My research interests can be divided into the following broad topics, all of which approach the perennially unanswerable question of how to define religion:

The Politics of Religious Freedom

Who defines what counts as “religion” and who gets to be free? How do shifting historical circumstances and cultural clashes dictate changes in conceptions of religious freedom? I address these questions and more in my forthcoming book Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan (appearing March 2019 in the Class 200 book series hosted by University of Chicago Press). Related articles have appeared in The Asian Journal of Law & Society (2016) and Religion Compass (2014). This research has been supported by Fulbright-IIE, the Whiting Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation.

The Problematic Subject of Religious Education

What sort of human does education make, and what does religion have to do with it? How do words like “morality,” “patriotism,” and “security” perform boundary-crossing functions that traverse the religion-secular divide? This ongoing research project has been supported by the Social Science Research Council and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

Religious Frames of Mind

How do illustrated media like comic books and animated films do religious work? Is there a way that the media logic of comics and cartoons (empaneling, encrustation, gutters, compositing) might help us think about religious world-building? Can fandom cultures provide ways of thinking anew about  pilgrimages, idols, and fetishes? Can animated films help us think differently about the politics of problematic buzzwords like “animism”? Publications on this topic include articles in Nova Religio (2007) and the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2012) as well as my 2012 book Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan. This research has been supported by the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation.

Religious Desires

Is it possible that widespread assumptions that “real religion” is ascetic, altruistic, prudish, and non-acquisitive distract us from the facts right under our noses? Might it be that religion is always-already characterized by raging lust and crass consumerism, or that religion is deeply implicated in capitalist political economy and sexual longing? Essays on this subject have appeared at Sacred Matters and in my 2016 article in Material Religion.