Institution: Columbia University

Position: Postdoctoral Research Scholar and Lecturer


Abigail I. MacBain is a postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures at Columbia University. She graduated from the same department with a PhD in Fall 2021, specializing in premodern Japanese religion and history. Abigail’s research focuses on religious transmission and its role in transregional communication, cultural development, and global awareness. In particular, she is interested in the circulation of Buddhist texts, ritual implements, sacred images, and the craftsmen, monks, and nuns who helped to transport and promote these items.

Her dissertation examined a group of Buddhist monks from various parts of the Asian mainland who relocated to Japan in the mid-eighth century and lived together at Daianji Temple in the then-capital of Nara. These monks were directly involved with the establishment of the Kegon School of Buddhism (based upon the Avatamsaka Sutra), participated in the eye-opening ceremony for the giant Vairocana daibutsu at Tōdaiji Temple, reformed monastic ordinations and precepts, and influenced religio-political initiatives at court.

Abigail’s research has earned her research, language, and writing grants from the Fulbright Program, the Blakemore Foundation, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Program, the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture, and the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. She has presented on her research at Columbia University, Doshisha Daigaku, Bukkyō Daigaku, McGill University and annual conferences for the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and American Academy of Religion (AAR).

In addition to these research interests, Abigail is heavily invested in creating professional development programming and resources for junior scholars and graduate students. She has written guidelines for selecting and applying to graduate programs as well as writing statements of purpose and project proposals, and she has also created a comprehensive fellowship database and an Academic Productivity Planner designed around major projects, such as dissertations and theses. These resources can be found on her website. She is also an active member of the PMJS and AAR Japanese Religions Unit steering committees.

Abigail I. MacBain