Hillsdale stu­dents are familiar with Aris­totle, Plato and Socrates, but have they ever heard of Ibn-Sina, Nagarjuna, or Keiji Nishitani? Maybe, but they can’t thank Hillsdale College’s core cur­riculum for that knowledge.

The core’s exclusion of Eastern tra­di­tions and reli­gions most recently came under scrutiny when a reporter from The New York Times visited campus to write a profile of the college.

The jour­nalist, Erik Eckholm, spoke with a thinly veiled crit­icism, referring to the college’s emphasis on clas­sical Western lit­er­ature as a system “some­times dis­paraged as the Great Books of dead white men.”

Eckholm and those like him would have Hillsdale teach its stu­dents about Eastern tra­di­tions for the sake of the con­tem­porary under­standing of “diversity,” a notion which many Hills­dalians dismiss outright.

But is this under­standing of diversity the only reason that might compel the college to include Eastern tra­di­tions in the core? Not according to Hillsdale’s Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy James Stephens.

For Stephens, Hillsdale should teach Eastern tra­di­tions by default. He asks what reason the college could pos­sibly have for not including them.

“Hillsdale makes claims to teach and study a uni­versal human nature,” Stephens said. “Yet we only study how that nature man­i­fests in the Western tradition.”

Hillsdale’s claims about truth are dis­played for all to see on the college website’s description of the core cur­riculum: “Here, the ques­tions are provocative, the debates robust, and the coursework intense. This journey is designed to lead you to uni­versal truths.”

In spite of these claims to uni­ver­sality, stu­dents of the core receive little guidance as to how these truths might be seen in Bud­dhism, Hin­duism, Taoism, or any other Eastern philo­sophical and reli­gious traditions.

The Spring 2017 course schedules for the phi­losophy and religion depart­ments contain eight sec­tions of Western Philo­sophical Tra­dition and nine sec­tions of Western The­o­logical Tra­dition, but no mention of Eastern phi­losophy even among major-spe­cific courses. The only mention of Eastern religion is a single section of Intro­duction to Eastern Religion taught by Stephens.

According to Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics John Grant, the omission is not due to any inten­tional dis­regard for Eastern philosophy.

“Non-Western thought is very much worthy of study,” Grant said. “I think the prin­cipal reason why we don’t spend much time studying material from outside the Western tra­dition is a prac­tical one; it is very hard to obtain ade­quate knowledge of our own tradition.”

This lack of emphasis on Eastern thought is hardly unique to Hillsdale, however. According to research pub­lished in the Los Angeles Times last week, the course listings from the phi­losophy depart­ments of the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Los Angeles; the Uni­versity of Southern Cal­i­fornia; and Cal­i­fornia State Uni­versity, Los Angeles contain 23 courses men­tioning Greek phi­losophy. But none of the uni­ver­sities had courses men­tioning spe­cific Chinese or Indian philosophers.

According to Assistant Pro­fessor of Religion Don West­blade, however, Hillsdale’s emphasis on the Western tra­dition is not a bad thing.

“Our religion department is a department of Western the­ology,” West­blade said. “And due to the type of stu­dents who enroll here, it’s unlikely that we would ever devote as much time to studying Eastern thought as we do Western.” 

West­blade also said that the Intro­duction to Eastern Religion course will soon be a core requirement for Hillsdale’s religion major.

But the belief in a self-evident and uni­versal human nature is not unique to the Western tra­dition, and stu­dents of all majors should be given the chance to encounter other man­i­fes­ta­tions of that human nature.

While the college hasn’t yet seen fit to invest the pro­fes­sorship or mate­rials nec­essary to incor­porate Eastern tra­di­tions into the core cur­riculum, the tra­dition which our college does teach and uphold demands that the college gather the resources and allow stu­dents to look Eastern tra­di­tions in the eye.