ASCJ 2009
Session 41: Room 11-505

Reorienting Transcendence: Religion in Modern Japan
Organizer and Chair, Viren Murthy, University of Ottawa

Scholars have studied Japanese religion for a number of decades and have often traced the origins of Japanese religion to ancient times. This panel, however, stresses that the emergence of “religion” as a body of knowledge, beliefs and practices independent of other realms emerges with the advent of capitalist modernity and then examines how the concept of religion was established in Japan during the late 19th early 20th centuries. As a whole the panel discusses how Japanese intellectuals mobilized the concept of religion in relation to the projects of nation-building and modernization, both of which are conditioned by the logic of global capitalism. We show the concept of religion re-organized pre-existing practices and beliefs in a framework of new modes of identity, universality and particularity. Mariko Naito opens the panel by examining how in Meiji Japan Izumi Kyōka brings pre-modern religious practices in dialogue with modern ideas about religion. Viren Murthy then analyzes how intellectuals in Meiji Japan developed a concept of religion to promote the nation-state, but at the same time, used the transcendent dimension of religion as a standpoint from which to criticize the nation-state. Jeremy Hurdis deals with Japanese philosophers in the 1930s and 1940s and examines the way in which they used the concept of religion and morality to emphasize the uniqueness of Japanese identity and to develop a particular form of politics. We are lucky to have as our discussant Takahiro Nakajima who has written extensively on Chinese and Japanese religion and philosophy.

1) Mariko Naito, The University of Tokyo
Conflicting Religious Topoi: Izumi Kyōka’s Hakusan Worship

When the Meiji government enacted a series of legislations to separate Shinto and Buddhism (神仏分離令), Shugendō (修験道) was banned and Buddhism was persecuted. Because Shugendō synthesizes Buddhism, Shinto and other religious beliefs and was deemed impure, it was regarded as conflicting with the new concept of religion established in modern Japan. In this paper I examine how literati responded to the formation of concept of religion in modern Japan and developed their ideas in literary works. A modern novelist, Izumi Kyōka (1873-1939, 泉鏡花), who is often described as an author of Romanticism, is famous for his gothic tales such as The Holy Man of Mount Kōya, or Kōya hijiri (1900, 高野聖), The Woman in My Life, or Yukari no onna (1920, 由縁の女), and Demon Pond. I pay particular attention to the fact that Izumi worshiped the Hakusan (白山) deity. Hakusan worship is considered as a religious practice of Shugendō, which is often traced back to ancient times. Pointing out the influences of his contemporary Yanagida Kunio (柳田國男), I examine how Izumi absorbed narratives, cultivated the old religious topos Hakusan, and juxtaposed them in a world of modern religious practices and social contexts. Thus my presentation broaches the larger issue of what happens to “old religious topoi” when they are invoked in the space of global modernity.

2) Jeremy Hurdis, University of Ottawa
The Role of Religion and Morality in Japanese Philosophers in the Prewar Period: The Cases of Watsuji Tetsuro and Nishida Kitaro

Philosophers in early 20th century Japan used the concepts of religion and morality to deal with issues related to national identity. In this paper, I examine how Watsuji Tetsuro and Nishida Kitaro reinterpreted German idealism and drew on Buddhism and Confucianism to develop visions of “Eastern religion” and Japanese morality. I will show how these ideas were intimately linked to the construction of particular form of Japanese identity. Watsuji Tetsuro is famous for developing a theory of morality that emphasizes how Japan is different from the West. His idea of ningen stresses that Japanese morality contains an openness not found in other nations, an openness that could found national unity and obligation. While Watsuji highlighted morality and linked it to Confucianism, Nishida famously emphasized Buddhism and eclectically connected this to philosophy, religion and morality. I contend that the views of Watsuji and Nishida exemplify the conflict between using morality and religion. As Isomae Junichi has recently argued, after the Meiji, with the separation of religion from the state, religion could function to ground national ideology; hence morality became the source of moral obligation and the root of identity. Nishida focuses on morality as well, but at the same time he is interested in religious experience, which he claims is universal. Hence in his discourse, Japan’s legitimacy as particular nation lies in fact that it embodies the universal, namely religion. At the same, Nishida`s idea of religion as universal would lead him to gesture toward a type of cosmopolitanism. 

3) Viren Murthy, University of Ottawa
The Antinomies of Religion in Meiji Japan and late Qing China

There have been many studies of Japanese and Chinese religion, but scholars have yet to probe deeply the relationship between the concept of religion and transformations associated with China and Japan’s entry into the global capitalist system of nation-states. In this essay, I show how the concept of religion in Meiji Japan and late Qing China was linked to the global capitalist modernity and had an ambiguous relationship to the nation-state. Scholars such as Anesaki Masaharu attempted mobilize religion in the service of the nation and the global system. However, his contemporary Kiyozawa Manshi stressed the transcendent dimension of religion to make relative political obligations.

In late Qing China, where Liang Qichao and Zhang Taiyan, who were both influenced by Anesaki Masaharu’s texts, reproduce this contradictory use of religion in a different political context. Liang praised Buddhism as analogous to science and connecting the individual to the state, while Zhang associated religion with consciousness and revolutionary subjectivity. Unlike the Meiji state, the Qing empire was a nationalizing state, which had not institutionalized the separation between state and religion. Hence both Liang and Zhang saw religion as a root of a fundamentally political morality, be it that of the future citizen or the future revolutionary. Because religion has a universal or transcendent moment, it can be brought against existing political regimes as the cases of Zhang and Kiyozawa show. However, I contend that this universal moment itself must be historicized in terms of new conceptual forms emerging in capitalist modernity.

4) Daiana Di Massimo, Ca'Foscari University of Venice-University of Lyon 3 (IETT)
A Sōshiki Shūkyō: Investigating contemporary Higashi Honganji (Ōtani-ha) Social Engagement

A historical and interpretative gap seems to characterize the doctrinal and the activities' development of contemporary Japanese Buddhist denominations; moreover, because of the growing number of new answers offered by New Religions and spiritual movements, traditional Buddhism in Japan often continues to be represented as a sōshiki shūkyō ('funeral Buddhism'), no more able to keep up with expectations. The aim of this paper is proving that, although the seeming shortage of initiatives, the so called 'Temple Buddhism' is still able to be a social and spiritual actor, offering concrete answers through socially engaged activities. The particular object of my analysis will be the Jōdo Shinshū Higashi Honganji (Ōtani-ha) denomination, which, among all the Buddhist traditions, seems to be the most misrepresented one. I thus will explore the ways it copes with a rapidly changing society, particularly focusing on the activities carried by the Higashi Honganji (Ōtani-ha) in Kyōto, especially working on the office in charge of developing socially engaged activities. After a brief run-down of the main initiatives , I will focus on those directed to women, a subject unfortunately not yet much investigated.

Discussants: Nakajima Takahiro, Tokyo University
                     Yoshihide Sakurai, Hokkaido University

Note from ASCJ organizers: The paper by Daiana Di Massimo was originally scheduled to be given in a panel on "Buddhism and Local Organization" which was cancelled in the week before the conference. The second discussant, Yoshihide Sakurai, has also joined from the same panel. We thank the organizer and speakers of the present panel for their understanding.