Loyola University Maryland

Philosophy Department

Bret W. Davis

BretDavis3Professor and T. J. Higgins S.J. Chair in Philosophy

Office: HU 050P

Education and Experience

  • B.A. – Trinity University (Philosophy), 1989
  • M.A. – Vanderbilt University (Philosophy), 1996
  • Ph.D. – Vanderbilt University (Philosophy), 2001
  • Study of Japanese Language and Culture in Osaka, Japan, 1990–1993
  • Graduate Studies and Post-Doctoral Research
    at Otani University and Kyoto University, Japan, 1996-2004
  • Visiting Scholar at Freiburg University, Germany, 2007-2008
  • Visiting Scholar at Kyoto University, Japan, 2011-2012

Areas of Specialization

  • East Asian Philosophy and Religion, with a focus on Zen Buddhism
  • Modern Japanese Philosophy, with a focus on the Kyoto School
  • Continental Philosophy, with a focus on Heidegger, Phenomenology, and Hermeneutics
  • Cross-Cultural Philosophy, including hermeneutical and ethical issues
  • Comparative Philosophy, especially of Religion

Recent Courses Taught

  • PL 201 Foundations of Philosophy: Legacies of the Greeks
  • PL 216 Asian Thought: Philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism
  • PL 314 Environmental Ethics
  • PL 321 Cross-Cultural Philosophy: Ethics/Politics and Hermeneutics
  • PL 336 Comparative Philosophy: East-West Dialogues
  • PL 354 Chinese Philosophy
  • PL 365 Japanese Philosophy
  • PL 385 The Thought of Heidegger

The Heart of Zen Meditation Group

Dr. Davis directs The Heart of Zen Meditation Group which is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Philosophy Department. The group is dedicated to making the practice of Zen meditation available to all, regardless of religious affiliation or secular orientation. The name of the group pays tribute in part to the memory of Fr. Greg Hartley, a joyful and passionate Jesuit priest who for years led a Zen meditation group on campus. 

 Weekly 90-minute meditation meetings consist of two periods of silent meditation, separated by walking meditation or body-mindful stretching, and followed by a discussion period or brief talk. In addition to these regular weekly meetings, Dr. Davis also organizes and leads Zen retreats and book-study sessions. 

 After having lived and practiced Zen in Japan for more than a dozen years, Dr. Davis was certified as a teacher and director of a Zen center by Kobayashi Gentoku Rōshi, abbot of Shōkokuji Rinzai Zen monastery in Kyoto, Japan. The Heart of Zen Meditation Group periodically hosts visits by Kobayashi Rōshi, who is often accompanied by instructors of Japanese spiritual and artistic "ways" such as the Tea or Incense Ceremony. 

 Regular participants in The Heart of Zen Meditation Group include students, faculty, staff, and members of the wider Baltimore community. Dozens of students participate each year in conjunction with a variety of courses with a "meditation path," including PL216D, PL336D, PL354D, PL365D, PL375D, and courses in other disciplines. This experiential pedagogy is informed by the growing international movement to incorporate contemplative studies into higher education, as well as by the burgeoning field of interdisciplinary research on contemplative practices. Dr. Davis serves on the Executive Committee of The International Society for Contemplative Research (ISCR)

Selected Publications


  • Zen Pathways: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Zen Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2022).
  • Real Zen for Real Life (Great Courses, 2020)
  • The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Philosophy, edited (Oxford University Press, 2020)
  • Nisoku-hoko no tetsugakusha-tachi [Bipedal Philosophers], co-authored with Nakajima Takahiro (University of Tokyo, 2020)
  • Engaging Dōgen’s Zen: The Philosophy of Practice as Awakening, co-edited with Tetsuzen Jason M. Wirth and Shūdō Brian Schroeder (Wisdom Publications, 2017).
  • Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School, co-edited with Brian Schroeder and Jason M. Wirth (Indiana University Press, 2011).
  • Martin Heidegger, Country Path Conversations, translated (Indiana University Press, 2010).
  • Martin Heidegger: Key Concepts, edited (Acumen Publishing, 2010).
  • Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Northwestern University Press, 2007).
  • Sekai no naka no Nihon no tetsugaku [Japanese Philosophy in the World], co-edited with Fujita Masakatsu (Showado, 2005).

Recent Articles

  • The Kyoto School,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Nothing Matters.” The Philosopher 109/1 (Spring 2021): 16–28.
  • Nihon-tetsugaku to wa nanika: Sono teigi to hani wo saikō suru kokoromi” [What Is Japanese Philosophy? Rethinking Its Definition and Scope], in Nihon-tetsugakushi Kenkyū [Research in the History of Japanese Philosophy], 16 (2019): 1–20.
  • “Knowing Limits: Toward a Versatile Perspectivism with Nietzsche, Heidegger, Zhuangzi and Zen,” in Research in Phenomenology 49/3 (2019): 301–334.
  • “Beyond Philosophical Euromonopolism: Other Ways of—Not Otherwise than—Philosophy,” in Philosophy East and West 69/2 (April 2019): 592–619.
  • “Commuting Between Zen and Philosophy: In the Footsteps of Kyoto School Philosophers and Psychosomatic Practitioners,” in Transitions: Crossing Boundaries in Japanese Philosophy, edited by Francesa Greco, Leon Krings, and Yukiko Kuwayama (Nagoya: Chisokudō Publications, 2021), pp. 71–111.
  • “Faith and/or/as Enlightenment: Rethinking Religion from the Perspective of Japanese Buddhism,” in Asian Philosophies and the Idea of Religion: Paths Beyond Faith and Reason, edited by Sonia Sikka and Ashwani Peetush (New York: Routledge, 2020), pp. 36–64.
  • “Heidegger and Daoism: A Dialogue on the Useless Way of Unnecessary Being,” in Daoist Encounters with Phenomenology, edited by David Chai (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), pp. 161–96.
  • “Expressing Experience: Language in Ueda Shizuteru’s Philosophy of Zen,” in Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy, edited by Gereon Kopf (New York: Springer Publishing, 2019), pp. 713–38.

Dr. Davis has published more than a hundred scholarly works: books, journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, translations, and book reviews. He has published in Japanese and German as well as in English, and some of his works have also been translated into Chinese, Farsi, Spanish, Bosnian and Serbio-Croatian. His publications address various topics in East Asian philosophy and religion (especially Zen Buddhism), modern Japanese philosophy (especially the Kyoto School), Continental philosophy (especially Heidegger), cross-cultural philosophy, and comparative philosophy of religion

More information on Dr. Davis's work and downloadable versions of many of his articles can be found here: https://loyola.academia.edu/BretDavis

A videotaped interview with Dr. Davis on his work in Japanese, Continental and cross-cultural philosophy can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/_mqd4t6JAzA

A videotaped interview with Dr. Davis on his book, Zen Pathways: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Zen Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2022), can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8zfp4ZJogE

Graham McAleer

Graham McAleer, Ph.D.

Known for his striped socks and Scottish accent, this professor has an undeniable gift for making students passionate about philosophy