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John Nemec. PhD Graduate, 2005.

Professor, University of Virginia.


John was awarded a Ph.D. degree in South Asia Studies in April of 2005.  He went on to a tenure-track position in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia where he later received tenure in 2012. 

In thinking about how the study of South Asia related courses enriched his life, he recalls: “I will never forget my first semester at Penn, in the fall of 1999.  I was afforded the opportunity to study Indian Philosophy with Wilhelm Halbfass, Pāṇini and Sanskrit Grammar with George Cardona, Sanskrit Literature with Ludo Rocher, and Indian Art with Michael Meister.  Simply, I had the wonderful opportunity to study with the world’s expert in each area of learning I engaged.  And this exemplified my Penn experience: the best people were always there, and visiting scholars regularly came through the University, adding even greater occasion for cultural and intellectual enrichment.  There were seemingly endless opportunities to study the most significant (and often the most challenging) subjects with the very best people around.  It was a special experience.” 

On the most enjoyable things about the courses in the Department…

“Prior to arriving at Penn, I studied at three other universities.  I studied in a Religion and a Religious Studies department, respectively, at the University of Rochester and the University of California at Santa Barbara, the former for a B.A. the latter for an M.A.; and I completed an M.Phil. in a Sanskrit Studies program at the University of Oxford.  Penn uniquely allowed for the combination of these fields of study — Religious Studies and Sanskrit philological studies.  In the great Penn tradition, one was considered boring if one did not have more than one intellectual interest, and one was encouraged to engage various concerns in a serious manner.”

"One particularly valuable experience, which I will never forget and which I still benefit from daily in my academic work, was the occasion to study Hindi for a number of years with Suren Gambhir.  Another memorable seminar involved the occasion to read Kant with Rolf Horstmann, a visiting scholar from Humboldt University (Berlin) who was in residence at Penn’s Philosophy Department.  Yet another memorable and enriching experience came with serving as a Teaching Assistant for Peter Gaeffke, who seemingly had read all the world’s literature.  It all just worked.  We could study Sanskrit and Hindi (and other languages) in parallel, we were supported in our summer research and travel to India, there somehow was always time to take the right seminars at the right times and with the right people.  Coursework at Penn, in sum, offered a unique experience: it offered a capacity for students to work deeply in a given subject — I never enrolled in fewer than three Sanskrit seminars in a given semester! — while also working broadly and across academic fields (and in various departments); Penn simply was the ideal intellectual home for post-graduate study.”