Curie Virag

Dr Curie Virág

Curie Virág works at the juncture of Chinese philosophy, religion, and intellectual history, with a focus on early and middle period Chinese ethics, moral psychology, and conceptions and practices of the self. She is interested in the history and philosophy of emotions and of cognition, particularly in relation to ideas about the human, the natural world, and the cosmos. Born in South Korea and raised in northern California, Virág received her first degree at the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in medieval/early modern European history and English literature. A Fulbright scholarship to Korea and a comparative interest led her eventually to the study of East Asian and Chinese thought at Harvard, where she received her MA and PhD degrees.

Virág’s first faculty position was at the University of Toronto, where she taught in the Department of East Asian Studies. She is currently based in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, and is Senior Research Fellow and Co-Project Director of the collaborative ERC-funded Byzantium-China project (with Professor Niels Gaul), ‘Classicizing learning in Medieval imperial systems: Cross-cultural approaches to Byzantine “Paideia” and Tang/Song Xue (PAIXUE)’ (2017-2022). Virág has been a recurring Visiting Professor in the departments of Philosophy and Medieval Studies at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, and divides her time between Budapest and Edinburgh.

Recent interests

Much of Virág’s work has been dedicated to the problem of emotions in traditional China – how they were conceived phenomenally, what they meant for human cognition and morality, and what role they played in the development of the norms and practices that have come to prevail in Chinese and East Asian culture. Her recent book, The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy (Oxford 2017), is the first monograph in English dedicated to the study of emotions in the early Chinese philosophical tradition.

Virág’s interest in the emotions is part of a broader endeavor to understand traditional Chinese inflections of a foundational question that lies at the heart of religious and philosophical activity: namely what it is to be human. This inquiry is directed towards understanding how thinkers in the Chinese philosophical tradition, broadly conceived, understood the place of human beings in the cosmos, their inner “workings” and mechanisms, and their distinct faculties and capabilities – including, most notably, their intelligence, cognition, and creative agency.

With colleagues at Edinburgh and CEU, Virág has been active in organizing and securing funding for a number of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary teaching and research initiatives, aimed specifically at bringing together scholars and students from diverse fields and geographical/cultural traditions to directly confront foundational questions about our humanity. These include: The Self in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Conceptions and Practices in China and the West(May 22-24, 2014); “What Makes Us Human? Philosophical and Religious Perspectives in China and the West.” Summer University Course, Central European University (July 4-15, 2016); and an on-going lecture series, supported by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, The Human and the Sciences of Nature: Chinese and Comparative Perspectives” (Jan 2017- December 2018).

Currently, Virág is co-organizing a workshop on ancient emotions with Professor Douglas Cairns called “In the Mind, in the Body and in the World: Emotions in Ancient Greece and China.” It will be held in Geneva in August 2019, and is sponsored by the American Council of Learned Academies and the British Academy.

Current research

Virág is at work on two book projects. The first, tentatively titled “The Emotions in Medieval China,” examines major developments in the conception, norms, and practices of emotions from early empire through the Song period, bringing together sources that encompass the conventional domains of literature, philosophy, art, religion, and medicine. The second, ‘Kinesis and Cognition: Movement as a Cognitive Paradigm in Premodern China’, explores the dynamics, logic and structure of human cognition in early and medieval Chinese thought.

Other work-in-progress includes a number of articles dealing with the emotions of landscape aesthetics and visual practice; a study of reading as a form of devotional practice in Zhu Xi’s approach to learning; and co-authored work with PAIXUE colleagues, including methodological articles on the cross-cultural study of cultures of learning in China and Byzantium (with Niels Gaul), and a study of pleasure and the landscape (with Foteini Spingou).