Jolyon Thomas

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Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Contact Information
Office Address: 
201 Cohen Hall

Jolyon Thomas’s 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.


PhD, Religion, Princeton University (2014)
MA, Asian Religions, University of Hawaii at Manoa (2008)
BA, Religious Studies, Grinnell College (2001)

Research and Teaching Interests: 

- Buddhism, Shinto, & marginal religious movements
- religion & media
- religious freedom
- religion & education

- religion, law & policy

Selected Publications: 

“The Buddhist Virtues of Raging Lust and Crass Materialism in Contemporary Japan,” Material Religion 11, no. 4 (2016): 485–506.

“Varieties of Religious Freedom in Japanese Buddhist Responses to the 1899 Religions Bill,” The Asian Journal of Law & Society 3, no. 1 (2016): 49–70.

“Religions Policies during the Allied Occupation of Japan, 1945–1952,” Religion Compass 8, no. 9 (2014): 275–286.

Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2012)

Recent Courses: 

RELS271/EALC253 “The Politics of Shinto”
RELS254/EALC254 "Violence, Tolerance, Freedom"
EALC 257 “Asian Religions in the Global Imagination”
EALC 207 “Sects and Violence in East Asia”
EALC 069 “Japanese Popular Culture” (includes discussion of Japanese religions past and present)
EALC 760 “Japanese Religions” (graduate seminar)