Conversion Religious and Secular:
Chair: Megumi Takasaki, International Christian University and John Clammer, Sophia University
John Clammer, Sophia University, and Megumi Takasaki,
International Christian University
Studies of conversion have been a fairly prominent theme in the
anthropology and sociology of religion in the West and more recently in
Africa. Relatively few
attempts have been made to explore this phenomenon in Asia – of
conversions to religion from an agnostic stance, between religions or from
religions formally defined to secular positions of social commitment (such
as Asian varieties of socialism). This
panel proposed to initiate scholarly discussion of these phenomena in
Asian settings and from a variety of Asian theoretical and religious
perspectives. It is also the
case that much of the existing literature on conversion is historical in
nature. This panel proposes to take an anthropological approach and
to explore the emerging political and identity paradigms that have been
applied elsewhere in the world to religious and ideological
transformations of individuals and communities in a range of contemporary
East, Southeast and South Asian societies and cultures.
John Clammer, Sophia University. "Conversion, Performativity and Transformation of Cultural
Identity: Chinese Buddhism,
Christianity and Japanese New Religions in Southeast Asia"
The traditional religious scene in much of Southeast Asia has been
transformed by two forces
– the appearance on the scene of what are effectively new religions
and in particular Protestant and Pentecostal forms of Christianity and the
Japanese "new religions" on the one hand and "modernized" forms of
older religious practices including revivals of both Mahayana and
Theravada Buddhism, neo-Hindu cults and varieties of Islamic renewal
movements on the other. These
alternatives and their complex relationship with secular forces of
nationalism, capitalism and in some cases socialism, have fundamentally
altered older patterns of identity politics, including ethnicity, gender
and caste and have through the process of conversion or potential
conversion transformed the nature of identities, the cultural politics
underlying them and patterns of syncretism, and hence cultures themselves.
This paper will look at a variety of examples of such processes and
will attempt to build a more theoretical model for their explanation.
Hideaki Matsuoka, University of California, Berkeley. "Messianity Makes the Person Useful:
Describing Differences in a Japanese Religion in Brazil"
beautiful, beautiful! I don't
have words to explain. If you visit Guarapiranga,
the sacred place the
Church of World Messianity in Brazil, a Japanese new religion, and ask the
followers their impressions, many of them will answer like this way. Japanese new religions have propagated in Brazil since 1930s
and now they have at least a million non-Japanese Brazilian followers. Three major religions ranked by the number of followers are:
Seicho-No-Ie, Messianity, and Perfect Liberty. Besides churches, these religions have their own sacred places
around Sao Paulo where their headquarters
are. There is a sharp contrast between these Japanese New Religions'
sacred places and those of other Brazilian religions; in its size,
structure, and symbolism. Compared
to both Catholic churches and gathering places Brazilian spiritism such as
Umbanda and Kardecismo, these sacred places are extensive. They look like small villages in the countryside; they have hills,
creeks, and lodgings where pilgrims can stay. They may be considered theme parks full of religious symbols such
as waterfalls, woods, and altars.
Though the relationship
between religious space and experience is something worth looking into,
not much has been done in the anthropology of religion. Focusing
on Messianity's sacred
place, Guarapiranga, I will try to elucidate three questions; how
Braziliedade are integrated, how the followers experience the sacredness
in this "forest of symbols," and which position does this sacred
place occupy in Brazilian religious arena.
3) Itoh Masayuki, University of Tokyo. "Conversion to the New Religions in Japan"
While it is recognized that "new religions" are a major social
and religious phenomenon in Japan and are widely studied as such,
relatively little systematic attention has been paid to conversion to
these religions and in particular the previous religious background and
identity of members, and how conversion influences their relationships
with their previous belief systems. This
paper, attempts to explore these links and transformations in social
patterns (for example in family relationships, relationships to neighbors
and colleagues), using recent data from a number of new religious
movements in contemporary Japan.
Megumi Takasaki, International Christian University.
"Hidden Christians in Japan and Conversion to Shinto"
examines a group of people who made a group conversion from Hidden
Christianity to Shinto in the early 1990s. In the context of the region in which they reside, Hidden
Christianity is a given. However,
once they face the people from outside, they need to explain themselves,
but at the same time they know that people may see them as strange holding
such an "outdated" religion. They
think of themselves as "too strange" to claim diversity within the
Japanese context. This paper
tries to show that the group conversion is their attempt to make their
collective identity legitimate and acceptable.
Discussant: Richard Gardner, Sophia University