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Volume Editors: Ugo Dessì and Christoph Kleine
This volume brings together contributions that, from different disciplinary perspectives, highlight certain aspects and problems related to the configuration of the relationship between the religious and the secular in Japan. In the background stands the question of the historical path dependencies that lead to the formation of a specifically Japanese secularity. Based on the assumption that existing epistemic and social structures shape the way in which Western concepts of secularism were appropriated, the individual case studies demonstrate that the culturally specific appropriation of Western regulatory principles such as secularism has created problems that are of political relevance in contemporary Japan.

Abstract

The popularity of Christian weddings represents the new widespread acceptance and popularity of a religious ceremony that sits at the intersection the familial, social, commercial, political, and religious. These rites challenge established preconceptions concerning both Christianity and Japanese identity. The postwar history of Christian wedding ceremonies is best understood in light of the efforts made by traditional Christian churches and the bridal industry to meet the religious demands of Japan’s largely “nonreligious” constituency. In responding to the needs and desires of nonreligious Japanese, commercial and religious institutions not only cooperate to produce and provide Christian weddings, but also compete to satisfy expectations for religious authenticity. There are no better examples of this than the efforts made by Christian churches to open their doors to individuals with no espoused Christian faith and the production of the bridal industry’s fleet of “wedding churches.” As such, Japan’s massive nonreligious constituency has contributed to the creation of a unique form of Christianity particular to Japan.

In: Journal of Religion in Japan

Abstract

Despite its doctrinal importance, the concept of karma or karmic causality has come to occupy a complicated place in contemporary Japanese Buddhism, due to its historical connection with discrimination against outcast groups and disabled people. Furthermore, among post-war Japanese intellectuals, the idea of karma has often invoked criticism in the context of modern values such as free will and human potential. Against this conventional framework, this paper demonstrates how the concept of karma was the focus of intense interest among Meiji Japanese intellectuals and a center concern in the developing global network of modern Buddhists. At the intersection of the multifaceted problems facing the Buddhist world at that time—namely, the Buddhist search for scientific religion, civil morality in the nation-building process, reformulating Buddhism for non-Japanese audiences, and the confrontation with competing forms of Western thought—lies the relatively unexamined story of karma in Meiji Japan (1868–1912).

In: Journal of Religion in Japan

Abstract

This paper clarifies why the characters sei 聖 and zoku 俗 were adopted as the Japanese translations for the terms “sacred” and “profane,” respectively, as well as the circumstances in which these characters took on a diversity of meanings that go beyond those terms in contemporary society at large. While the character zoku has acquired various meanings over its long history, its fundamental nuance is the “general,” in contrast to the particular; accordingly, it only acquires a concrete meaning when contrasted with something else. This ambiguity led to its adoption as the translation of “profane,” as well as the continued expansion of the sei-zoku set’s meaning, resulting in a paired set that can refer to “something mysterious and something not mysterious.” When discussing the above, I also engage with international scholarship on how the cultural background of non-Western societies influenced the meanings and interpretations of imported modern Western concepts.

In: Journal of Religion in Japan