Susan Pharr

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Susan J. Pharr (born March 16, 1944) is an academic in the field of political science, a Japanologist, and Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics, Director of Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at Harvard University.[1] Her current research focuses on the changing nature of relations between citizens and states in Asia, and on the forces that shape civil society over time.[2]

In the spring of 2008, the Japanese government acknowledged Pharr's life's work by conferring the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, which represents the third highest of eight classes associated with this award. Accompanying the badge of the Order was a certificate explaining the award as recognition of the extent to which Prof. Pharr has "contributed to promoting intellectual exchange between Japan and the United States of America, and to guiding and nurturing young Japanologists."[3]

Education and academic life[edit]

Susan Pharr received her B.A. (1966) with high honors from Emory University. In 1966-67, she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. She earned her M.A. (1970) and Ph.D. (1975) in political science from Columbia University, where she specialized in comparative politics with a focus on Japan.[4]

Her interest in Japan was largely a matter of happenstance. As a first-year graduate student looking for recreation and a few self-defense skills for the streets of New York City, she signed up for a judo class that turned out to be made up almost entirely of Japanese black belts who were fellow Columbia students. Talking with her judo classmates and venturing in their company for sushi piqued her interest sufficiently to spur her to take courses on Japanese society and politics with James William Morley, Herbert Passin, and, later on, Gerald Curtis. In an intellectual world that was galvanized by the question of what made countries succeed or fail politically and economically, she found the study of Meiji Japan riveting and soon made Japan the center of her doctoral work in comparative politics.[2]

While completing her dissertation, she launched her career at the Social Science Research Council in New York, where from 1974-76 she served as Staff Associate for its Japan Committee, a post later held, coincidentally, by her Reischauer Institute colleague Theodore C. Bestor.[2]

In 1977 she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1980. On leave from Wisconsin she spent 1983 in the Agency for International Development, where she was assigned responsibility for improving U.S.-Japan aid coordination, and two years, from 1985–87, as Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.[2]

Pharr joined the Harvard faculty in 1987. She has served as Director of Harvard's Program on U.S.-Japan Relations since 1987 and became Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics in 1991. From 1992-95 she served as chair of the Government Department.[2] In 1995-96, she held the Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Studies.[4] In 1996-98, she was as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.[2] She has been the Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies since 2004 through the present.[5]

As an active participant in university life at Harvard, Dr. Pharr is on the Steering Committee of the Asia Center and on the Executive Committee of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. She serves on the Faculty Advisory Committee for the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, and is a member of the University Committee on the Environment and the University Committee on the Status of Women. She is also a Senior Scholar of the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies.[1]

The impact of any one faculty member is hard to measure in a large multi-faceted institution like Harvard; and yet her name does crop up in a range of contexts. For example, when students proposed creating a student-run magazine about Japan, Prof. Pharr agreed to be a faculty advisor.[6] As one of only 41 female tenured professors in the early 1990s, she could only acknowledge that "in many ways Harvard is very much a male institution," which makes her role in the University's Committee on Women all the more significant.[7]

Professor Pharr is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a Fellow or Visiting Research Scholar at the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the East West Center, University of Tokyo, Sophia University and Keio University.[2]


Fellowships and grants[edit]

Selected works[edit]

Much of Prof. Pharr's research has explored the social basis for democracy in Japan. Her research interests include comparative political behavior; comparative politics of industrialized nations; democratization and political development in Japan and Asia; civil society and nonprofit organizations; political ethics and corruption; environmental politics; the role of the media in politics; U.S.-Japan relations; Japanese politics; and international relations in East Asia.[2]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Susan Pharr, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 10+ works in 50+ publications in 4 languages and 3,000+ library holdings.[9]


  1. ^ a b Harvard, Arts & Sciences: Faculty bio.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies: Institute bio.
  3. ^ Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "2008 Spring Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals," p. 4.
  4. ^ a b Harvard, Arts & Sciences: Faculty curriculum vitae.
  5. ^ Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies (RIJS), Director, 2004-present
  6. ^ Nawaday, Yin. "Students Launch Japan Magazine: Inside Japan to Focus on Culture, Politics and Economics," Harvard Crimson. October 24, 1990.
  7. ^ Wilde, Anna D. "Searching for a Critical Mass: Women in the Faculty," Harvard Crimson. June 10, 1993.
  8. ^ Consulate General of Japan, Boston: Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon (3rd class).
  9. ^ WorldCat Identities: Pharr, Susan J.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]