I specialize in East Asian religions with a focus on Buddhism in ancient Japan (seventh through ninth centuries). In the most general terms, my research challenges elite-centered narratives that have dominated scholarship on Japanese Buddhism and religious studies more broadly. In contrast, I study Buddhism as it was lived and practiced by individuals and communities from diverse backgrounds. My research and teaching are interdisciplinary; I engage scholarship in history, art history, literature, political science, and book history to explore issues related to ritual studies, material culture, and religion and the state.
My award-winning first book, Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan
, examines the ritual practice of transcribing Buddhist scriptures (sutras). It questions the standard historical narratives of Japanese Buddhism, which have focused exclusively on the ways the state regulated and utilized religion for ideological purposes in the eighth century. Instead, I highlight the activities of individuals from a range of social classes and geographic regions in Japan to show that Buddhist practice was not limited to the throne and fulfilled a variety of social, political, and spiritual roles beyond ideological justification of imperial rule. The book introduces and translates a large number of previously unstudied archival sources in manuscript form, including scriptorium documents and colophons. It argues for a practice-based approach to ritual and reassesses scripture as a category constructed in part through ritual practices.
My second book asks how Buddhism spread in ancient Japan. It offers one answer through a case study of provincial preaching. It highlights two features: mobility and the message. I argue that the construction of roads not only allowed preachers to travel to the provinces far earlier than previously thought but also that mass mobility created new ritual demands that Buddhism could meet. I pay close attention to the ways that preachers mobilized their messages by crafting doctrines in response to the needs of their village audiences and employing lively homiletic strategies to make their points.
In addition to these book projects, I have published in English and Japanese on a variety of other topics including the nature and structure of East Asian Buddhist canons, nineteenth- and twentieth- century debates over the state’s position relative to religion, sutras produced in China, and the religious practices of scribes and patrons.
I teach undergraduate and graduate students in courses on Japanese religions, mythology, Zen, Buddhism and literature, and theory and method.
I completed my undergraduate studies at Middlebury College in Vermont with a double major in Japanese and Religion. After graduating, I spent two years in Japan as a Coordinator for International Relations on the JET program in Nagano prefecture. I did my graduate work at Princeton University and was a research fellow at Otani University in Kyoto from 2010-2011. I have also had extended stays in other parts of Japan including Yokohama, Nagoya, and Himeji.
I have received generous support for my research from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright IIE, ACLS/Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Japan Foundation, Vanderbilt University Research Scholars Grant, the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies (Tokyo), and others. My first book was awarded the John Whitney Hall Prize
from he Association of Asian Studies. My 2012 dissertation won the Stanley Weinstein Prize
awarded to the best Ph.D. dissertation on East Asian Buddhism written in North America during the two previous years.
I also edit an online Guide to Shōsōin Research
, where I blog about the Shōsōin. Interviews about my first book can be found in the Authorial Intentions podcast
by Chris Benda and on the New Books Network
with Luke Thompson.
Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan
. Honolulu: Kuroda Institute Studies in East Asian Buddhism (University of Hawai‘i Press), 2017.
Publications: Articles and Chapters
“Kokka no rekishi jojutsu to shūkyōsha tachi no rekishi [Historical Narratives of the State and a
History of Religious Figures].” In Nihon shūkyōshi [History of Japanese Religions], edited by Yoshida Kazuhiko, Itō Satoshi, Uejima Susumu, and Satō Fumiko, 91–121. Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 2020.
“Protection without Punishment: Turning to Buddhist Gods during Covid-19.” Immanent Frame. https://tif.ssrc.org/2020/06/25/protection-without-punishment/
“Roads, State, and Religion in Japanese Antiquity.” History of Religions 59, no. 4 (2020): 272–303.
“Kodai jiin no nettowāku to hitobito [Ancient Temple Networks of Monks and their People].” Kodai shi wo hiraku [Opening up Ancient History], edited by Yoshimura Takehiko, Yoshikawa Shinji, and Kawajiri Akio, 263–299. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2019.
“Kōmyō.” Co-authored with Monica Bethe. In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism: Lives (vol. 2),
eds. Jonathan A. Silk et al., 1020–1025. Leiden: Brill, 2019.
“Nettowāku to shite no Tōdaiji [Tōdaiji as a Network].” In Za Gureito Budda Shinpojiumu（GBS）ronshū 14 gō [Papers from the The Great Buddha Symposium, no. 14], 87–104. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 2017.
“Bukkyō shinkō men kara mita gogatsu tsuitachi kyō gammon no saikō [A Reconsideration of the 5/1 Canon’s Dedicatory Prayer from the Perspective of Buddhist Devotional Practices].” In Jōdai shakyō shikigo chūshaku [Annotated Colophons of Ancient Sutra Manuscripts], ed. Endō Keita, 554-576. Tokyo: Bensei shuppan, 2016.
“Chūgoku Tōdai to Nihon kodai ni okeru shakyō to ‘shōjōkan’ [Purity and Sutra Copying in Tang
China and Early Japan].” In Nara Heian jidai: chi no sōkan [Correlation of Knowledge
in the Nara and Heian Periods], ed. Nemoto Seiji et al., 91–112. Tokyo: Iwata shoin, 2015.
“States of ‘State Buddhism’: History, Religion, and Politics in Late Nineteenth- and
Twentieth-Century Scholarship.” Japanese Religions 39/1&2 (2014): 71–93.
“Contingent and Contested: Preliminary Remarks on Buddhist Catalogs and Canons in Early Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 41/2 (2014): 221–253.
“Buddhist Manuscript Cultures in Premodern Japan.” Religion Compass 8/9 (2014): 287–301.
“The Scripture on Saving and Protecting Body and Life: An Introduction and Translation.”
Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies 27 (2014): 1–34.
“The Discipline of Writing: Scribes and Purity in Eighth-century Japan.” Japanese Journal of
Religious Studies 39/2 (2012): 201–239.
“Mori de maigo: Kaigai kara mita kodai shi [Lost in the Woods: A Foreign Perspective on Early Japanese History].” Shidai Nihonshi 15 (2012): 211–217.
“Texts and Textures of Early Japanese Buddhism: Female Patrons, Lay Scribes, and Buddhist Scripture in Eighth-Century Japan.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 73/1 (Autumn 2011): 9–36.
“Religion and Popular Culture in Japan.” In World History Encyclopedia, Era 4: Expanding Regional Civilizations, 300–1000. Edited by Wilfred J. Bisson. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011.
Publications: Book Reviews
“Review of Robert F. Rhodes, Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū and the Construction of Pure Land Discourse in Heian Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2017.” Forthcoming in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 79/2 (2019).
“Review of Heather Blair. Real and Imagined: Peak of Gold in Heian Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015.” Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University 2(2017): 137–141.
“Review of Justin Thomas McDaniel and Lynn Ransom (eds.). From Mulberry Leaves to Silk Scrolls: New Approaches to the Study of Asian Manuscript Traditions. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.” Material Religion 12(2016): 522–523.
“Making Buddhism Accessible in Ancient and Medieval Japan.” 9,000-word draft completed for
Festschrift for Jacqueline I. Stone.
“Buddhism in Japan: c.538–850” To be published in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by
Jonathan A. Silk et al. 20,000-word draft in-progress.
Mobility and the Message: How Buddhism Spread in Ancient Japan. In-progress book manuscript.