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Real and Imagined

Real and Imagined: The Peak of Gold in Heian Japan Harvard University Press, 2015

Find my complete cv here.

Heather Blair

Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 211


Ph.D,. Harvard University, 2008

Professional Biography

In my research, I draw from a wide range of sources—scriptures, diaries, material objects, picturebooks, prayers—to explore how religious dynamics shape everyday life. I am particularly interested in lay religiosity and intersections between visual culture and religion. These concerns play out in two main research trajectories: one focused on the religious history of Japan’s Heian period (794–1185) and another on religious imagery and ethics in modern and contemporary Japanese picturebooks.

My first monograph, Real and Imagined: The Peak of Gold in Heian Japan (2015), explores intersections between both place and text and ritual and politics in laymen’s pilgrimages to a Japanese mountain called Kinpusen (literally, the Peak of Gold). I am also working on a second book on lay religious practice; this is provisionally titled Kings, Ladies, and Literati: Religious Lifestyles in Heian Japan.

In my work on children’s literature, I explore how characters and values with recognizably religious pedigrees animate the rich body of secular picturebooks produced in Japan since the end of the Pacific War (a.k.a. World War II). In addition to article-length projects on hell, emotion, and representations of the natural world, I am writing a monograph titled The Gods Make You Giggle: Finding Religion in Postwar Japanese Picturebooks.

Many of my courses focus on Buddhism and other East Asian religions, but I also teach on religion and popular culture, religion and/as fantasy, and issues of place and landscape.




Real and Imagined: The Peak of Gold in Heian Japan. Harvard East Asia Monographs, no. 376. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015.

Selected Articles

“Mothers of the Buddhas: Scriptural Invention and Reproductive Soteriology in the Sutra on Transforming Women into Buddhas (Tennyo jōbutsukyō).” Monumenta Nipponica, 71, no. 2 (2016): 263–93.

“Ladylike Religion: Ritual and Agency in the Life of an Eleventh-Century Japanese Noblewoman.” History of Religions 56, no. 1 (2016): 1–22.

(with Kawasaki Tsuyoshi.) “Engi: Forging Accounts of Sacred Origins.” Editor’s Introduction. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 42, no. 1 (2015): 1–26.

“Shinshutsu ‘Gōki itsubun’ shōkai: Shirakawa-in no Kanji roku-nen no Mitake mōde o megutte” (Introduction to a newly discovered fragment of the Gōki: On Retired Emperor Shirakawa’s Kanji 6 [1092] pilgrimage to Kinpusen) and “‘Gōki itsubun’ honkoku” (Transcription of a fragment of the Gōki). Setsuwa bungaku kenkyū, 49 (2014): 32–46.

“Rites and Rule: Kiyomori at Fukuhara and Itsukushima.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 73, no. 1 (2013):1-42.

“Zaō Gongen: From Mountain Icon to National Treasure.” Monumenta Nipponica 66, no. 1 (2011):1-45.


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