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Religious Studies

Jessica Starling

Assistant Professor

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J.R. Howard Hall

Jessie Starling joined the faculty of Lewis & Clark in 2013 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in Japanese Buddhism at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is also affiliated with the East Asian Studies and Gender Studies programs at Lewis & Clark, and teaches classes on Asian religions, religion and gender, and ethnographic methods.

Starling recently received an Enduring Questions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a new introductory-level course on Asceticism. The course, to be offered for the first time in the spring of 2017, will take a comparative approach to asceticism, asking students to consider the question, what good is self-discipline? Ascetics have variously been viewed as heroic, saintly, eccentric or pathological. Our analysis will consider examples from a variety of cultural contexts, including Eastern (Jain, Hindu, Buddhist), Western (Stoic, Christian mystic), and modern secular (eco-activism, fasting diets, and extreme exercise regimes). In the future, Starling also hopes to develop an introductory thematic course on Religion, Health and Healing.


Professor Starling’s roster of courses includes RELS 103 Asceticism, RELS 242 Religions and Cultures of East Asia, RELS 243 Buddhism: Theory Culture and Practice, RELS 246 Religions of Japan, RELS 356 Buddhism and Gender, and RELS 357 Ethnographic Approaches to Family, Gender, and Religion.


Fall 2017 Courses:

RELS 103: Asceticism
Comparative approach to asceticism and examination of acts of self-discipline in Eastern (Jain, Hindu, Buddhist), Western (Stoic, Christian mystic), and modern secular (eco-activism, fasting diets, and extreme exercise regimes) cultural contexts. Consideration of the question: What good is self-discipline? Depriving oneself of sensual pleasures can be seen as an antidote to materialism and a means of liberating the soul from its fleshly shackles, but is denying our inborn desires a form of self-violence?

RELS 243: Buddhism: Theory/Culture/Practice
Introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. Indian origins, contemporary Theravada Buddhism, emergence of the Mahayana, Buddhism and society in Tibet, Zen and Pure Land traditions of East Asia and the Western reception of Buddhism. Problems in the study of Buddhism.

RELS 452: Sem: Buddhism Thru Ethnography
(Seminar in Asian Religions) 
Advanced seminar in Asian religions with an emphasis on East Asia. Topics may include Zen and/or Pure Land Buddhist doctrine and practice; religion and family in East Asia; female religious adepts and theories of women’s salvation. Intensive readings in primary texts and student research projects. May be taken twice for credit with change of topic.




Professor Starling’s research concerns the role of women in contemporary Japanese “Temple Buddhism.” The vast majority of temples in modern-day Japan are smaller parish temples run by a married Buddhist cleric, who lives together with his wife and children.  Starling’s work lies at the intersection of Buddhist doctrine, gender, family, and material practices, and her scholarly articles have appeared in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies,  Eastern Buddhist Religion Compass , and the  Journal of Global BuddhismHer monograph, Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary Jōdo Shinshū, is based on an ethnography of temple wives in the True Pure Land Buddhist School (Jōdo Shinshū), and is under contract with the University of Hawai’i Press.  

Starling is currently developing two new research projects. The first is an investigation of Buddhist laywomen’s groups in modern Japan, highlighting the dynamics of the production of doctrinal materials by male monks in response to the voracious demand of these well-educated and well-organized women’s groups.  The second project will use ethnographic fieldwork to investigate Japanese Buddhist women’s engagement in social work, highlighting the work of national and transnational networks of women who have taken up the cause of leprosy awareness. 

Academic Credentials

Ph.D. 2012 University of Virginia

M.A. 2006 University of Virginia

B.A. 2000 Guilford College

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Religious Studies


Jessica Starling’s office is located in room 233 of John R. Howard Hall.


voice 503-768-7741

Jessica Starling Assistant Professor

Religious Studies Lewis & Clark 0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road MSC 45 Portland OR 97219 USA

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