Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Schlütter, Morten

First Committee Member

Curley, Melissa Anne-Marie

Second Committee Member

Nabhan-Warren, Kristy

Third Committee Member

Schnell, Scott R

Fourth Committee Member

Smith, Frederick M


For many people, Japanese life is increasingly marked by precarity. This is often characterized by a lack of social and familial relationships that were the foundation of Japanese society in earlier eras. Buddhism has rarely played a part in addressing these feelings of precarity because Buddhism in Japan is associated with funerals and death. Yet some women participate in and actively create what this dissertation calls “feeling Buddhism,” which combats the feelings of helplessness and social isolation that accompany precarity. Feeling Buddhism is about sensing Buddhism, physically feeling the body perform ritual acts and inhabit sacred space. It is also about the emotions, affects, and feelings that accompany these physical acts. Based in feminist ethnography, this dissertation argues that Japanese women cultivate constructive feelings through Buddhism that enable them to craft deep and meaningful connections with one another. In particular, it focuses on the Buddhist women who belong to the Pure Land Sect or Jōdoshū.

Chapter One traces the history of women’s historical involvement in Japanese Buddhism to show that Japanese women have always been active participants in Buddhism. Chapter Two examines three articles written by Japanese scholar-priests to argue that they are more concerned with praising Jōdoshū and Hōnen than addressing women’s relationship with Buddhism. Chapter Three looks at two Jōdoshū women’s groups in Kyoto and utilizes theories of ritualization and affect to argue that these experiences create new and mend existing relationships though Buddhism. Chapter Four looks at the Jōdoshū nun Kikuchi Yūken and her caring labor with young women in Tokyo to argue that her work ought to be considered a form of socially engaged Buddhism. Chapter Five moves beyond Jōdoshū to examine the International Ladies Association of Buddhism and argues that the women within the organization attempt to cultivate upper-class taste and an appreciation for an internationalization.


affect theory, Japan, Jōdoshū, lived religion, Pure Land Buddhism, women's religion


xii, 315 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 286-307).


Copyright © 2018 Gwendolyn Laurel Gillson