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Heather Blair

Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 211


Ph.D,. Harvard University, 2008

Professional Biography

I specialize in the pre-modern history of Japanese religions, though my interests, training, and teaching range more broadly across Buddhism and East Asian religions. Currently my research examines the religious practices of aristocratic lay people in Japan during the early medieval period – that is, during the 11th and 12th centuries. In order to expand our view of the religious lifestyles of un-ordained men and women, I study material culture and non-canonical, non-doctrinal texts. Thus, in addition to working with images and icons, I read narrative materials, and what might be called testamentary genres, such as diaries written by male courtiers and vows written by male literati on behalf of lay and monastic patrons of both sexes.

I also have a long-standing interest in the creation and maintenance of religious sites and landscapes, both in metropolitan and wilderness contexts. At present, I am working on a book, Peak of Gold, 1507 which examines the roles played by the mountain Kinpusen in ritual, politics, and textual production among political and social elites at the turn of the 11th century.

Other current projects include a study of the ritual protocols for sutra burial; a history of the modern metamorphoses of an 11th-century bronze as it changed from an instantiation of a deity to scrap metal to high art; and a reconstruction of the ritual and discursive context for a 12th-century palimpsest manuscript of an apocryphal sutra about women’s ability to become buddhas.




Tracing Kinpusen, the Peak of Gold: Pilgrimage and Place in Heian Japan. Under contract at Harvard University Asia Center.

Peer-reviewed articles

“Religion and Politics in Heian-Period Japan.” Religion Compass 7, no. 8 (2013):284-93.

“Rites and Rule: Kiyomori at Fukuhara and Itsukushima.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 73, no. 1 (2013):1-42.

“Zaō Gongen: From Mountain Icon to National Treasure.” Monumenta Nipponica 66, no. 1 (2011):1-45.

“Buddhism as a Local Religion.” Buddhism: Oxford Bibliographies Online, ed. Richard Payne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Japanese Buddhist Art and Architecture.” Buddhism: Oxford Bibliographies Online, ed. Richard Payne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Mandala.” Buddhism: Oxford Bibliographies Online, ed. Richard Payne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Book chapters, translations, and other publications

“Kiyomori, Fukuhara and Itsukushima.” Lovable Losers: The Taira in Action and Memory, ed. Mikael Adolphson and Anne Kamens. Under review at University of Hawai‘i Press.

“Buddhism in Japanese History.” Blackwell Companion to Central and East Asian Buddhism, ed. Mario Poceski. Under review at Blackwell Press.

“Mountain and Plain: Kinpusen and Kōfukuji in the Middle Ages.” Nara, nanto bukkyō no dentō to kakushin (Nara Buddhism: Tradition and Innovation), ed. Nemoto Seiji and Samuel Morse, pp. 1-39. Tokyo: Bensei Shuppan, 2010.

Translator. Suzuki Shōei, “Suijaku Stories about Zaō Gongen.” In special issue of Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie,18 (2009, published 2011):141-68.

Peak of Gold: Trace, Place, and Religion in Heian Japan. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2008.

“Japanese Religions” (in Japanese), Higashi Ajia hikaku bunka kenkyū 6 (2007).


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