Faculty Profile: Jessica Starling
August 02, 2013
The following Q&A is part of a series created by the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to introduce new faculty. Get to know Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Jessica Starling, who joins the faculty this fall, in the interview below.
Education: Ph.D. 2012, M.A. 2006 University of Virginia; B.A. 2000 Guilford College
Research and teaching interests: Women in the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land Buddhist School); temple wives and the temple inheritance system in contemporary Japan; Buddhist teachings on women’s salvation; Buddhist laywomen’s groups and the formation of gender norms in modern Japan.
What most excites you about joining the Lewis & Clark community?
Teaching and getting to know the students here. I also look forward to learning much from my new colleagues. It’s been my dream to teach in a tight-knit academic community like Lewis & Clark, which resembles my undergraduate institution in many ways.
Describe the current trajectory of your scholarly research.
I started my research on the wives of priests in the Japanese “lay Buddhist” tradition called the Jodo Shinshu by conducting fieldwork among contemporary temple wives. I wanted to know how (or if) they distinguished their domestic lives from the temple’s religious functions—in other words, whether they were particularly “Buddhist” housewives or if they were just like any other housewife in Japan. I found that the role of the temple wife could legitimately be described as that of a religious professional. This led to more questions about the material dimension of Buddhist propagation and what it reveals about how the Japanese “gender contract” works in religious contexts. Going forward, I want to look more closely at the production of religious doctrine for women in response to Buddhist women’s groups’ voracious appetite for religious educational materials over the last century.
What kind of hobbies or special activities do you enjoy outside of work?
Raising two children and traveling (although the two are not always compatible). When I have time I love to go running in the woods to blow off steam.
What were your childhood goals/aspirations?
I wanted to be a writer, either a novelist or a newspaper reporter.
What are you listening to in your car right now?
The radio is usually tuned to NPR, but as soon as my five-year-old gets in the car, it gets switched to the soundtrack of either Star Wars or Mary Poppins.
What was your favorite childhood story?
Harold and the Purple Crayon.