic resumes) that list their publications: books, articles, and presentations. Look at the titles of these publications: do they address continental figures, traditions, topics, or themes.
  3. Find listings of department lecture series, conferences, and other events hosted by the department: do the topics, themes, and titles of these presentations include continental figures and traditions? Again, what is the proportion of events in continental philosophy to all of the department’s events?
  4. Look for any visiting faculty or distinguished scholars in residence: what are their interests and specializations? Are there well-known European or continental scholars or philosophers?  What is their proportion of the total of visiting faculty?
  5. How many exchange programs and institutional affiliations with European universities, archives, and institutes does the department support for graduate students? Does the department provide scholarships for study abroad?
  6. Is there a language requirement, especially in French and/or German, for the degree? Does the department provide scholarships for language study?
  7. Look at the list of courses for as many semesters as you can find: what proportion of all graduate courses offered cover or rely on continental traditions, figures, themes, and topics?
  8. If possible, try to find or request from the department a list of titles and abstracts of recent dissertations — what are the graduate students who complete the program interested in? What are they working on?

SPEP acknowledges that excellent scholarship in the continental tradition is carried on in departments of all sorts. The above points are meant simply to help students look for the kind of information that no generic ranking of departments can provide.

Revised: 21 August 2011.