Jessica Starling

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies

John R. Howard Hall 233, MSC: 45
Office Hours:

By google calendar appointment 

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 courses on the religions of Asia, asceticism, religion and medicine, and ethnographic research methods.


Japanese Religions

Academic Credentials

PhD 2012 University of Virginia

MA 2006 University of Virginia

BA 2000 Guilford College


Spring 2024 Courses:

RELS 106 Religion and Medicine
MWF 12:40pm - 1:40pm
Critical examination of the relationship between religion and medicine, drawing on scholarship from religious studies, anthropology, sociology, and history. Examples from ancient Greece, China, and indigenous traditions. Particular attention to the secularization of Western biomedicine and the contemporary popularity of alternatives. Critical examination of the terms “religious,” “spiritual,” “secular,” “natural,” and “holistic.”

RELS 242 Religions/Cultures East Asia 
MWF 10:20am - 11:20am
Chinese and Japanese worldviews. Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism: their origins, development, interactions. Mutual influence of folk and elite traditions, expansion of Buddhism and its adaptation to different sociopolitical environments, effects of modernization on traditional religious institutions.


Past and future courses:

CORE 120 Japanese Religions

RELS 106 Religion and Medicine

RELS 201 History and Theory of Religious Studies

RELS 242 Religions and Cultures of East Asia

RELS 243 Buddhism: Theory, Culture, and Practice

RELS 357 Ethnographic Approaches to Religion

RELS 359 Asceticism

RELS 362/372 Zen Buddhism

RELS 490 Senior Thesis in Religious Studies


Professor Starling’s research is on Buddhism as lived in modern and contemporary Japan, with a focus on the Jōdo Shinshū and special attention to themes such as gender, family, ethics, emotion and illness. 

A recently published article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion called “Audience, Authorship, and Agency: Religious Educational Materials for Modern Buddhist Women’s Groups in Japan,” is about Buddhist laywomen’s groups in modern Japan. Her analysis highlights 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, and suggests that in the absence of female-authored texts, audienceship and readership might be considered as important agentive actions by female adherents.

A second research project engages ethnographic fieldwork to understand contemporary Buddhist responses to stigma and discrimination. Starling profiles Buddhist volunteers who have taken up the cause of leprosy (also known as Hansen’s Disease) awareness and advocacy, working both inside and outside of Buddhist institutions to redress the past and current suffering of Hansen’s Disease patients.

Starling’s past scholarly articles have appeared in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Eastern BuddhistReligion Compass, and the Journal of Global BuddhismHer first monograph, Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary Jōdo Shinshū (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019), is an ethnography of temple wives in the True Pure Land Buddhist School (Jōdo Shinshū).  She has received numerous fellowships in support of her research, including grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Japan Foundation, and the American Association of University Women.

Professional Experience

  • Co-chair of the Japanese Religions Unit Steering Committee, American Academy of Religion (2020-present)
  • H-Japan Book Reviews Editor (2013-2022)
  • Editor, Religion Compass, Buddhism Section (2014-2022)

Location: J.R. Howard Hall