Secularisation, R.I.P.? Nonsense! The ‘Rush Hour Away from the Gods’ and the Decline of Religion in Contemporary Japan

In: Journal of Religion in Japan
Ian Reader University of Manchester Manchester UK

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Sociologists of religion such as Rodney Stark and José Casanova have pronounced secularisation theories to be dead or a ‘myth,’ and in so doing they have often cited Japan as an example of the vigour of religion in the modern world. This article refutes their claims by examining the contemporary Japanese religious situation and showing that, far from being vibrant, religion, whether organised, institutional, or related to popular and folk practices, is in decline. It draws on extensive survey data to show that levels of faith, adherence and practice have decreased significantly, and that they do so especially in conjunction with rising levels of urbanisation and education—two conditions identified in secularisation theory as associated with religious decline. The study examines counter-claims that some areas (notably pilgrimage and ‘spirituality’) are growing in Japan, and shows that the reverse is true. Pilgrimages are losing support while there is evidence that the ‘turn to spirituality’—cited by some scholars as a replacement for organised religion—has petered out in Japan. Thus there is a strong secularising tendency in Japan that refutes the claims of those who wish to bury secularisation theory; as the Japanese case shows, it remains a potent force in the modern world.

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