Loyola University Maryland

Philosophy Department

Bret W. Davis


Professor and T. J. Higgins S.J. Chair in Philosophy

Office: HU 050P

Education and Experience

  • B.A. – Trinity University (Philosophy), 1989
  • M.A. – Vanderbilt University (Philosophy), 1996
  • Ph.D. – Vanderbilt University (Philosophy), 2001
  • Study of Japanese in Osaka and teaching of English and History at International Buddhist University in Nara, Japan, 1990–1993
  • Graduate studies and post-doctoral research (in Japanese)
    at Otani University and Kyoto University, and teaching (in Japanese) of Philosophy and related courses at universities in the Kyoto area, Japan, 1996-2004
  • Visiting Scholar at Freiburg University, Germany, 2007-2008
  • Visiting Scholar at Kyoto University, Japan, 2011-2012 and summers of 2006, 2009, 2015, 2018

Areas of Specialization

  • East Asian Philosophy and Religion, with a focus on Zen Buddhism
  • Modern Japanese Philosophy, with a focus on the Kyoto School
  • Continental Philosophy, with a focus on Heidegger, Phenomenology, and Hermeneutics
  • Cross-Cultural Philosophy, including hermeneutical and ethical issues
  • Comparative Philosophy, especially of Religion


Courses Regularly Taught at Loyola

  • PL 201 Foundations of Philosophy: Contested Legacies of the Greeks
  • PL 216 Asian Thought: Philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism
  • PL 321 Cross-Cultural Philosophy: Ethics, Politics, and Hermeneutics
  • PL 336 Comparative Philosophy: East-West Dialogues
  • PL 354 Chinese Philosophy
  • PL 365 Japanese Philosophy

Other Courses Taught at Loyola

  • PL 314 Environmental Ethics
  • PL 385 The Thought of Heidegger

Other Teaching Experience

In addition to his primary and passionate engagement in teaching undergraduate students at Loyola, Prof. Davis occasionally serves on PhD dissertation committees and has taught at the graduate level in Japan (in Japanese), Germany (in German), and Italy (in English) as well as the United States.

Philosophy of Teaching Philosophy

As the "core of the core" of a liberal arts education, philosophy is the study of the most fundamental questions: What is reality, truth, goodness, beauty, justice, knowledge, humanity, the divine, art, nature, and—last but not least—the meaning of life? Philosophy critically reflects on the formative concepts and principles of all academic disciplines (physics, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, history, literature, theology, etc.). This is why most professors are PhDs; they are Doctors of Philosophy because they have not only Mastered the accumulated knowledge of a given subject area, but also reflected deeply and critically on its foundations. In addition to thinking about the foundations of the various academic disciplines, philosophers also think about how these different disciplines relate to one another.

The word "philosophy" literally means "love of wisdom." Philosophers seek not only information, and not even just knowledge, but ultimately wisdom about how to live well. Philosophy is concerned with values as well as facts, and so with art, ethics, politics, and religion as well as with the natural and social sciences. Philosophy tries to understand how all these areas of study fit together, and it deals with fundamental and ultimate questions that are not fully addressed in any of them. It is concerned with the "big picture" as well as with the "big questions."  

Teaching philosophy is not only matter of imparting knowledge about great thinkers, profound thoughts, famous texts and compelling arguments; neither is it merely a matter of enabling the acquisition of critical thinking, reading, writing, and speaking skills—as important as all these things are! A philosophical education is not just about accumulating knowledge and skills, but most of all about becoming a more thoughtful and insightful person. A thoughtful and insightful person is someone who can empathetically see the world from various perspectives, and who can judiciously give each perspective its proper due in complex and shifting circumstances. It is someone who can make wise judgments based on clear and sound rational reflection in the context of a genuinely dialogical engagement with various individuals and communities along with their cultures, traditions, views and values.

In introducing Loyola students to both Western and Asian philosophical traditions, and to various topics in cross-cultural philosophy, Prof. Davis always impresses upon them that "knowing thyself" and "understanding others" are complementary endeavors. It has been well said that someone who knows only one thing (one culture, language, tradition, religion, etc.), does not even really know that one thing, since we can know something only by comparing and contrasting it with other things. You may know something intimately from the inside, you may even know it inside-out; but for a well-rounded understanding, you need to also know it from the outside, outside-in. You need to be able to consider it critically and objectively as well as sympathetically and subjectively. A major goal of a liberal arts education is accordingly to broaden and diversify students' horizons, so that they learn to better understand themselves—both inside-out and outside-in—at they same time as they learn to understand others. Critical and creative self-development and cooperation proceed from such self- and other-understanding.

Prof. Davis's commitment and contributions to the Jesuit pedagogical philosophy of "caring for the whole person" are reflected in his 2015 Nachbahr Award address, "The Life of the Body-Heart-Mind-Spirit: Cross-Cultural Reflections on Cura Personalis."

The Heart of Zen Meditation Group

As a contribution to "caring for the whole person," Prof. Davis serves the university community by directing The Heart of Zen Meditation Group on campus, which is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Philosophy Department. The group is dedicated to making the practice of Zen meditation available to all, regardless of religious affiliation or secular orientation. The name of the group pays tribute in part to the memory of Fr. Greg Hartley, a joyful and passionate Jesuit priest who for years led a Zen meditation group on campus. 

Weekly 90-minute meditation meetings consist of two periods of silent meditation, separated by walking meditation or body-mindful stretching, and followed by a discussion period or brief talk. In addition to these regular weekly meditation meetings, Prof. Davis also organizes and leads special events, Zen retreats, and study sessions. 

After having lived and practiced Zen in Japan for more than a dozen years, in 2010 Prof. Davis was certified as a teacher and director of a Zen center by Kobayashi Gentoku Rōshi, abbot of Shōkokuji Rinzai Zen monastery in Kyoto, Japan. The Heart of Zen Meditation Group periodically hosts visits by guest teachers, including Kobayashi Rōshi, who is often accompanied by instructors of Japanese spiritual and artistic "ways" such as the Tea or Incense Ceremony. 

Regular participants in The Heart of Zen Meditation Group include students, faculty, staff, and members of the wider Baltimore community. Dozens of students participate each year in conjunction with a variety of courses with a "meditation path," including PL216D, PL336D, PL354D, PL365D, PL375D, and courses in other disciplines. This experiential pedagogy is informed by the growing international movement to incorporate contemplative studies into higher education, as well as by the burgeoning field of interdisciplinary research on contemplative practices. Prof. Davis serves on the Executive Committee of The International Society for Contemplative Research (ISCR)


Prof. Davis has published more than a hundred scholarly works: books, journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, translations, and book reviews. He has lectured in three languages in more than a dozen countries, including keynote addresses at international conferences and invited lectures at prestigious institutions such as Harvard University, Brown University, Boston College, Penn State University, Hamburg University, Humboldt University, University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, East China Normal University in Shanghai, National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, and the Royal Institute of Philosophy in London.

At Loyola, Prof. Davis was given the Nachbahr Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in the Humanities in 2015, and was named Distinguished Scholar of the Year in 2021.

Prof. Davis has authored works in Japanese and German as well as in English, and some of his works have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Farsi, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Bosnian and Serbio-Croatian. His publications address various topics in East Asian philosophy and religion (especially Zen Buddhism), modern Japanese philosophy (especially the Kyoto School), Continental philosophy (especially Heidegger), cross-cultural philosophy, and comparative philosophy of religion.

Selected Publications


Special Journal Issues Edited

Recent Articles

  • The Kyoto School,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Nothing Matters.” The Philosopher 109/1 (Spring 2021): 16–28.
  • Nihon-tetsugaku to wa nanika: Sono teigi to hani wo saikō suru kokoromi” [What Is Japanese Philosophy? Rethinking Its Definition and Scope], in Nihon-tetsugakushi Kenkyū [Research in the History of Japanese Philosophy], 16 (2019): 1–20.
  • “Knowing Limits: Toward a Versatile Perspectivism with Nietzsche, Heidegger, Zhuangzi and Zen,” in Research in Phenomenology 49/3 (2019): 301–334.
  • “Beyond Philosophical Euromonopolism: Other Ways of—Not Otherwise than—Philosophy,” in Philosophy East and West 69/2 (April 2019): 592–619.
  • “Commuting Between Zen and Philosophy: In the Footsteps of Kyoto School Philosophers and Psychosomatic Practitioners,” in Transitions: Crossing Boundaries in Japanese Philosophy, edited by Francesa Greco, Leon Krings, and Yukiko Kuwayama (Nagoya: Chisokudō Publications, 2021), pp. 71–111.
  • “Faith and/or/as Enlightenment: Rethinking Religion from the Perspective of Japanese Buddhism,” in Asian Philosophies and the Idea of Religion: Paths Beyond Faith and Reason, edited by Sonia Sikka and Ashwani Peetush (New York: Routledge, 2020), pp. 36–64.
  • “Heidegger and Daoism: A Dialogue on the Useless Way of Unnecessary Being,” in Daoist Encounters with Phenomenology, edited by David Chai (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), pp. 161–96.
  • “Expressing Experience: Language in Ueda Shizuteru’s Philosophy of Zen,” in Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy, edited by Gereon Kopf (New York: Springer Publishing, 2019), pp. 713–38.

Editorial Positions

  • Series Co-Editor, World Philosophies, Indiana University Press
  • Series Co-Editor, Transcontinental Philosophy, State University of New York Press
  • Editorial Review Board Member, New Heidegger Research, Roman & Littlefield
  • Editorial Board Member of the following journals: Research in Phenomenology, Comparative and Continental Philosophy, Journal of Japanese Philosophy, Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual, and Circles: A Journal of Philosophy

Positions in Professional Societies

For More Information on Prof. Davis's Scholarship


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