When Japanese Buddhists faced the challenge of materialistic natural sciences in the last decades of the nineteenth century, their responses were not uniform. Some advocated a unity of science and religion in the sense that Buddhism was thought to be substantially compatible with the findings of modern natural science, while others argued for a separation of domains, salvaging for religion a sphere of life that would remain unaffected by modern rationalist forms of critique. Yet, both sides already argued from within a logic of the secular/non-secular, thus showing that, next to political demands, the challenges posed by modern science were an important catalyst for the emergence of expressions of secularity in modern Japan. This article attempts to make sense of the diverse Buddhist self-articulations vis-à-vis modern science by differentiating chronologically, by sect, and by addressee, thus seeking out patterns to explain the contemporaneity of opposing positions within Japanese Buddhism.
Starting from the premise that the diversity of forms for distinguishing between ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’ (i.e., multiple secularities) in global modernity is the result of different cultural preconditions in the appropriation of Western normative concepts of secularism, I would like to offer a modest contribution to the understanding of the corresponding cultural preconditions in Japan. I will try to show that the specific—and at first glance, relatively unproblematic—appropriation of secularity as a regulatory principle in modern Japan is to some extent path dependent on relatively stable and durable epistemic and social structures that have emerged in the course of ‘critical junctures’ in history. In this context, I would like to put up for discussion my hypothesis that some decisions taken in the period between the sixth and eighth centuries CE regarding the organisation of the relationship between ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’ generated path dependencies that were effective well into the nineteenth century.
This article suggests a way for scholars of Japanese religion to contribute to the international discussion on “nones” or the “non-religious,” who have been characterized as “believing without belonging,” “belonging without believing,” “believing in belonging,” etc. by integrating three different discursive arenas: one on multiple secularities as a context-conscious reexamination of functional differentiation; one on Japanese modernization centered on the idea of ie (household)-mura (village community); and one on a recent Japanese obsession with tsunagari (relationships, connection) and shōnin (recognition). The article argues that Japanese non-religiousness in the 2010s is an updated, self-conscious version of “religion as human relationships,” which can be paraphrased as “practicing belonging.” Moreover, while the current “religion as human relationships” practiced among young people tends to be confined to the intimate sphere, its traditional version regulated the public sphere as well. It was this public sphere of “religion as human relationships” that came to appear secular, as opposed to World Religions as matters of personal choice, in the process of modernization, which included the adoption of the Western concepts of “religion” and “secular.” The article also suggests that a “relationships turn” has been taking place not only in nonreligious rituals and festivals but also in spiritual culture and institutionalized religion.
Searching for conceptual distinctions between religion and medicine is a promising avenue from which to reconstruct trajectories towards the appropriation of hegemonic Western concepts of secularism in Japan, such as the Meiji-period separation of religious and medical practice. Buddhism and medicine had already established a complex relationship for centuries when the Jesuits arrived in Japan. Mahāyāna Buddhist tenets, such as the practice of medicine as a “field of merit” (fukuden 福田), served lay Buddhists as well as monastics as a means to increase social capital through charitable projects. The article seeks to explore whether the Jesuits’ distinction between religion and medicine, and by extension the notion of charity, had any significant impact on Japanese religious and medical culture. In making a distinction between religion and medicine, the Jesuits drew a particular boundary in a way that could be interpreted as a precursor of secularity. The analysis of late medieval and early modern sources in European languages and in Japanese supports the conclusion that the form of secularity emerging in the Edo period resulted from an increase in the popularization of Neo-Confucian concepts and not the influx of the Catholic notion of caritas in the Iberian phase.
This paper aims to show, primarily through analysis of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century jōruri 浄瑠璃 plays, the radical changes in the vision of salvation shared among ordinary people, focusing especially on Jōruri monogatari 浄瑠璃物語, Sonezaki shinjū 曽根崎心中 and Kinpira jōruri 金平浄瑠璃, and highlights how such changes are related to contemporary social processes of secularization. José Casanova famously claimed that the classical concept of secularization as the decline of religious belief is not adequate for the task of understanding general historical processes. Nevertheless, an equivalent to this process of religious decline is an important phenomenon in early modern Japan. In this secularization process, Japanese people of the early modern period sought more secular visions of salvation. Strong, persistent attention to kokoro 心 (mind or spirit), regarded as the means of realizing secular values such as wealth or happiness, was an expression of these concerns. Analyzing jōruri plays reveals how the increasing power of the centralized state, defeating religious powers one by one, became the key to changing people’s visions of salvation and thus, of secularization processes.
The category “heritage” is quickly gaining importance for the study of religion, not least in East Asia. Since the 1990s, Japanese governments, entrepreneurs, and NGO s have invested heavily in heritage preservation, production, and promotion, and other East Asian countries have followed suit. UNESCO recognition is sought after by various state and private actors, who see it as a useful tool for validating and popularising select historical narratives and for acquiring national and international legitimacy. These developments have led to far-reaching transformations in worship sites and ritual practices. Drawing on recent Japanese examples, and comparing these to cases elsewhere in the region, this article constitutes a first step towards a theory of the heritagisation of religion in East Asia. It argues that the heritagisation of worship sites often entails a process of deprivatisation, turning them into public properties that are simultaneously secular and sacred. The article distinguishes between three patterns, which many worship sites and ritual practices that have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage or Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, in Japan and beyond, follow: 1) heritage-making constitutes a type of secularisation, 2) it gives rise to new processes of sacralisation, and 3) this enables mass tourism that can lead to far-reaching transformations. Focusing on the first two patterns, the article shows how heritage-making leads to the reconfiguration of sites and practices as national, public, and secular sacred properties.
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.
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).