Gwendolyn Gillson

Assistant Professor of Asian Studies, Illinois College


I am Assistant Professor of Asian Studies in the Department of History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion at Illinois College. I received my PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Iowa in May of 2018.

My current project uses multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork to examine the ways that Japanese women actively engage with and adapt Buddhism to meet the needs of contemporary life. In my dissertation, “The Buddhist Ties of Japanese Women: Crafting Relationships between Nuns and Laywomen,” I drew on a year of fieldwork in Kyoto and Tokyo sponsored by the Japan-United States Fulbright Commission to show how Japanese women utilize Buddhism in innovative ways that challenge the commonly-held assumption in Japan that Buddhism is only for funerals. My research reveals that Buddhist women in Japan actively cultivate what I call “feeling Buddhism,” which emphasizes the emotional and sensorial aspects of Buddhist doctrine and practice. I show that Buddhist nuns and laywomen form deep and spiritually meaningful bonds with one another through shared affective and embodied experiences that they take with them beyond institutional walls to create both intimate and transnational networks of Buddhist women. Working at the intersection of the fields of anthropology of religion, East Asian studies, and gender studies, my work illustrates how women deal with the loneliness endemic to the dissolution of traditional Japanese social structures brought about by urbanization and globalization.

I was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies at Oberlin College from 2018-2019. During my year of fieldwork, I was Visiting Researcher at Bukkyo University in Kyoto. I received an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Iowa in 2015, an MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) in Archives from the University of Oklahoma in 2012, and a BA in Religion from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2009.

I enjoy cooking, baking, reading fiction, and spending time with my husband John, and my cat Herne.

Want to know more about my background?

Check out my Curriculum Vitae!