Religion is at the heart of such ongoing political debates in Japan as the constitutionality of official government visits to Yasukuni Shrine, yet the very categories that frame these debates, namely religion and the secular, entered the Japanese language less than 150 years ago. To think of religion as a Western imposition, as something alien to Japanese reality, however, would be simplistic. As this in-depth study shows for the first time, religion and the secular were critically reconceived in Japan by Japanese who had their own interests and traditions as well as those received in their encounters with the West. It argues convincingly that by the mid-nineteenth century developments outside of Europe and North America were already part of a global process of rethinking religion. The Buddhist priest Shimaji Mokurai (1838-1911) was the first Japanese to discuss the modern concept of religion in some depth in the early 1870s. In his person, indigenous tradition, politics, and Western influence came together to set the course the reconception of religion would take in Japan. The volume begins by tracing the history of the modern Japanese term for religion, sh'ky?, and its components and exploring the significance of Shimaji's sectarian background as a True Pure Land Buddhist. Shimaji went on to shape the early Meiji government's religious policy and was essential in redefining the locus of Buddhism in modernity. Finally, the work offers an extensive account of Shimaji's intellectual dealings with the West as well as clarifying the ramifications of these encounters for Shimaji's own thinking. Concluding chapters historicize Japanese appropriations of secularization from medieval times to the twentieth century.
Shimaji Mokurai and the Reconception of Religion and the Secular in Modern Japan
University of Hawaii Press
Mind, Body & Spirit