Jessica L. Main

Jessica L. Main ( Page)

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chair in Buddhism and Contemporary Society 

Faculty Advisor, Religion, Literature, and the Arts Program

Institute of Asian Research and
Department of Asian Studies

University of British Columbia
C.K. Choi Building, 1855 West Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2

Tel: (604) 822-9305
Fax: (604) 822-5207

My availability for meetings and consultations: Go to Click on a time to set up a meeting (e.g., to consult on a paper assignment or to discuss matters related to a course you are taking with me). My office is Choi Room 283 (when facing the IAR main office in 251, turn left and proceed to the very end of the hallway).

Jessica L. Main is Assistant Professor at The University of British Columbia, holding a joint appointment in the Department of Asian Studies and Institute of Asian Research. Since Fall of 2009, she has served as The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chair in Buddhism and Contemporary Society and Director of the RHNHFF Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society at UBC. She wrote her PhD dissertation, “Only Shinran Will Not Betray Us” (McGill 2012), on the topic of descent-based discrimination, human rights, and Japanese True Pure Land, Jōdo Shinshū or Shin Buddhism, looking especially at the problem of caste-based discrimination in Shin Buddhism against the burakumin. She is currently working on a manuscript on this topic entitled, No Hatred in the Pure Land: Burakumin Activism and the Shin Buddhist Response in Interwar JapanHer broader research interests include modern Buddhist ethics, social action, and institutional life in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in the areas of sectarian social policy, chaplaincy, youth and physical culture, public health, and professional or role-based ethics.

Her ongoing projects include an collaborative translation of the work of the philosopher, Masako Keta, The Philosophy of Religious Experience: An Elucidation of the Pure Land Buddhist World (Original book, Keta Masako 気多雅子, Shūkyō keiken no tetsugaku: Jōdokyō sekai no kaimei 宗教経験の哲学: 浄土教世界の解明, 1992), together with Melissa Anne-Marie Curley and Melanie Coughlin, early understandings of human rights among Meiji and Taisho era Japanese Shin Buddhists, the history Buddhist Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in Japan, and Buddhists attempts at social engineering during the Interwar Period. Together with Rongdao Lai, she edited a special issue of The Eastern Buddhist (2013) on socially engaged Buddhism. On the same theme, she serves as a member of the academic advisory committee for a RHNHFF Exhibition Development Grant held by the curator, Haema Sivanesan (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria), on engaged Buddhist art: “In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice.”

She has had the opportunity to participate as a co-applicant in the research supported by several large SSHRC Partnership Grants: “The Evolution of Religion and Morality” (Edward Slingerland, UBC); “Gender, Migration, and the Work of Care” (Ito Peng, University of Toronto; with religion and culture team leader, Andre Laliberte, University of Ottawa); and “From the Ground Up,” East Asian religions and media (Jinhua Chen, UBC). During her graduate studies, she had the chance to participate in a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded project on religion and health (Katherine Young, McGill University), investigating possible contributions of Buddhism to a physician’s ethic. She is currently a member of the steering committee for the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies (IASBS,

Research Interests:

Buddhism, Ethics, and Human Rights
Modern Buddhist Institutions, Law, and Governance
Buddhists and Buddhist Institutions Active in Modern Society: Social Welfare; Healthcare and Healing; Protest Movements; Rehabilitation, Incarceration and Corrections; Youth Culture, Physical Culture, and Scouting.
Modern Japanese Religions and Society
Japanese True Pure Land Buddhism (Jōdo Shinshū 浄土真宗)

Educational Background:

  • Ph.D. (2013) Asian Religions, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University
  • Cert. (2006-2008) Otani University, Kyoto
  • BA (1997) General Studies, University of Calgary
  • Cert. (1996-1997) Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka


Asian Studies: Together with colleagues at Asian Studies, Jessica is working to expand the undergraduate and graduate course offerings covering Buddhism, Japanese religions, and religions in Asia. Courses currently offered and coming soon:

  • ASIA 110: Introduction to Major Eastern Traditions
  • ASIA 250: Introduction to Buddhism: Modernism and Other Forms
  • ASIA 211: Sex, Sexual Ethics, and Asian Religions
  • ASIA 301: Buddhism in Modern Asia
  • ASIA 302: Theravāda Buddhism
  • ASIA 303: Mahāyāna Buddhism
  • ASIA 306: Esoteric Buddhism
  • ASIA 450 Topics in Buddhist Studies
  • ASIA 468R: Approaches to Asian Religions
  • ASIA 452R: Researching Modern Japanese Religions

Institute of Asian Research, new MPPGA Degree Program: Jessica is primarily involved with the MPPGA Program in the area of religion and public policy, religions in the Asia Pacific as transnational and local actors, and the effects of media representation and soft power on policy.

Selected Presentations and Publications:

(January 2017). Melissa Anne-Marie Curley, Jessica L. Main, and Melanie Coughlin, trans. “The Self-awareness of Evil in Pure Land Buddhism: A Translation of Contemporary Kyoto School Philosopher Keta Masako.” Philosophy East and West 67 (1): 192-228.

2016-09. “Shin Buddhism and Global Modernity: Settlement Work, Social Work, and Other Brand New Ideas in the Early Twentieth Century.” 2016 Numata Lecture. Presented at Symposium, Crossing Realities: Shin Buddhism and the Processes of Globalization. Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley.

2016-05. “From the Mountains to the Mainstream: Being Older in Contemporary Japanese Buddhism.” Presented at Japanese Studies Workshop, Narratives of Decline: The Changing Patterns of Death and Aging in Contemporary Japanese Religions. The University of Manchester.

2015. “Pure Fire, A Revolutionary Play: Saikō Mankichi on the Liberation of the Burakumin and the Critique of Japanese Buddhism in the 1920s.” Conference, Institute for Buddhist Studies and Center for Japanese Studies at the U.C. Berkeley, “When Modernity Hits Hard: Creative Buddhist Responses in Meiji-Taishō-Early Shōwa Japan.” Berkeley.

2014. “Ōtani Sukauto and Honganji Sukauto: The Religious Life of Semi-Autonomous and Sectarian Shin Buddhist Scouting Movements.” Public Lecture, Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, Ōtani University, Kyoto.

2014. “Transfiguring Pollution into Hygiene, Health, and Prosperity: Why Impurity and Religion Still Matter in Modern Descent-Based Discrimination.” Public Lecture, Punjabi University Patiala.

2013. Jessica L. Main and L. Rongdao Lai. “Reformulating ‘Socially Engaged Buddhism’ as an Analytical Category.” The Eastern Buddhist 44 (2): 1-34.

2013. Jessica L. Main and L. Rongdao Lai, eds. “Feature: Socially Engaged Buddhism.” The Eastern Buddhist 44 (2), Ōtani University, Kyoto, Japan.

2012. “The Admonishers (kyōkaishi 教誨師): Buddhist Prison Chaplains in Modern Japan.” Centre for Japanese Research Brown Bag Lunch Series. University of British Columbia.

2012. “Amida’s Righteous Anger (ikari 怒り): Shin Buddhism and Social Justice in the 1970s.” American Association for Asian Studies (AAS). Toronto.

2012. “Reducing Suffering with Reinterpretation: Modern Struggles with Discriminatory Terms in Japanese Buddhist Sacred Texts.” Risshō University Lotus Sūtra Seminar. Tokyo.

2011. “Shin Buddhism for the Good of Society: To Act Within or Beyond the Religious Organization (kyōdan 教団).” Public Lecture, Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, Ōtani University, Kyoto.

2011. “A Shin Buddhism for the Left: Miura Sangendō and Interwar Japanese Buddhist Marxism.” American Academy of Religion (AAR), San Francisco.

2010. “Venture Capitalism or Obligatory Donations?: The Ōtani-ha’s Search for Financial Stability in the Modern Era.” American Academy of Religion (AAR), Atlanta.

2010. “To Lament the Self: The Ethical Ideology of Takeuchi Ryō’on (1891-1968) and the Ōtani-ha Movement against Buraku Discrimination.” In The Social Dimension of Shin Buddhism, ed. Ugo Dessì, 112–131. Brill.

2009. “The Concrete Manifestations and Understandings of Buraku Discrimination within Ōtani-ha Shin Buddhism.” Public Lecture, Asian Studies Group, Kyoto.

2009. “The Constitution of a Religion: Ōtani-ha Shin Buddhism as Civil Society Actor.” Public Lecture, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia.

2008. “The Karma of Others: Stories from the Milindapañha and the Petavatthu-aṭṭhakathā.” In Revisioning Karma: The eBook, ed. Charles S. Prebish, Damien Keown, and Dale S. Wright, 297–351. JBE Online Books.