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Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture (PIC) — Graduate

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MA/PhD in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture

Binghamton University’s interdisciplinary studies in philosophy, interpretation and culture address the ways in which cultural forms of knowledge and expression shape and are shaped by human practices and experience. Of particular importance are recent developments in history, theory and practice that promise to stretch the boundaries of philosophy and transform the discipline and the university: post-critical continental philosophy; coloniality critique, post colonial theory, and philosophy of colonialism; feminist philosophy; gay, lesbian and queer studies; multicultural studies and critical race theory; critical social theory; and cultural critique, including aesthetic, representational and ecological practices.

A major concern of the program is with history and tradition, with how they are to be thought and how they contribute to thought. The history of philosophy, along with other histories in Western and non-Western traditions — of art and literature, political and social theory, philosophy of history and science, and theories of gender, ethnicity, culture and class — are at work in these critical discussions.

The program explores relations between philosophy and other disciplines and critically examines disciplinary boundaries, historical and institutional. It seeks to foster discussions not confined by disciplinary boundaries concerning intelligibility, legitimacy and disciplinariness.

Among the developments important to the PIC program is the recurrent claim that the Western tradition — philosophic, scientific, artistic, ethical and political, cultural, humanistic and so forth — has in profound respects come to an end. While some forms of this question appear throughout modernity, recent post-modern, post-colonial and ecological discussions taking up this question claim that a more radical transformation of thinking is demanded by any possible answer.

The PIC program takes such claims seriously, confronting a number of important questions:

To what extent may such a question be regarded as intelligible and important? To what extent may the Western or any tradition be regarded as unitary? To what extent may any of that tradition’s major forms be said to have reached fruition or exhaustion? To what extent do traditional discourses retain their legitimacy? What sense may be made of the claim that philosophy is to be replaced by science or, conversely, that the authority of science is the natural culmination of the Western tradition?

How do concerns with nature and the environment bear upon the understanding of humanity and human practices? How do contemporary global developments relate to movements critical of humanism and anthropocentrism? What kinds of ethical, political and policy practices pertain to these issues?

How do concerns with gender and race, colonialism and culture, bear upon relations to the Western canon and the need to supplement or discard it? How do issues of oppression and injustice bear upon challenges to Western rationality from within and without? In what ways does feminist theory interact with the history of Western philosophy and with post-modern and post-colonial studies? What challenges have emerged from worldwide developments in feminism to much of contemporary philosophy, social theory and literary theory? What kinds of responses are emerging from recent writings on aesthetics, colonization and decolonization, hybridity and cultural survival, to the claims that Western philosophy is Eurocentric? What are the implications of global developments — economic, political and cultural — for philosophy’s future?

To what extent may a discourse that recognizes its own historicality speak of its future, especially if that future promises major changes and variations?

To what extent is every voice, every form of reason, expression, and language, entangled with desire and power? To what extent may a discourse or discipline claim legitimacy if every human voice is both subject to and an object of desire — that is, composes a site where human ends are implemented? To what extent may a discourse or discipline claim legitimacy if every human voice is both manipulated by power and a site where power is exercised? What kinds of voices, what kinds of writings, what changes in disciplinary and other practices are called for, are possible, in response to such critical reflections?

These questions are approached from a variety of disciplinary and critical perspectives.

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Program Organization

PIC is a unique, autonomous interdisciplinary program leading to MA and PhD degrees in philosophy. It is independent of the Department of Philosophy, though members of that department are members of the PIC faculty and serve on student committees. Currently more than 50 students are enrolled in PIC; 5-10 PhD degrees are granted each year.

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Interdisciplinary Resources

PIC faculty are drawn from many different departments and programs throughout the University, especially in the humanities and social sciences, many of which themselves have strong interdisciplinary interests — in particular: the departments of Africana Studies; Art History; Comparative Literature; English, General Literature and Rhetoric; History; Philosophy; Sociology; Asian and Asian American Studies; Environmental Studies; Latin American and Caribbean area studies (LACAS) and Women’s Studies; the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations; the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS); the interdisciplinary program in the Department of Comparative Literature in Philosophy, Literature and Theory of Criticism (PLC); and the Translation Research and Instruction Program (TRIP).

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PIC Center (CPIC)

PIC is associated with a research center for interdisciplinary studies in philosophy, interpretation and culture (CPIC) in which faculty from Binghamton University and elsewhere, members of community organizations, Binghamton University graduate students and PIC graduates pursue ongoing collaborative projects.

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PIC Conference

Now in its 20th year, the PIC Conference brings participants from around the world to campus every April. PIC students and faculty also participate in the conference.

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PIC MA Program

The PIC MA program emphasizes contemporary discussions in interpretation and culture in relation to the history and sub-fields of philosophy, emphasizing emergent and non-traditional sub-fields and historical approaches. It is designed as preparation for advanced work in the PIC PhD program.

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  • a minimum of seven courses (28 credits) with a cumulative average of not less than B. There are no specific course requirements, but no more than four independent study courses may be counted toward the MA degree.
  • satisfactory performance on a comprehensive examination administered after the student’s third semester of full-time residence, typically during January of each year;
  • demonstration of the ability to read scholarly works in a foreign language;
  • either:
    • submission of a thesis deemed acceptable by the student’s advisory committee (this includes registering for at least two credit hours of PHIL 599: Thesis) or:
    • completion of a non-thesis option consisting of three graduate courses in addition to those described above.
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Qualified students holding a bachelor’s degree are eligible for admission to the PIC MA program. A broad interdisciplinary background is considered a desirable preparation. Students who lack sufficient preparation for graduate study may be required to complete work beyond the minimum required for the MA degree.

Applicants are expected to submit a short essay including a detailed statement of purpose expressing their interdisciplinary interests and background and their goals in relation to study in the PIC program, explaining how the program can help fulfill those goals. This essay should be submitted in place of the writing sample. It is a very important part of the admission process.

The application deadline, including applications from international students, is February 15.

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PIC PhD Requirements and Procedures

The minimum number of course credits required for the PhD degree is 56 (32 for students holding an MA degree from another institution) plus the appropriate number of dissertation credits required by the Graduate School. There are no specific course requirements; however, the following restrictions apply: All courses accepted for credit toward the degree must be approved by the student’s adviser. Depending on background and specialization, students may be required to complete additional courses beyond the minimum.

Students entering with a BA are expected to take at least one course with each of three different members of the program faculty. Students entering with an MA are expected to take at least one course with each of two different members of the program faculty.

No more than six independent study courses for students entering with a BA, or four independent study courses for students entering with an MA, may be counted toward the PhD degree.

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Students admitted with a BA are required to pass an MA comprehensive/PhD qualifying examination before admission to the PhD program.

Students holding an MA degree from another institution at the time they enroll at Binghamton are required to prepare a proposed plan of study and undergo a formal review during their second semester of enrollment.

Each individual student committee reserves the right to impose special conditions that it considers appropriate, including remedial courses.

See the admission requirements listed under the PIC MA program.

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Student Committees

Student advisory, examination and dissertation committees are appointed at the initiation of the student. All committees are required to include at least two members from the PIC faculty.

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MA Comprehensive/PhD Qualifying Examination (MACPQE)

The MA comprehensive/PhD qualifying examination is a take-home examination over the course of the first weekend of the spring semester, based on an individualized reading list for each student, and a 90-minute oral examination within 10 days of the written exam, emphasizing contemporary areas of the student’s specialization.

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PhD Examination

Either a PhD comprehensive examination or oral examination based on an approved field paper must be satisfactorily completed before admission to candidacy, as follows:

  • the PhD comprehensive examination consists of five parts: four written parts of three hours each and one two-hour oral examination;
  • the field paper consists of a 40- to 60-page paper plus an extensive bibliography defining the student’s area(s) of specialization, broadly conceived, with relevant background material. A two-hour oral examination is scheduled based on the student’s field paper and proposed area(s) of specialization.
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Students are required to write a dissertation under the direction of a committee composed of at least three members, including at least two from the PIC faculty. Other faculty may also serve on the student’s dissertation committee, and the director need not be a member of the

PIC faculty. The student is expected to present the dissertation at a public oral examination.

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Other Requirements

Students are required to demonstrate proficiency in two languages other than English; these may include languages without a written component.

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Students admitted to the PIC program are supervised by the PIC director and faculty. Upon entry, every student is assigned an adviser. This adviser serves until the student selects an advisory committee, at which point the committee chair assumes responsibility for advising the student. This takes place during the second semester for students entering with an MA, during the third semester for students entering with a BA. For advisers who are not PIC program faculty, students are responsible for providing program information and for arranging scheduling as needed, with the assistance of the PIC office and director. The performance of each student is evaluated each spring by the student’s advisory committee.

After a student has passed the PhD comprehensive examinations, a three-person advisory/dissertation committee is appointed at the initiation of the student and in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. Additional members of the committee may be appointed where desirable. Members of advisory and dissertation committees may be appointed from other departments and schools, where appropriate.

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PIC Faculty

PIC is composed of faculty who are formally assigned to PIC and affiliated faculty who also work with students. PIC students are consulted on all matters except those that involve individual students and faculty.

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Workshops and individualized advising in connection with placement are held each fall in time for directed placement activities.

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Further Information

For further information, write to:
Joshua M. Price
PIC Director

Binghamton University
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902

or e-mail
or see the PIC website at for full, updated information.

Binghamton University State University of New York
PO BOX 6000 Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
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