The Department of Religion

at Williams College

JJ Josephson

Jason Ānanda Josephson

Chair & Associate Professor of Religion

Office: Hollander Hall, Rm 302

Phone: (413) 597-2339



M.T.S., Harvard University 2001

Ph.D., Stanford University 2006

Program Connections:

Asian Studies

Comparative Literature

Next Leave:  2015


· REL 101: “Introduction to the Study of Religion”
· REL 103: “The Way of Power: A History of Occult Knowledge and Practices” with Denise Buell
· REL 200: “Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion”
· REL 250 (ASST 250): “Saints, Scholars, and Immortals: Virtue Ethics in East Asia”
· REL 251 (ASST 251): “Zen Buddhism: History and Historiography”
· REL 257: “Gods and Demons in East Asian Religion”
· REL 259 (HIST 214): “Japanese Religions and the State”
· REL 290T: “Explorations of the Afterlife”
· REL 300: “Dialectics and the Archaeology of Knowledge”
· REL 301 (COMP 301): “Word Virus: Cultural Studies after the Linguistic Turn”
· REL 317 : “Disenchantment, Modernity, and the Death of God”
· REL 327 (COMP 327): “Theory After Postmodernism: New Materialisms and Realisms
· REL 337 (ASST 337, COMP 337): “Zen & Philosophy: The Kyoto School & Its Legacy”
· REL 401: “Senior Seminar: Genealogies of Religion”
· REL 402: “Senior Seminar: Cognitive Theories of Religion”

Research Areas

· East Asia: Japanese Religions, Japanese Philosophy, Japanese History (1600-1912), East Asian Buddhism.

· Theory: Theories of Religion, Continental Philosophy, Critical Theory, Science Studies, Structuralism and Post-Structuralisms, Cognitive Anthropology, Linguistics.

· The History of the European and American study of “Religion” culminating in the formation of Religious Studies as a discipline (1600-present).

· History of Science (East and West) (1600-present), History of Western Esotericism (Spiritualism, Theosophy, etc).

About Professor Josephson

Jason Ananda Josephson received his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University in 2006 and has held visiting positions at Princeton University, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris and Ruhr Universität, Germany. He has two primary research foci: the history of Japanese Religions and Theory more broadly. Common to both foci is an attempt to use the Japanese case to decenter received narratives in the study of religion and science. His main targets have been epistemological obstacles, the preconceived universals which serve as the foundations of various discourses. Josephson has also been working to articulate new research models for Religious Studies in the wake of the collapse of poststructuralism as a guiding ethos in the Humanities.

Japanese Religions: Josephson’s scholarship has concentrated dominantly on Japan in the Edo-Meiji Era (1600-1912), treating it as a central node in a series of semi-overlapping transnational networks. Drawing largely on sources written in Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch, he has worked on the importation of the Euro-American concepts of “religion,” “science,” and “secularism” into Japan and traced the sweeping changes—intellectual, legal, and cultural—that followed.

His manuscript, The Invention of Religion in Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2012), is the first study in any European language to reveal how Japanese officials, under extreme international pressure, came to terms with the Western concept of religion by “discovering” religion in Japan and formulating policies to guarantee its freedom.

Theory: Josephson’s secondary research arena is Continental Philosophy. Initially he was trained in Francophone poststructuralism (with a special attention to Foucault) and the phenomenology of the Kyoto School. But he has also been working on the legacy of the Hegelian dialectical tradition, especially as articulated by Adorno. Josephson juxtaposes these philosophical movements with contemporary insights from the fields of linguistics, conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte), and cognitive science. In each case, he has been particularly attentive to the role of “religion” in these philosophical systems. He has also been thinking about epistemology, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of science more broadly.

A tertiary area of specialization is European intellectual history (esp. English, French, German) from 1600-present with particular attention to the formation of the human sciences and the construction of Religious Studies as a discipline.

He is currently working on three book length manuscripts:

The first, The Myth of Disenchantmentwhich shows how the thesis that magic was a necessary victim of modernity (what Weber called Die Entzauberung der Welt) was ironically staked out in the very period in which Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult revivals. A piece of which has already been published, see “God’s Shadow: Occluded Possibilities in the Genealogy of ‘Religion’.” The second project, When Buddhism Became a Religion treats simultaneously the impact of the European encounter with Buddhism on the formation of Religious Studies as a discipline and the role of the Japanese Buddhist encounter with the category “religion” on the formation of Japanese Buddhism. Finally, Absolute Disruption:  The Future of Theory after Postmodernism attempts to extend the insights of the Hegelian tradition (particularly as articulated by the Frankfurt School) to one of the central impasses of the discipline of Religious Studies—the disintegration of its central term “religion.” It works out new methods for the study of religion by simultaneously radicalizing and moving past the postmodern turn. More info about this project can be found in his blog: Absolute Disruption.

Selected Publications


Book Reviews:

  • “Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism, edited by Jacqueline Stone and Mariko Walter.” Review Article. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. 12/2: 2010. 148–50.
  • “Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the Danka System, by Nam-lin Hur.” Review Article. History of Religions, 2009. 49/2, 206–8.
  • “Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition, by Judith Snodgrass.” Review Article. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 12: 2005, 80–3.

Recorded Talk:

  • Columbia University 2010: “Heretical Anthropology: The Imagined Buddhisms of Early Modern Japan”


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