Paula Arai


Associate Professor

Ph.D.: Comparative Religion (Buddhist Studies), Harvard University, 1993

Phone: (225) 578-2274
Office: 101 Coates


Paula Arai obtained her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University in 1993. In the following years, she taught at Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, and Carleton College. In 2007, she joined the Religious Studies faculty at LSU. From 2010 to 2013, she served as the section head for Religious Studies. She is also a member of the faculties of Asian Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and Chinese Culture & Commerce.


Areas of Interest

Dr. Arai’s areas of interest in teaching and research include Buddhist traditions; East Asian Religions, especially religiosity in Japan; Field Research Methodology and Theory; Lived Religion in Contemporary Society; the interface and interplay of Healing, Medicine, and Religion; Ritual Studies; Women and Religion; and Comparative Religion and Religious Dialogue. She teaches courses in Buddhism, Asian Religions, and theories of religion. 

Her first book, Women Living Zen, changes the face of Zen scholarship with the restoration of women to historical accounts and a reassessment of religious practice and institutional patterns in light of prevailing gender relationships. Her second book, Bringing Zen Home, is an ethnography that focuses on the healing dimension of ritualized activities embedded in the daily lives of women in contemporary Japan. Her third book,Visual Wisdom: Integrating Everyday and Ultimate Reality, is currently in progress. It introduces the oeuvre of Japanese Buddhist research scientist Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002). Through trained scientific eyes and a mind poised to transmit the insights he gained over a lifetime that spanned the horrors of WWII and multiple scientific and technological advances, Iwasaki created an artistic genre that integrates Buddhist scripture into images; yet it does not depend on reading––nor even an investment in a particular religious institution––to communicate a wisdom and vision aimed to empower people to make meaning out of personal and global challenges facing our modern world.


Courses Offered

  • REL 2027 Asian Religions
  • REL 4010 Religion & Healing
  • REL 4035 Woman and Buddhism
  • REL 4301 Theories of Religion
  • REL 4800 Buddhism


Awards and Honors

  • ATLAS (Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars), Louisiana Board of Regents, 2008-09
  • Mellon Faculty Fellowship through Carleton College, 2005
  • American Academy of Religion Research Assistance Grant, 2004
  • Carleton College Targeted Opportunity Grant, 2003
  • Vanderbilt University Research Council Direct Research Grant, 2000
  • Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant, 1998
  • American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, 1998
  • Vanderbilt University Research Council Direct Research Grant, 1998
  • Vanderbilt University Research Council Summer Research Grant, 1995
  • Vanderbilt University Research Council Direct Research Grant, 1995
  • Hong Kong University of Science & Technology Research Grant, 1993-94
  • Fulbright Dissertation Grant, 1989-90
  • Edwin O. Reischauer Institute Summer Research Grant, 1989
  • Lilly Foundation Research Grant to study Asian-American Christians, 1988-89
  • Vanderbilt University Venture Fund Award for Teaching, 2000
  • Vanderbilt University Venture Fund Award for Teaching, 1995
  • Japanese American Citizen’s League Scholarship, 1986
  • Fan E. Sherwood Memorial Prize in Music, 1982, 1983
  • Marion H. Dunsmore Prize in Religion, 1983


Selected Publications


  • Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011.
  • Women Living Zen:  Japanese Sōtō Buddhist Nuns. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.


  • Curator, "Seeing the Wisdom of Compassion: The Art & Science of the Heart Sutra," Jodo Shinshu Center, Berkeley, CA, June 25, 2016.
  • Guest Curator, LSU Museum of Art, "Painting Enlightenment: Experiencing Wisdom & Compassion Through Art & Science," Sept. 8-Nov. 27.

Articles in Academic Journals

  • “The Dead As ‘Personal Buddhas’: Japanese Ancestor Rites as Healing Rites.” Pacific World Third Series, 5 (Fall 2003): 3-17.
  • “Discovering Sōtō Zen Nuns’ Contributions to Japanese Buddhism and Culture.” Zen Kenkyūjō Kiyō [Journal of the Institute for Zen Studies Aichigakuin University] 28 (1999): 246-230.
  • “Exploring Strategies for Research on Buddhist Women.” Hikaku Shisō Kenkyū [Studies in Comparative Philosophy] 25 (May 1999): 13-23.
  • “Nuns: Japanese Buddhism’s Living Treasures.” Hikaku Shisō Kenkyū [Studies in Comparative Philosophy]17 (1990): 189-184.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

  • “The Zen of Healing: Making Friends with Chronic Illness” in Chronic Illness, Spirituality, and Healing: Diverse Disciplinary Cultural Perspectives. Ed. Michael Stotzfus, Rebecca Green, and Darla Schumm. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2013.
  • “Women and Dōgen: Rituals of Empowerment and Healing.” Pages 185-204 in Zen Ritual. Ed. by Steve Heine and Dale Wright. NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • "Medicines, Healing, and Spiritualities: A Cross-Cultural Exploration." Pages 207-18 in Teaching Religion and Healing. Ed. by L. Barnes & I. Talamantez. NY: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • “Japanese Buddhist Nuns’ Ritual of Gratitude and Empowerment.” Pages 119-30 in Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women: Tradition, Revision, Renewal. Ed. by Ellison Findley.  Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.
  • “Sōtō Zen no Nisō––Nihon Bukkyō to Bunka e no Kōken” [Sōtō Zen Nuns: Contributions to Japanese Buddhism and Culture]. Pages 443-74 in Zen no Sekai. Ed. by Aichi Gakuin Zen Kenkyujo. Nagoya: Kikodo Shoten, 2000. [Japanese translation of excerpts from Women Living Zen, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999]
  • “A Case of Ritual Zen: Gratitude to Ānanda.” Pages 123-29 in Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Ed. by Karma Lekshe Tsomo. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000.
  • “Japanese Buddhist Nuns:  Innovators for the Sake of Tradition.” Pages 105-22 in Buddhist Women Across Cultures: Realizations. Ed. by Karma Lekshe Tsomo. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • “Sōtō Zen Nuns in Modern Japan: Keeping and Creating Tradition.” Pages 203-18 in Religion & Society in Modern Japan. Ed. by Mark Mullins, Shimazono Susumu, and Paul Swanson. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1993.

Other Academic Publications

  • “Japanese Women and Healing Rituals” in Medicine and Meditation: Conversations on Mindfulness in the Management of Chronic Pain and Illness. Nancy Welch, Interviewer. Bellingham, WA: Welch, 2011:  129-143.
  • “Shintō and Christianity.” In Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity. Ed. by Daniel Patte. (forthcoming)
  • “Healing Zen: Japanese Buddhist Women’s Rituals of Transformation.” American Academy of Religion Religious Studies News. (Fall 2006): 37 & 46.
  • “Medicines, Healing, and Spiritualities: A Cross-Cultural Exploration.” American Academy of Religion Religious Studies News Spotlight on Teaching. (May 2004): x. [excerpts from chapter in edited volumeTeaching Religion and Healing]
  • “To Marry or Not: Japanese Male Clerics Say ‘Yes!’” Review of Richard M. Jaffe. Neither Monk Nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism. Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001. H-Buddhism.
  • “Zen.” In Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge. Ed. by Cheris Kramarae and Dale Spender. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Articles in Non-refereed Journals

  • “Seeing Buddha in Our Midst.” Dharma World, Vol. 40 (July-Sept. 2013): 15-17.
  • “Buddagaya no Kakureta Takaramono” [“A Hidden  Treasure in Bodh Gaya”]. Otayori 105 (Winter 1995): 22-26.
  • “In Memory of an Invincible Nun: Kojima Kendō (1898-1995).” Newsletter on International Buddhist Women’s Activities 12.1 (Oct.-Dec. 1995): 14-15.
  • “Japan: Monastic Women in Cultural and Historical Context.” Seeds of Peace 10.1 (Jan. -Apr. 1994): 17-19.
  • “Glimpses of a Zen Community of Women.” Dharma World 21 (Mar/Apr 1994): 33-40.
  • “Waga Nisōkan” [“My Perspective on Buddhist Nuns”]. Otayori, 100th Commemorative Volume (Summer, 1992): 12-15.