School navigation

Religious Studies

Jessica Starling

Associate Professor

  • Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

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 Asian Studies and Gender Studies programs at Lewis & Clark, and teaches classes on Asian religions, religion and gender, and ethnographic research methods.


Asian Religions


Courses taught:

RELS 103 Asceticism: Self-Discipline in Comparative Perspective

RELS 241 Religion and Culture of Hindu India

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

RELS 357 Family, Gender and Religion: Ethnographic Approaches

RELS 452 Topics in Asian Religions

CORE 107 Exploration and Discovery: Healing, Spirituality and Culture

Fall 2019:

RELS 103: Asceticism 
MWF 9:10AM - 10:10AM

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 201: History and Theory of Religious Studies
TTH 9:40AM - 11:10AM

This course encourages reflection on the academic study of religion. Through reading influential works by sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and historians, we will trace key debates in religious studies over the last century. We will examine ritual both as a means of symbolic and as a method for training the body to develop certain habits and dispositions (Asad). We will then consider the role experience plays in making truth claims (James, Otto, Eliade) and assess the position of the scholar relative to the study of religion (Cantwell Smith and Orsi). Frequent writing assignments and classroom discussion will provide opportunities to exchange ideas about religious studies as a field and to more broadly consider the ways religion has shaped human experience and society from antiquity to the present day.

RELS 243: Buddhism: Theory, Culture and Practice
MWF 11:30AM - 12:30PM

In this course students will develop a critical understanding of Buddhist philosophical concepts and religious practices.  We will read primary sources such as sermons, monastic codes, miracle tales, ritual texts and sutras, as well as ethnographies and secondary scholarship that will introduce us to contemporary problems in the scholarly study of Buddhism.  

Attention will be given to diverse notions of the path and goal of Buddhism, the dynamics of lay-monastic relations, the interplay of practical and trans-worldly concerns, and Buddhism’s transformations in specific historical and cultural settings.

Spring 2020:

CORE 107-23 

MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Healing, Spirituality, and Culture

What does it mean to be “well”? How do humans in various cultures define and attribute meaning to pain? How do they determine the effectiveness of a given treatment? Where do they locate healing agency (the power to make one well)?

This course examines these and other questions about the relationship between healing, spirituality, and culture by reading and discussing scholarship from the fields of religious studies, anthropology, sociology, and history. We will look at examples from a variety cultural contexts including ancient Greek, Chinese and Native American traditions. We will pay particular attention to the way in which dominant frameworks of authority for explaining sickness and health have changed over the last 200 years in the West, leading us to inquire into the contemporary appeal of “alternative medicine” in Portland in 2019.

RELS 241

MWF 10:20-11:20

Religion and Culture of Hindu India

This course will survey various historical and contemporary forms of religion on the Indian subcontinent. We will look at a diverse set of topics within Indian religion: divine revelation and ritual sacrifice; philosophical reflection on the self and the cosmos; major gods and goddesses; concepts of caste, class, and gender; popular religion and pilgrimage; iconography; domestic and temple worship; colonialism; nationalism; and the reinvention of Hinduism by modern thinkers.  The class also makes extensive use of films by and about Hindus.

Students in this course will undertake a semester-long research project on a topic relating to Hinduism.

Professional Experience

Professor Starling is the book reviews editor for the H-Net list serve H-Japan, and co-editor of the Buddhist section of the online journal Religion Compass.  She also serves on the steering committee for the Japanese Religions Unit of the American Academy of Religion.


Professor Starling’s research is on Buddhism as lived in contemporary Japan.  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 BuddhistReligion Compass, and the Journal of Global BuddhismHer monograph, Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary Jōdo Shinshū, is an ethnography of temple wives in the True Pure Land Buddhist School (Jōdo Shinshū), published by the University of Hawai’i Press in 2019.  

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

Share this profile on

Religious Studies


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


voice 503-768-7741

Jessica Starling Associate Professor

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