Tim Graf

Tim Graf


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Personal profile


I hold a PhD in religious studies (11/2017) and an MA in Japanese studies (07/2009) from the University of Heidelberg. Before starting as a Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester in September 2022, I had a full-time appointment at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya (2018-2022), where I was also involved in the editing of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.

In Japan, I conducted postgraduate research as a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) at the University of Tokyo (2010-2011), and as a Research Assistant at Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Law in Sendai (2013/2014). During my tenure at Nanzan, I also a held teaching positions at Aichi Gakuin University (2020-2022), Kyushu University (2021), and Nagasaki University (2022). 

Research interests

My research interests focus on modern and contemporary Japanese Buddhism, and more broadly deal with the interplay of religious practice and modern social change.


I authored articles on the following subjects:

  • transformation of Buddhist mortuary practices
  • global Zen Buddhism
  • theories of religious aesthetics
  • fieldwork methods, especially the use of film in fieldwork
  • Buddhist responses to disasters and crises
  • spiritual care.

My latest research-based films on Japanese Buddhism for classroom use present perspectives on:


I am currently revising my first monograph, tentatively titled Zen and Fear: Meditation and Crisis Evocation at a Japanese Buddhist Prayer Monastery. Based on seven years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in Japan, the book explores prayer rituals (kitō) for disaster and crisis management beyond the idea of these rituals as a response to calamity. Instead, I show how the sensation of prayer as found in prayer monasteries evokes a sense of crisis, danger, and urgency, especially in times of peace.

Prayer monasteries stand out from the majority of Buddhist parish temples – not only in terms of size, popularity, and economic clout, but also in terms of practice and as sites of priestly training. My study shows how prayer rituals and the sensation of crisis and fear have shaped the core structure of monastic education and the licensing of priests independently from orthodox claims in the Sōtō Zen sect, where kitō is neither prohibited nor fully accepted. More broadly, the book will provide important context for understanding the ongoing negotiation of religion in post-disaster Japan into a social contributor.


To date, I have received fellowships and grants by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Monbukagakushō; MEXT), SFB 619 Ritualdynamik (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG), the Shikishima Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture, and the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan. My film Souls of Zen with Jakob Montrasio on Buddhism after the 2011 tsunami in Japan was nominated for a Golden Eye Award (Zurich Film Festival 2012).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Areas of expertise

  • BQ Buddhism
  • Temple Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Zen
  • BL Religion
  • material religion, Religionsästhetik, spiritual care, prayer, disaster, crisis, prayer, contemporary religiomns
  • PI Oriental languages and literatures
  • Japanese studies, contemporary Japan
  • GN Anthropology
  • ethnographic filmmaking, digital anthropology


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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