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Jessica Starling, PhD
Lewis and Clark College (Portland, OR 97219-7879)
Leprosy, Social Work, and Ethical Praxis in Contemporary Japanese Buddhism

Research for a scholarly article and book on contemporary Japanese Buddhist care for leprosy patients.

This research focuses on Buddhist social work at leprosaria across Japan and its former colonies. Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, has long been seen as a morally culpable condition in Japan. Premodern Buddhists understood the illness as a form of karmic retribution for one’s past immorality. In modern Japan, Western medicine added the discourse of germs and contagion to earlier stigmas, and the government forced those infected with the bacteria to relocate to national leprosaria. After the war, however, many Japanese came to see leprosy and its stigmatization as the central human rights issue of their time. Stirred by these stories of discrimination and dehumanization, my True Pure Land Buddhist informants now regularly visit residents of Japan’s former leprosaria. Employing ethnographic and historical methods, this project illuminates contemporary Buddhist ethics as they are expressed through encounters between priests, laypeople and leprosy survivors at these leprosaria.

Project fields:
Cultural Anthropology; History of Religion; Nonwestern Religion

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2019 – 7/31/2019