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Religious Studies

Jessica Starling

Assistant 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 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.


Spring 2018 Courses:

RELS 241: Religions of Japan   
MWF 10:20AM - 11:20AM

Religious traditions of Japan from the eighth century to the present examined through the thematic lenses of hagiography, asceticism, syncretism, gender, family, and cultural identity. Critical attention will be paid to the concepts of “religion” and “secular” during examination of continuities and changes from the ancient to the contemporary period. Students will conduct a semester-long research project on a topic related to Japanese religion.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 356: Buddhism and Gender  
TTH 11:30AM - 12:30PM

Examination of women and gender in Buddhist mythology, doctrine, practice, and institutions spanning the length of the Buddhist tradition (i.e., 500 BCE to the present), addressing examples from Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and Japanese Buddhist contexts. Tension between Buddhism’s theoretical discourse on women and gender; actual roles and experiences of women in the Buddhist tradition. Topics include the founding myth of the Buddhist order of nuns and the writings of early nuns; Buddhist discourse on female impurity and the exclusion of women from sacred mountains; female tantric adepts and depictions of the feminine in Tibetan Buddhism; the movement to revive full ordination for nuns in Southeast Asia; the Buddhist feminist movement in contemporary Japan.

Prerequisites: Any 200-level RELS course.

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.


RELS 490: Senior Thesis
MW 3:00PM - 4:30PM 

Advanced readings and major works in religion. In consultation with faculty, selection of a thesis topic and further reading in the discipline and research in the topic area. Substantial written document demonstrating mastery of theory and methodology in the study of religion and the ability to integrate these into the thesis topic.

Prerequisites: None.

Restrictions: Senior standing required.



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 BuddhistReligion 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