The Conceptual Formation of the Category “Religion” in Modern Japan: Religion, State, Shintō*

In: Journal of Religion in Japan
Jun’ichi Isomae 磯前順一 International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, Japan

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The Japanese word shūkyō was originally a coined word occurring in Chinese Buddhist dictionaries, but it became used as the translation for the English word “religion” when the English word was transmitted to Japan from the West after the opening of the country at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, a new kind of Japanese language treating Shintō and Buddhism as ‘religions’ was born, with Christianity forming the axis, but while still intertwined with Buddhism and Shintō. Bearing in mind the Protestant influence on acculturation processes in Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period, this paper aims to offer an overview of how the term “religion” became embedded in Japan and how the Meiji government dealt with the competition of Shintō against Christianity and Buddhism. In that context it touches upon crucial historical and social developments such as the clash between science and religion of the late 1870s and the opposition between the state and religion in the early 1890s, together with well-known incidents such as the Uchimura Kanzō affair. The paper focuses in particular on the period from the end of the early modern Edo regime through the end of the Meiji period and analyzes how views of religious issues underwent transition within Japan.

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