The Robert Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions

The Legacy of Robert Morrell

The Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions commemorates the work of the late Professor Emeritus Robert E. Morrell, a specialist in Japanese literature and Buddhism who taught at Washington University for 34 years and who holds special significance for the campus, as Morrell was the first to teach a course on Buddhism. This annual series commemorates his life work by bringing distinguished scholars of Asian religions to campus.

An authority on Buddhist thought in classical Japanese literature, Morrell was author of Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report (1987), which focused on smaller and frequently overlooked Buddhist sects of the Kamakura period; and Sand and Pebbles: The Tales of Muju Ichien, A Voice for Pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism (1985), the first complete English rendering of Muju’s “Shasekishu” parables. To learn more about Morrell's life and work, read his obituary.



2020-2021 Morrell Memorial Lecture

Religious Self-Cultivation as Politics: Examples from Grassroots-Level Activism in Japan

February 11, 2021

Levi McLaughlin, Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, North Carolina State University

Though a majority of people in Japan self-identify in survey responses as “non-religious,” religions and religion-affiliated groups nonetheless wield significant influence on Japanese politics and policymaking. In this presentation, McLaughlin will draw on his recent ethnographic engagement with participants within the Association of Shinto Shrines, non-profit ethical training groups, and the Buddhist lay association Soka Gakkai, to shed light on how their quotidian engagements in local-level organizations shape the ideological dispositions and activities of institutions that guide voters and elected officials. The complex and at times paradoxical commitments of these grassroots-level activists, some of whom are devotees to Japanese nationalism who are not themselves Japanese and transgender lay Buddhists who work to perpetuate gender-divided religious administrations, also suggest how the operative categories “religion” and “politics” might be reassessed.

He is co-author of Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan (IEAS Berkeley, 2014) and author of Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan (University of Hawai`i Press, 2019).


Past Lectures


"Foxes, Gods and Monsters in the Edo Anthropocene"

Michael Bathgate (Saint Xavier University)


"Dreaming Religious Identity: Master Zhou's Communications with the Unseen World"

Robert Campany (Vanderbilt University)


"Gratitute and Treasuring Lives: Eating Animals in Contemporary Japanese Buddhism"

Barbara R. Ambros (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)