Jolyon Thomas

Jolyon Thomas Pic

Assistant Professor of Religious StudiesInterim Graduate Studies Chair



213 Cohen Hall


Jolyon Thomas researches religion in Japan and the United States. His most recent monograph, Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2019. His first book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan, appeared from University of Hawai`i Press in 2012. He is now working on a third book, tentatively titled Difficult Subjects: Religion and the Politics of Public Schooling in Japan and the United States. He is also co-editing The New Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions.

Office Hours
All meetings by appointment during COVID-19 pandemic

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

Research Interests

Religion and media
Religious freedom
Religion and education
Religion and capitalism

Research Areas
(listed in alphabetical order)
American Religions
Asian Religions
Childhood, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Material and Visual Culture
Modernities, Secularism, and Science
Politics and Publics
Courses Taught

FALL 2020

RELS 079/EALC 079 "The Religion of Anime"

RELS 258/EALC 257 “Asian Religions in the Global Imagination”

Spring 2021

RELS271/EALC253 “The Politics of Shinto”

RELS254/ANTH254 "Violence, Tolerance, Freedom"

Selected Publications

Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019)

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


"Why Scholars of Religion Must Investigate the Corporate Form," coauthored with Levi McLaughlin, Aike P. Rots, and Chika Watanabe, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 

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.

"Free Inquiry and Japanese Buddhist Studies: The Case of Katō Totsudō," Japanese Religions 39, nos. 1–2 (2014): 31–51.

"Horrific 'Cults' and Comic Religion: Manga after Aum," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2012): 127–51.

Web Essays

Corporate Profit Through Buddhist Kitsch (Sacred Matters)

Domesticity & Spirituality: Kondo is Not an Animist (The Marginalia Review of Books)

Even Religious Freedom Victories Harbor Defeats (Killing the Buddha)

Field Notes on Drinking at a Buddhist Bar (Sacred Matters)

Religious Freedom, Weapon of Choice (The Revealer)

Tongue in Cheek, Just in Case (Sacred Matters)

What Is Shintō? (

Work in Progress

Difficult Subjects: Religion and the Politics of Public Schooling in Japan and the United States (proposal under consideration)


  • American Academy of Religion (Japanese Religions Unit steering committee; Religion and the Arts Award Jury)
  • American Studies Association
  • Association for Asian Studies
  • International Association for Buddhist Studies
  • Japanese Association for Religious Studies (Nihon Shūkyō Gakkai)
  • Society for the Study of Japanese Religions


CV (file)