Jolyon Thomas

Jolyon Thomas Pic

Associate Professor of Religious Studies



213 Cohen Hall


Jolyon Thomas researches religion in Japan and the United States. His first book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan, appeared from University of Hawai`i Press in 2012. His 2019 University of Chicago Press monograph, Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan, received an Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Analytical-Descriptive Studies) from the American Academy of Religion in 2020. His third book, Difficult Subjects: Religion and the Politics of Public Schooling in Japan and the United States, is under contract with University of Chicago Press.

Thomas 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

Professor Thomas is on leave in the 2021–22 academic year. Video syllabi from some of his regularly taught courses are listed below.


RELS 254/ANTH 253 "Violence, Tolerance, and Freedom"

RELS 271/671, EALC 253/653 "The Politics of Shintō"

FALL 2020

RELS 079/EALC 079 "The Religion of Anime"

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

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 88, no. 3 (September 2020): 693–725. 

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

A Study of American Kokutai (American Religion)

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 (under contract with University of Chicago Press)


  • American Academy of Religion (Japanese Religions Unit steering committee; Religion and the Arts Award Jury)
  • American Studies Association
  • Association for Asian Studies (elected to the Northeast Asia Council for a three-year term, 2021–2024)
  • International Association for Buddhist Studies
  • Japanese Association for Religious Studies (Nihon Shūkyō Gakkai)
  • Society for the Study of Japanese Religions


CV (file)