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I came to UH Mānoa in 1993, having just completed my PhD at Columbia University, where I specialized in Japanese religions, especially Zen in the early modern period. I had previously completed a graduate degree in Christian theology, and the combination of work in Asian and Abrahamic traditions has served me well here. Once at UH Mānoa, I developed expertise in the area of New Religions, where we explore a diverse array of new religious movements from both the East and West.

Early in my career, my research focused on Obaku Zen, the third and smallest denomination of Japanese Zen, which was introduced by a small group of Chinese monks in the 17th century. In my first book, Obaku Zen, I explored the development of the Obaku movement applying methodologies and theories developed for the study of New Religions. More recently, I shifted my focus to studying Zen groups outside of Japan, first in Hawai’i and now North America. My current research project, A Forty Year Retrospective of Zen in America, maps the growth and development of Zen communities in the United States from 1973 to 2014. For this project, I am partnering with a geographer to produce a series of interactive Story Maps that will soon be published online.


  • Columbia University, Ph.D. 1993, M.Phil. 1990 (Religion)
  • Princeton Theological Seminary, M.Div. 1984 (Theology)
  • Grinnell College, B.A. 1981 (Mathematics and Religious Studies)


Love, Rōshi: Correspondence between Robert Baker Aitken and his Distant Correspondents Albany: SUNY Press 2012.

Love, Rōshi explores the relationship between Robert Baker Aitken (1917–2010), American Zen teacher and author, and his distant correspondents, individuals drawn to Zen teachings and practice through books. It makes use of Aitken’s extensive correspondence preserved in an archive at the University of Hawai’i to provide a window to view the beliefs and practices of the least-studied—and a difficult to study—segment of the Western Buddhist community, Buddhist sympathizers and solo practitioners.

Iron Eyes: The Life and Teachings of the Obaku Zen Master Tetsugen Dōkō Albany: SUNY Press, 2006.

Iron Eyes focuses on the Japanese Zen master Tetsugen Doko (1630–1682), the best-known exponent of Ōbaku Zen, credited with producing the first complete wood block edition of the Chinese Buddhist scriptures in Japan. According to legend, Tetsugen raised funding for the project three times: twice his great compassion compelled him to spend the funds to save victims of natural disasters. The first half comprises chapters describing Tetsugen’s life, work, and teachings, as well as the legends related to him. The second half includes annotated translations of his major writings and several traditional biographies.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism New York: Rosen Publishing, 2002.

Over 1,700 in-depth entries from A to Z, containing information on the beliefs, practices, and history of Zen Buddhism as well as its most significant movements, organizations, and personalities. Complete with black-and-white photos throughout that illustrate the many aspects of Zen Buddhist culture and religion, including temples, relics, artifacts, and the ceremonial objects used by practitioners. Thoroughly cross-referenced entries guide the reader to related terms and concepts.

Obaku Zen: The Emergence of a Third Sect of Zen in Tokugawa Japan Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

This is the first detailed English-language study of the Obaku branch of Japanese Zen. Beginning its founding, the volume describes the conflicts and maneuverings within the Buddhist and secular communities that led to the emergence of Obaku as a distinctive institution during the early Tokugawa period.

Selected Articles

Courses Regularly Offered

  • REL 150 Introduction to the World’s Major Religions
  • REL 204 Understanding Japanese Religions
  • REL 308 Zen (Ch’an) Buddhist Masters
  • REL 333 Cults and New Religions
  • REL 356 Women and Religion
  • REL 433 Religion and Food
  • REL 475 Seminar on Buddhism: Buddhism in America
  • REL 661C Seminar on Japanese Religions
  • REL 680 Pedagogy in Religion
  • REL 695 Topics in Religious Studies: New Religious Movements

For complete course descriptions see UH Mānoa Course Catalog.

Sakamaki Hall A-303

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