Born and raised in Glasgow, Graham Parkes was educated at the Queen’s College Oxford, in philosophy and psychology, and the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a PhD in philosophy in 1978. After three years of teaching in the Aesthetics Studies Program at UC Santa Cruz, he moved to the Philosophy Department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 1979, where he taught Asian and comparative philosophy for almost thirty years. He was also an adjunct professor in the Division of Ecology and Health and the Academy of Cinematic and Digital Arts toward the end of that period. In the 1990s he spent three years as a visiting scholar at Harvard, at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and then the Center for the Study of World Religions.
In 2008 Parkes moved to University College Cork in Ireland, where he was the Professor of Philosophy and then Head of the School of Philosophy and Sociology. He founded the Irish Institute of Japanese Studies and served as Director for four years, until leaving Ireland in 2015. He has held research appointments in France, Italy, and Japan, and has been a visiting professor in Austria, China, Japan, and Singapore. He is currently a Professorial Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Vienna, where he lives with his wife, the painter Setsuko Aihara.