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Caleb Carter’s research and teaching revolve around a broad interest in the cultural formation of religious sites with contingent issues regarding mountain communities, narrative and folklore, women and gender, and ecology. His current research explores the historical formation of the mountain tradition of Shugendō. His book manuscript examines how Shugendō took shape as a self-conscious system at one site (Mount Togakushi, Nagano ken) through a matrix of social, economic, and institutional elements. Offering an alternative to the often vague placement of Shugendō in terms of time and space, the book will provide a path forward in determining the historical parameters of the tradition’s formation with implications for study of other religious systems in East Asia.

A second project concerns the recent idea of ‘power spots’ (pawāsupotto), or places believed to possess numinous energies. This research includes fieldwork at various Shinto shrines with attention to ideological and economic tensions that have arisen from the new designation among residential priests, shrine visitors, and the National Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō). Carter’s research has been supported by grants from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the Japan Foundation.

Dovetailing these research interests, Caleb Carter’s courses center on themes regarding pilgrimage, sacred space, narrative, gender, and ecology. His courses include “Vernacular Figures in Japanese Religions,” “Place in Japanese Religions,” “Buddhism and the Environment,” “Shamans, She-Devils, and Pilgrims: Women and Gender in East Asian Religions,” and “Monsters, Demons & Ghosts: Folklore and Festival in Japan.” His survey course in IMAP overviews the major schools of Japanese religions (the Nara schools, Esoteric Buddhism, Pure Land movements, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shinto, Shugendō, and newer religions) alongside topics such as religious pluralism, popular devotion, women’s involvement, and mountain rituals. He also teaches a translation course on Japanese Buddhist texts. In the spring of 2019, he co-led a weeklong field-based course with Prof. Van Goethem on shrines, temples, and other significant cultural sites in central and eastern Kyushu.

Carter received his B.A. in Continental Philosophy from Colorado College (2000) and his M.A. (2008) and Ph.D. (2014) in Buddhist Studies, both from the Asian Languages and Cultures Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. His dissertation research included two years of residence as a visiting scholar at Keio University with frequent trips to his project site (Togakushisan). Upon completion of his PhD, he taught undergraduate courses and graduate seminars at UCLA, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in the Program of East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He came to Kyudai in 2018. 


“The Demonic Landscape: Oni Legends and the Making of Japan’s Early Modern Countryside.” Japan Forum (Nobuko Toyosawa, guest editor) (in press).

 “Power Spots and the Charged Landscape of Shinto.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 45, no. 1, 2018: 147–175.

 “Constructing a Place, Fracturing a Geography: The Case of the Japanese Tendai Cleric Jōin.” History of Religions 56, no. 3, 2017: 289–310.

 “Jōin no tsukurikaeta Sannō Ichijitsu Shintō: Togakushisan no ichi wo meggute” 乗因の作り変えた山王一実神道―戸隠山の位置をめぐって [Jōin’s Transformation of Sannō Ichijitsu Shintō: Considering the Role of Mount Togakushi]. Kikan Nihon Shisōshi 季刊日本思想史, vol. 82, 2017: 90–106.