Mobility and the Message: The Spread of Buddhism in Ancient Japan


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Department of Religion


How did Buddhism spread? My proposed project offers one answer through a case study of provincial preaching in ancient Japan (seventh through ninth centuries). Buddhism expanded rapidly at this time; the number of temples grew from 45 in 624 to over 4,000 by 838. To explain this transformation, I use manuscript and archaeological evidence such as preaching notes and inscribed pottery to highlight the role of wayfaring preachers traveling along roads in introducing Buddhism to provincial villages. It is the first monograph in English to document the expansion of Buddhism to the Japanese periphery. It addresses theoretical questions of religious dissemination by advancing a model that emphasizes the need for both mobility along infrastructural networks and skillful messaging by preachers.