Abigail MacBain

Lecturer in Premodern Japanese Studies


Abigail MacBain is a scholar of premodern Japanese history and religion.

Prior to joining the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh in autumn 2022, Abigail was a Postdoctoral Research Scholar and lecturer at Columbia University, where she also completed her PhD in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures in 2021.  Her dissertation, "Precepts and Performances: Overseas Monks and the Emergence of Cosmopolitan Japan," examined the circumstances behind the relocations of several Buddhist monks from various parts of the Asian mainland to Japan in the mid-eighth century. She also looked at their influence on the religious, cultural, and political affairs of the period. 

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 Princeton University, Columbia University, Doshisha Daigaku, Bukkyō Daigaku, and annual conferences for the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and American Academy of Religion (AAR).



PhD (2021) - Columbia University, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

MA (2008) - McMaster University, Department of Religious Studies

BA (2004) - St. Lawrence University, Departments of Religious Studies and History-Asian Studies


2021-2022 - Columbia University; Postdoctoral Research Scholar, lecturer

2018-2019 - Kyoto University; Visiting Researcher, Fulbright Graduate Research Fellow

2014-2018 - Columbia University; Teaching Assistant (intermittent)

2009-2013 - Consulate General of Japan in Miami; JET Programme Coordinator and  Coordinator for Educational & Cultural Affairs 

2006-2008 - McMaster University; Teaching Assistant

2004-2006 - JET Programme; Assistant Language Teacher, Aomori Prefecture

Responsibilities & affiliations

Steering Committee:

American Association of Religion (AAR), Japanese Religions Unit


Edinburgh Buddhist Studies


Association for Asian Studies (AAS) 

American Academy of Religion (AAR)

Society for the Study of Japanese Religions (SSJR) 

British Association for Japanese Studies (BAJS)

Research summary

 Abigail's research focuses on religious transmission and its role in transregional communication, cultural development, and global awareness at the early Japanese court. In particular, she is interested in the circulation of Buddhist texts, ritual implements, sacred images, and musical entertainment. 

Current research interests

-Japanese overseas relations -Buddhist transmission -Silk Road studies -Religions interactions and exchanges -Shōsōin studies

Past research interests

-Mountain-based religious movements -Honji-suijaku; Shinto-Buddhist syncretic practice -Monastic precepts (vinaya)