James Haughton Woods

James Haughton Woods (1864-1935) played a fundamental role in making the professional study of Asia a possibility at Harvard. A scholar of Greek and Indic philosophy, Woods graduated from Harvard University in 1887 with a degree in Philosophy and English composition. He then spent most of the next two decades living a peripatetic scholarly existence at various institutions in England, continental Europe, and India. He studied theology and ecclesiastical history at Oxford and Cambridge, followed by ancient and medieval history and philology at the

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Universities of Strassburg and Berlin. After completing his Ph.D. studies in Germany with a thesis entitled “Erktennis-Theorie und Causalität,” he returned to Harvard, where he continued to pursue his studies and spent two years teaching as an Instructor of Anthropology and Philosophy. During this interlude, he developed an interest in Indic philosophy, which led him back to Europe to study under Paul Deussen (1845-1919), one of the founders of Indic studies in Europe. Woods would later translate into English Deussen’s magisterial System des Vendanta, the first comprehensive presentation of an Indian philosophical system to be published in the West.

After further study in India at Benares and in Kashmir, he returned to Harvard in 1903 and was appointed to the Department of Philosophy, first as Instructor, and then Professor of the Philosophical Systems of India. He remained in the department until his retirement in 1934. During this time, he served as the Chair of the Division and Department of Philosophy from 1915-18, 1920-27, and 1930-33. He published numerous translations of Pali and Sanskrit scriptures, as well as works of secondary scholarship that include Practice and Science of Religion: A Study of Method in Comparative Religion (1906) and Integration of Consciousness in Buddhism (1929).

Woods’s interest in Buddhism led him into the study of East Asia, and he made several extended trips to Japan during his years on the Harvard faculty. He actively promoted the development of academic positions dedicated to the study of East Asia, and succeeded in securing funds for the temporary appointments of Professors Anesaki (1913-15) and Hattori (1915-16), who taught the first classes on Japanese history and culture ever offered at Harvard. He also worked to establish a permanent chair in Chinese, which was first filled by Chao Yuen Ren in 1922. His greatest success, however, came from working in tandem with Wallace Donham and others to secure funding from the estate of Charles Hall for the founding of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, for which he served as a trustee. Although Woods passed away before the Department of Far Eastern Languages was established, he helped to provide the institutional and intellectual backing that became the framework for its success. In recognition of his contributions, the inaugural issue of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, published in April 1936, was dedicated to his memory.