Gwendolyn Gillson

Gwendolyn Gillson
PhD student
M.A. University of Iowa; M.L.I.S. University of Oklahoma
401 Gilh
Curriculum Vitae: 

Gwendolyn is a PhD Candidate in Religious Studies, focusing on Japanese Religions. She works with Dr. Morten Schlütter and Dr. Melissa Anne-Marie Curley of Ohio State University.

Born in Edmond, Oklahoma, she graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota in 2009 with a BA (magna cum laude) in Religion. In 2012 she received an MLIS in Archives from the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The fall of that year she began her doctoral studies that the University of Iowa and in 2015 received an MA in Religious Studies en route to her PhD.

Selected as a Graduate Research Fellow for the Japan-United State Fulbright Commission, she is currently conducting fieldwork for her dissertation entitled “Women Creating the Pure Land: Socially Engaged Buddhism in Japan’s Jōdo Sect.” Her ethnographic work uses a transnational feminist lens to examine the ways that older and younger women in the Japanese Pure Land Sect are transforming religion through Engaged Buddhist projects to address issues rising from Japan’s demographic challenge.

In the spring of 2016, she designed and acted as the instructor of record for “Religion and Social Life: Cults, New Religious Movements, and the End of the World.”

She enjoys cooking, baking, reading fiction, and spending time with her husband John, and her cat Herne.

For additional information, see her website:

Research Interests: 
Pure Land Buddhism, Japanese Religions, Women’s Religion, Socially Engaged Buddhism, Transnational Feminism, Lived Religion, Buddhism in America
Courses Taught: 
  • Religion and Social Life: Cults, New Religious Movements, and the End of the World
  • Bible and the Holocaust
  • Introduction to Buddhism
  • Women and Islam in the Middle East
  • Religions in a Global Context
  • Religion and Liberation
Awards, Honors and Grants: 
  • U.S. Fulbright Graduate Research Fellow, Japan-United States Fulbright Commission, 2016-2017
  • Presidential Graduate Research Fellowship, University of Iowa, 2012-2018
  • Japanese Studies Doctoral Fellowship, Japan Foundation, 2016-2017, declined
  • Graduate Fellow, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy, 2016
  • Alice Lampe Heidel and John B. Heidel Teaching Award, University of Iowa, 2016
  • Louis B. Penningroth Scholarship for Teaching and Mentoring, University of Iowa, 2015
  • Kansai Summer Language Institute Grant, Japan Foundation, 2014
  • Theta Alpha Kappa, University of Iowa, 2014
  • Beta Phi Mu, Lambda of Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma, 2013
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Eta of Minnesota, Gustavus Adolphus College, 2009


  • Student Director, Upper Midwest Region of the American Academy of Religion, 2015-2017
  • Student Representative, Upper Midwest Region of the American Academy of Religion, 2015-2017
  • Co-President, Religious Studies Graduate Student Organization, University of Iowa, 2015-2016
  • Religious Studies Senator, Graduate Student Senate, University of Iowa, 2012-2015
  • Chair, Graduate Student Success Committee, University of Iowa, 2014-2015
  • Grant Reviewer, Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, University of Iowa, 2013-2014
  • Mentor Program Chair, Religion Graduate Student Organization, University of Iowa, 2014
  • Conference Planner, Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference Committee, University of Iowa, 2012-2013
  • President and Founder, Society of American Archivists at the University of Oklahoma, 2011-2012