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My scholarly work centers on the culture of medieval Japan, especially its religious culture. I am interested in the ways that men and women used images, stories, and rituals to define their world and imbue life with meaning. While I primarily study Buddhism, in the context of medieval Japan there is really no way to separate Buddhism out from the indigenous Japanese religious traditions commonly referred to as Shinto. In fact, it is precisely the hybrid and combinatory aspects of Japanese religion that interest me the most.

Currently, I am engaged in work on a book on the cult of the bodhisattva Jizō (called Dizang in Chinese, Jijang in Korean) from the thirteenth century to the seventeenth. Appearing in the guise of a monk, Jizō is the most human of all the deities of the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. Today, Jizō is famous as a protector of travelers and children, and also associated with offerings to pacify the spirits of children who have been stillborn, miscarried, or aborted. This role is a decidedly modern one, and in the medieval period Jizō was especially revered as a savior from hell and a guide to paradise. The book examines the place of images in the development of the Jizō cult in three communities of belief: priests, women, and warriors.

I am especially interested in sacred art, religious narrative, preaching traditions, and gender. My published scholarly work to date has focused on these areas of medieval religious culture. For instance, one article, on a statue of Jizō and the votive documents discovered in its interior, questions the historiography of women’s salvation in Japanese Buddhism; another demonstrates the influence of indigenous literary conventions and plot lines on a Japanese retelling of the life of the Buddha; a third explores the expansion of a female saint’s legend from stories told by preachers, into prose texts, and into statuary and ritual.


“At the Crossroads of Birth and Death: the Blood-Pool Hell and Postmortem Fetal Extraction.” In Death Rituals and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism, edited by Mariko Walter and Jacqueline Stone. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, in press.

Shaka no honji: Preaching, Intertextuality, and Popular Hagiography.” Monumenta Nipponica 62/3 (Autumn 2007).

“Chinese Buddhist Death Ritual and the Transformation of Japanese Kinship.” In The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations, edited by Brian Cuevas and Jacqueline Stone. Honolulu: Kuroda Institute/University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

Koyasu monogatari no zuzōgaku o meguru shomondai” (Various issues surrounding the iconology of Koyasu monogatari). Nara ehon, emaki kenkyū 3 (2005).

“Buddhist Sexuality.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Robert Buswell, William Bodiford, Maribeth Graybill, Donald Lopez, and John Strong. New York: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson/Gale, 2003.

“’Show Me the Place Where My Mother Is!’ Chūjōhime, Preaching, and Relics in Late Medieval and Early Modern Japan.” In Approaching the Pure Land: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha, edited by Richard Payne and Kenneth Tanaka. Honolulu: Kuroda Institute/University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

“The Nude Jizō at Denkōji: Notes on Women's Salvation in Kamakura Buddhism.” In Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan, edited by Barbara Ruch. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002.

“Mokuren no sōshi: The Tale of Mokuren.” Buddhist Literature, vol. 1, (1999).

Work in Progress

“Keepsake Robe/Robe of Liberation: Family Ties and Buddhist Renunciation in a Medieval Tale.” In Rethinking Family in Buddhism: New Conceptions of the Family Lives of Asian Buddhists, edited by Liz Wilson.

The Face of Jizō: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism
(book manuscript under contract with University of Hawaii Press)