david p. phillips


Title: Associate Professor, Humanities Program.  Wake Forest faculty member since 1994.

Education: BA, Cornell (1980); M.Arch., Univ. of Washington (1986); MA, PhD Pennsylvania (1996)

When did you decide you wanted to teach?

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I can remember.  Both of my parents were teachers.  My father was a sociologist at Boston University, and my mother was an early childhood educator.  I received my first taste for teaching as an exchange student in Japan.  The teachers appointed me an “honorary” teacher, gave me a desk in the teacher’s room, and set up a schedule of guest appearances in classrooms at my host brother’s junior high school.  I felt like a star!  

What made you decide to come to Wake Forest? What makes you stay?

Wake Forest’s commitment to East Asian Studies and its vision for a curriculum with a strong international component initially drew me here.  The excellent faculty, the great teaching opportunities I’ve experienced since then in Art, Theatre, Communication, International Studies, Urban Studies, and Sociology, and the highly motivated students in my courses have made Wake Forest a great teaching and learning environment for me.

How did you become interested in Chinese, Japanese, and East Asian cultures?

When I was in second grade, I enrolled in a Sunday school program at the local Unitarian Church.  Our topic for the year was Asian culture, and our teacher led us through an incredible “journey” to foreign lands through experiential exercises.  We constructed a giant Chinese dragon, and stenciled intricate Burmese shadow puppets, putting on a dragon dance and a puppet show.  The following year my father took the family on a sabbatical around the world, including four weeks in Japan and a side trip to Hong Kong.  I fell in love with Japan, and after a frustrating experience being unable to communicate with the young woman in Tokyo who was assigned daycare duty for me and my younger brother, I vowed to learn the language and come back to Japan some day.

My interest in Asian Studies deepened in junior high, when I enrolled in a Sunday program in Chinese language for children of native speakers.  In my senior year of high school I received a scholarship from Kawasaki Heavy Industries for an exchange program with Youth For Understanding in Tajimi, Japan, and renewed my love affair with the country, its people, and culture. 

Following completion of my undergraduate work at Cornell University in Asian Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics, I pursued a Masters in Architecture at the University of Washington and a Doctorate in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing in my research on Japanese architecture and planning, the urban history of Tokyo, and Japanese cultural studies. 

What aspect of East Asian culture have you adapted to fit your life that you find most helpful?

Probably the most benefit I have received from my long-term exposure to East Asian culture and the friendships I have developed is an expanded world view and an understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses of American culture.  I hope that I have become more sensitive and receptive to alternative ideas and viewpoints and more patient with others.  My five years in Japan has certainly led me to a much deeper  appreciation of Japanese values, including those of harmony, integrity, the steadfastness of friendships, and the aesthetic pursuit and appreciation of beauty.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not teaching?

In addition to being an exercise nut, I love the outdoors, and enjoy hiking, swimming, and sailing.   As an amateur architect, I also enjoy designing, and am currently renovating a room in my home and creating a Japanese-style tea room. 

Where would you most like to travel and why?

I would most like to travel to Bali and to the South Pacific and French Polynesia.  These cultures have provided so much inspiration to artists and sculptors.  I’ve read about their architecture and lush, tropical setting, and am hoping to be inspired as well!