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November 27th, 2017

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “Spirit/Medium/Media: A Critical Examination of the Relationship Between Animism, Animators, and Anime” by Jolyon Thomas (University of Pennsylvania)
    This talk critiques the oft-repeated argument that Japanese animation (anime) is thematically and aesthetically unique because it draws upon Japan’s ancient animistic traditions. I argue that when professional observers describe anime as “animistic,” they use a politically fraught and technically inaccurate term to engage in certain political projects related to environmentalism or cultural nationalism. I also argue that when these professional observers repeat the essentialist idea that “Japanese people believe that spirits exist in everything,” they categorically ignore the potentially “spiritual” qualities of the material objects that are actually used to make anime in the first place (celluloid, ink, computer screens, cameras, cables). I conclude by offering alternative language that can more accurately depict what anime directors and their audiences do when depicting or observing relationships between spirits and nature in animated film. These attitudes and ideas can be deemed meaningful and even religious, I argue, without relying on the loaded language of “animism.”

October 19th, 2017

  • Image preview 3:30pm - 5:00pm: Religious Studies at Lewis & Clark
    A quintessential liberal arts discipline!

    A social hour with food, drink, and good conversation with faculty members, majors, minors, and other interested students about what the discipline of religious studies has to offer to the liberal arts; as well as a preview of courses to be offered in Spring 2018!

May 5th, 2017

  • 10:00am: Senior Reception with Family and Faculty
    Come join the Religious Studies department as we celebrate our seniors! Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP with Claire Kodachi at with the total number of people in your party. The event will be held in the Frank Manor House.

March 2nd, 2017

February 15th, 2017

  • Image preview 11:30am: “Queering Vedic Culture: Paths to Celebrating LGBTQ Relationships in India’s Devout Hindu Communities” by Claire Robison (Lewis & Clark College)
    Prof. Robison will speak on research conducted along with a colleague in 2014-2015 on the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association in Mumbai (GALVA). GALVA Mumbai is a local chapter of a transnational grassroots organization dedicated to increasing acceptance of LGBTQ identities within devout Vaishnava Hindu communities. For people in Mumbai who identify as LGBTQ, the organization seeks to foster a space that is not exclusive of or in opposition to the Hindu religious communities in which many of their members were raised. This project traces their efforts and the interpretative steps they take to construct a space for queer identities in Vaishnava Hindu communities today.

April 15th, 2016

  • All Day: Festival of Scholars

    It is our pleasure to invite you to the Festival of Scholars, an opportunity for student-scholars and artists to present their research and art, while also learning from one another.

October 29th, 2015

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “Oh, Hell! The Horrible and the Hilarious in Secular Japanese Picturebooks” by Heather Blair (Indiana University)
    Authors and illustrators of picturebooks for Japanese children often appropriate characters, imagery, and plotlines with recognizably religious pedigrees in order to transfer them into the secular world of children’s education and entertainment. In this talk, I examine the transformation of Buddhist hell from dreadful to hilarious in picturebooks for pre-literate children and emerging readers ages 4 to 7. Arguing against conventional interpretations that frame these books as wholly irreligious, I show that hell has become a cornerstone in a national vernacular tradition and that it continues to serve moralizing purposes even as it makes us laugh.

October 15th, 2015

  • 5:45pm: Meet Your Major
    It time to Meet Your Major! We’ll be gathering as a department on October 15th at 5:45 p.m. in the Howard 302. Current and former majors will be talking about their research projects (past life regression therapy, the Asideo community in Sellwood, Islamic law, and more!) and about their experiences in the major. Come hear from students about some really engaging projects and about why they chose Religious Studies for a major or minor. Of course, they’ll be food and drink. We hope to see you there!

March 13th, 2015

  • Image preview 3:00pm: Religion/Modernity: Living on the Slash by Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)
    This lecture challenges the widespread agreement today among scholars of modern history and culture that modernity did not mean the end of religion, that modernity itself is a religious, as well as political and legal, project. This may be true, but such an account of the modern fails to capture the fate of special, supermundane beings since the sixteenth century: gods, ghosts, ancestors, spirits, demons, and so on. The “religion” that endured in modernity—that was legally codified, epistemologically sanctioned, and diagnosed as psychologically healthy—was purified of these beings. Modern “religion” consigned them to the past of the species and the infancy of the person. Looking at the experience of a Catholic survivor of clerical sexual abuse as she makes her way between the normative modern and “superstition,” which is the necessary other of the modern, the lecture considers what it means to live everyday life in a world of plural and incommensurate ontologies.

February 4th, 2015

  • 4:00pm: Discussion with Ian Blair and Rob Kugler
    Join us for the first departmental gathering of the semester. Senior major Ian Blair will show us a video he created based on his research on religion during his semester abroad in Russia last year. Professor Robert Kugler will also talk about a recent conference trip that he took to Israel. We’ll have questions and informal discussion after each presentation. Light refreshments will be served. All are welcome to attend.

November 27, 2017
3:30 pm:   
A Critical Examination of the Relationship between Animism, Animators, and Anime 

Jolyon Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research covers two main areas of inquiry, both of which sketch approaches to the perennially unanswerable question of how to define religion. On the one hand, he writes about religion in conjunction with material and visual culture, examining the religious lives of illustrated media (comic books and cartoons) and quotidian objects (trains, televisions, USB sticks, plastic figurines). On the other, he works on the place of religion in policy and law. Current projects investigate who gets to define religious freedom and with what political effects, how conceptions of “religion” and “the secular” appear in debates about morality, patriotism, and security in public school education in postwar Japan and the United States, and what sort of relationships exist between religion, capitalism, and sexuality.

Religious Studies

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