Pierre-Julien Harter

PhD Candidate in Philosophy of Religions


Where are you from originally?

I come from France, and more precisely from the beautiful region of Provence where the sea and the mountains meet.

Why did you choose to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School?

The Divinity School at the University of Chicago was in fact my only application in America. I did not think I wanted to go anywhere else, and if I hadn’t been accepted, I would have stayed in Paris. First and foremost the University of Chicago represented an exceptional place for pursuing my primary research interest, i.e. Indian philosophy and Buddhism. On the same campus, I was able to benefit from the presence of several professors in this field or related fields; I could study the languages I needed; and I had the amazing privilege of direct access to a library whose collection in South-Asian materials is truly exceptional. I was also attracted to U of C because of the possibility of taking courses in many different departments. In Paris, on the contrary, everything was scattered and institutions would make no effort to accommodate a student following different curricula. More specifically, with the Divinity School I was aspiring to get a solid education in religious studies, something I would never have found at that level and with such scope in Europe. I was lucky to know a professor working here, which made the prospective move less foreign and less frightening. And I am not going to lie that the great reputation that the Divinity School enjoys worldwide, including France, was a factor in my decision to apply.

What are you working on these days?

I am finishing my dissertation on the concept of “path’’ in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist texts, the process of improvement that leads an individual to Buddhahood. The end is in sight!

What are or have been the highlights of your time in Swift Hall so far?

There are so many of those, how could I even choose? It may be the people I met that made the difference. In what other institution would I have been able to study under a Tibetan scholar of the quality of my first Tibetan teacher? Meeting professors who work on completely different topics has been a great asset of my time here, not just because it fed my intellectual curiosity, but because they were able to help me reflect upon my own field and work. Another truly remarkable aspect of Swift Hall is the administration: I had never experienced support like this before, and there is no doubt it is due to the quality of the staff. Such support enabled me to make several trips to India and Nepal to study with Tibetan scholars – that was tremendously helpful during my research. And then, there are my fellow students. I have never met so many enthusiastic, knowledge-hungry, interested and interesting scholars(-to-be). People are ready to take up initiatives to foster discussion and intellectual development here. During my time at the DivSchool, I saw student-led classes, reading groups, or clubs being created. It has produced vibrant intellectual relationships, with critical readers of my own work. And maybe more importantly, it has established friendships for, hopefully, a time beyond the DivSchool.

How do you like living in Chicago?

Chicago has been another unexpected revelation. It is truly a great city which offers such a dynamic cultural scene and many fun things to do all year long. Whether a snow storm strikes or scorching heat takes over the city, there is always a cozy bar or a relaxing beach ready to welcome you. It is so easy to get a busy social life – something graduate students have to be careful about! Moreover it is a city where it is very easy to find a new place to live. I have moved four times to different parts of the city since I arrived here. When you come from some European cities where finding a place to live is a nightmare, Chicago is just a miracle. If only winters could be shorter…

What do you plan to do after you have completed your degree from the Divinity School?

I want to be a professor so that I will able to teach what I am passionate about and make available to students the cultures, philosophies, and religious thoughts from South and Central Asia. I see my work as contributing to the project of the Humanities, enriched with non-European intellectual traditions. With this, I hope I’ll continue researching, translating, and writing.

Any words of wisdom/encouragement for prospective international students?

Don’t be afraid to think outside the borders, literally! Reach out to professors and students here. And be ready to discover much more than you can expect.