Asia Pacific Studies — Asian Studies — Cultural Anthropology — International Studies — Theology and Religious Studies
John  Nelson

John Nelson

Professor and Academic Director

John Nelson is Professor of East Asian religions in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco. He is the author of Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan (2013, University of Hawaii), two books on Shinto in contemporary Japan (A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine [1996], and Enduring Identities: the Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan [2000], numerous articles, and has produced two short documentary videos, "Spirits of the State: Japan's Yasukuni Shrine" (2005) and "Japan's Rituals of Remembrance: 50 Years after the Pacific War" (1997). He co-edited the reference volume titled Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions (Brill, 2012).

He has received extended research fellowships from the Japan Foundation (2006), as well as the the Social Science Research Council, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Niwano Foundation. During his 2013 sabbatical year, he spent seven months traveling through Japan, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Turkey, Greece, and Germany. Along the way, he gave six public lectures, had numerous adventures, and gained a greater understanding of the relationship between religion and globalization. His travel blog and many photos can be found at

As a cultural anthropologist, Nelson's research and publications explore the interaction between religion and politics in East Asia, with a current emphasis on global dynamics and rapid social change.  He is also interested in transnationalism, constructions of gender and cultural identity, social memory, and sites designated as "sacred."  


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Administrative Appointments

Academic Director, Master of Asia Pacific Studies, USF Center for the Pacific Rim

Research Areas

Contemporary Japanese religion
Religion and globalization
Buddhist studies
The anthropology of religion
Sacred place and space
Visual anthropology

Courses Offered
  • Religion and Globalization
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Buddhist Paths in Asia and North America
  • Japanese Religions and Society
  • Religion and Spirituality in Asia
  • Anthropology of Religion
2013  Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
2012a Japan's Secularities and the Decline of Temple Buddhism. Journal of Religion in Japan, v. 1 (1): 37-60.
2012b The Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions. Inken Prohl and John Nelson, editors. Leiden: Brill.
2011 Global and Domestic Challenges Confronting Buddhist Institutions in Japan. Journal of Global Buddhism.v. 12, winter issue (
2010 Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism for the 21st Century. Tricycle Magazine. Winter, pp. 43-44, 111.
2010 Japanese Religious Traditions. World Religions: Eastern Tradition, a university-level textbook edited by R. Amore. London and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2008 Household Altars in Contemporary Japan: Rectifying Buddhist "Ancestor Worship" with Home Décor and Consumer Choice. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 35 (2).
2007 Teaching Ritual Propriety and Authority through Japanese Religions. Teaching Ritual. Catherine Bell, editor. New York: Oxford University Press.
2007 Traversing Religious and Legal Boundaries in Postwar Nagasaki: an Interfaith Ritual for the Spirits of the Dead. Multiculturalism in the New Japan: Crossing the Within. N. Graburn, J. Ertl, K. Tierney, eds. Oxford: Berghahn Press.

Religion, Globalization, Zen, Buddhism