Levi McLaughlin

Associate Professor

Picture of Levi McLaughlin


Levi McLaughlin is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Carolina State University, where he teaches courses on religion in Asia, religion and politics, religion and development, and methodology of the study of religion. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University after previous study at the University of Tokyo, and he holds a B.A. and M.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto. He has worked as a research assistant at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and was a visiting research fellow at the University of Michigan's Center for Japanese Studies, the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, and the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Iowa. He was previously an Assistant Professor of Religion at Wofford College.

Levi’s research focuses primarily on religion in modern and contemporary Japan and considers how the category “religion” takes shape in the contexts of politics, education, and related spheres. He is the first non-member, non-Japanese researcher to spend years as a participant observer of Soka Gakkai, a highly influential lay Buddhist organization that is affiliated with the political party Komeito (part of Japan’s ruling coalition) and claims the largest membership of any modern Japanese religious organization. His publications and presentations to date have centered on grassroots-level experiences of Soka Gakkai members, and his research considers how this organization challenges widely accepted religion parameters through its doctrinal, cultural, and political initiatives. Levi’s most recent scholarship builds on this project to investigate religious dimensions of contemporary Japanese politics by expanding on his Soka Gakkai and Komeito research to investigate a burgeoning network of religious and religion-affiliated nationalists who wield significant influence on government in Japan today through Shinto organizations, ethics training groups, corporations, and other ideologically motivated activism.

Since 2011, Levi has researched religious responses to earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in Japan. This research has taken him to the evacuation zones of Fukushima, into family homes in temporary housing facilities adjacent to communities devastated by the tsunami across Japan’s northeast, and more recently to Kumamoto in the south, which was battered by an earthquake in April 2016. He has published and presented widely on this topic and is now applying his findings to theoretical investigations of ways post-disaster religious aid initiatives in Japan are contributing to global discourses on healing, spirituality, and trauma.

Articles and book chapters by Levi appear in English and Japanese in The Asia-Pacific JournalAsian EthnologyJapanese Journal of Religious Studies, the Journal of the American Academy of ReligionSekai, the Social Science Japan Journal, and other publications. Levi is co-author and co-editor of Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan (IEAS Berkeley, 2014) and co-editor of the special issue "Salvage and Salvation: Religion and Disaster Relief in Asia" (Asian Ethnology, June 2016). His book Soka Gakkai's Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan was published by the University of Hawai`i Press in 2019.

Levi was on leave during academic 2018-2019 as a Luce / ACLS Fellow in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs. He spent academic 2019-2020 as the Toyota Visiting Professor of Japanese Studies at the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan.

Teaching and Research Interests

Asian religions (particularly traditions of Japan and China), history of modern Asia, theories and methodologies of the study of religion, religion and politics in Asia, Buddhism, anthropology of religion, fieldwork methodology, and religion and development.

Further details can be found at https://levimclaughlin.com/


  • Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University, 2009
  • M.A. in East Asian Studies from University of Toronto, 1998
  • B.A. in Japanese Studies from University of Toronto, 1996