Clark Chilson

  • Associate Professor


Religion in Japan, particularly Buddhism and popular religion


Religion in Asia, Religion and Culture in East Asia, Japanese Religious Traditions, Popular Religion in a Changing Japan, Buddhism & Psychology, Buddhist Lives

University Affiliations

Core faculty member of the Japan Studies Program and Asian Studies Center of the University Center for International Studies

Overseas Experience

Before joining the faculty at Pitt in 2006, Clark Chilson lived in England for three years and in Japan for over thirteen years. In Japan he studied cultural anthropology, did fieldwork at a Zen temple and among secretive Buddhists, and for five years was the associate editor of Asian Folklore Studies and the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. He also supplemented his income in Japan by doing jobs as diverse as interpreting for an F1 racecar driver, working on a documentary for the Japanese Broadcasting Company (NHK), and translating medical texts.

Education & Training

  • PhD, Lancaster University (UK), 2004

Representative Publications

“Naikan’s Path.”  In Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Context, edited by Richard Payne and Georgios Halkias, pp. 396–419. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2019.

“Kūya.” Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume II: Lives, edited by Richard Bowring, Vincent Eltschinger, Michael Radich, pp. 1036–1040. Leiden: Brill, 2019 [3964 words].

“Naikan: A Meditation Method and Psychotherapy” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford University Press, 2018 [9232 words].

“The Meaning of Life in Medicine: Nonreligious Spiritual Care in Japan.” European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare. (2017) 5: 527–533.

“Cultivating Charisma: Ikeda Daisaku’s Self Presentations and Transformational Leadership.” Journal of Global Buddhism (2014) 15: 65–78.

Secrecy's Power: Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture, University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014).

“Preaching as Performance: Notes on a Secretive Shin Buddhist Sermon,” in Studying Buddhism in Practice, edited by John Harding, Routledge, 2012.

“Searching for a Place to Sit: Buddhism in Modern Japan,” in Buddhism in the Modern World, edited by David L. McMahan, Routledge, 2012. 

"Eulogizing Kūya as More than a Nenbutsu Practitioner: A Study and Translation of the Kūyarui," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 34.2 (2007).

Asian Folklore Studies, "Special Issue Honoring Professor Peter Knecht, editor of Asian Folklore Studies, 1980-2006," 66.1-2 (2007) [coeditor with Scott Schnell].

Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions, University of Hawai'i Press, 2006 [coeditor with Paul Swanson]. Selected as a 2007 Outstanding Academic Publication by Choice magazine.

Shamans in Asia, Routledge/Curzon, 2003 [coeditor with Peter Knecht].

"Religion Concealed and Revealed: The Uses of History by a Secretive Shinshū Leader," Japanese Religions 27 (2002).

"The Creation of a Holy Man: The Earlier Narratives on the Life of Kūya," Nanzan kyōiku sentō ronshū 1 (2000).

"Born-Again Buddhists: Secretive Shinshū Initiation Rites in Twentieth-Century Japan," Studies in Central and East Asian Religions 11 (1999).

Research Interests

Current Projects

"Mishirabe," in “The Buddhism of Pure Lands: A Thematic Anthology of Primary Sources,” edited by Richard Payne.

"A History of Naikan" (book ms)

Research Grants

Lilly Endowment, Wabash Center Grant to conduct workshops for university and college faculty on “Pedagogies for Civic Engagement: Developing Strategies within and beyond the Religious Studies Classroom,” 2008-2009 [with Reid Locklin, Forrest Clingerman, and Erin Runions]

Social Science Research Council, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowship for American Researchers, 2007-2008

Lilly Endowment, Wabash Center Grant for participation in the Workshop on Teaching and Learning for Pre-Tenure Religion Faculty at Colleges and Universities, 2006-2007