Paula K. Arai

Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies

Program advisor, Certificate in Soto Zen Buddhist Studies


Paula Arai joins the faculty in January 2023 from her position as the Gopal Singhal Professorship at Louisiana State University. Her work is grounded in ethnographic research while applying a broader historical and cultural comparative lens to her interpretations. She engages in immersive poetic storytelling as a medium for conveying the experiential dimension of Buddhist practices and teachings. As a specialist in Japanese Sōtō Zen women, Arai trained at the Aichi Senmon Nisōdō nunnery under the tutelage of Aoyama Shundō Rōshi and has maintained decades-long relationships with the Japanese laywomen who figure in her studies. Arai has received generous grant support from such sources as the Fulbright Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, Mellon Foundation, American Academy of Religion, and Reischauer Institute of Harvard University. She curated exhibits of a Japanese scientist’s Heart Sutra paintings at museums, universities, and conferences over the past eight years. Active as a public speaker, Arai also leads workshops on healing rituals and presents in a range of Buddhist settings.

Ph.D., Harvard University (Comparative Religion; Japanese Buddhism, 1993)
M.A., Harvard University (Buddhist Studies, 1987)
M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School (History of Religions, 1985)
B.A., Kalamazoo College (Music; Religion, 1983)

Research and Teaching Interests:
Buddhist Women
Buddhist Healing and Medicine
Research Methodology and Theory
Buddhist Contemplative Arts
Ritual Practices
Lived Religion in Contemporary Society
Religiosity in Japan
Comparative Religion and Religious Dialogue

Select Publications:

  • Women Living Zen: Japanese Sōtō Buddhist Nuns. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals. University of
    Hawaii Press, 2011.
  • Painting Enlightenment: Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra–The Buddhist Art of
    Iwasaki Tsuneo. Shambhala Publications, 2019.
  • Oxford University Press Handbook of Buddhist Practice, Co-edited with Kevin Trainor.
    Oxford University Press, 2022.
  • The Little Book of Zen Healing: Japanese Rituals for Beauty, Harmony, & Love.
    Shambhala Publications, 2023.

HRPH-4556: Buddhist Women’s Liberating Power