Symposium Introduction


Sokthan Yeng
Tom Sparrow
Carolyn Jones Medine
Bin Song



Engaging in existential discourse beyond the European tradition, this book turns to Asian philosophies to reassess vital questions of life’s purpose, death’s imminence, and our capacity for living meaningfully in conditions of uncertainty.

Inspired by the dilemmas of European existentialism, this cross-cultural study seeks concrete techniques for existential practice via the philosophies of East Asia. The investigation begins with the provocative writings of twentieth-century Korean Buddhist nun Kim Iryop, who asserts that meditative concentration conducts a potent energy outward throughout the entire karmic network, enabling the radical transformation of our shared existential conditions. Understanding her claim requires a look at East Asian sources more broadly. Considering practices as diverse as Buddhist merit-making ceremonies, Confucian/Ruist methods for self-cultivation, the ritual memorization and recitation of texts, and Yijing divination, the book concludes by advocating a speculative turn. This ‘speculative existentialism’ counters the suspicion toward metaphysics characteristic of twentieth-century European existential thought and, at the same time, advances a program for action. It is not a how-to guide for living, but rather a philosophical methodology that takes seriously the power of mental cultivation to transform the meaning of the life that we share.


Reviews and Endorsements

“Leah Kalmanson’s work exemplifies what is best about the new wave of cross-cultural philosophizing. Not content to merely compare ideas, she elegantly and insightfully weaves sources from Korea and China together with others from Europe and North America to challenge, enrich, and ultimately re-direct existentialism.” ―Stephen C. Angle, Professor of Philosophy, Wesleyan University, USA

“In Cross-Cultural Existentialism, Kalmanson takes her long-standing commitment to comparative or cross-cultural methodological interventions to the next level. Going beyond the framework of East-West comparison, Kalmanson creates a new qi-based vocabulary for meaning-making in the 21st century-a speculative existentialism centered in daily practice leading to radical transformation of our shared conditions. This is philosophy at its finest-creative, nuanced, accessible, and meaningful.” ―Sarah A. Mattice, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of North Florida, USA

“This wonderful book lives up to the ambition of its title. Kalmanson does more than deftly weave together strands from Western existentialism and East-Asian transformative philosophies into an informative tapestry. She also draws on linguistic and practice-based resources in ancient Chinese philosophy to breathe new life into current existentialist thinking.” ―Graham Parkes, Professorial Research Fellow of Philosophy, University of Vienna, Austria

Cross-Cultural Existentialism offers fascinating answers to the questions of philosophy’s relation to our lives. Drawing from diverse East Asian traditions, this book revives Asian philosophical concepts such as qi (energy), li (principle), and meditation in the context of today’s existential reality and thus resuscitates philosophy from theoretical slumber.” ―Jin Y. Park, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, American University, USA

Let us notify you when this symposium starts!