“Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan” (Welter & Newmark, eds.)

This month, Springer released Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan edited by Albert Welter (University of Arizona) and Jeffrey Newmark (University of Winnipeg). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion Culture and the Public Sphere in China and JapanThis collection examines the impact of East Asian religion and culture on the public sphere, defined as an idealized discursive arena that mediates the official and private spheres. Contending that the actors and agents on the fringes of society were instrumental in shaping the public sphere in traditional and modern East Asia, it considers how these outliers contribute to religious, intellectual, and cultural dialog in the public sphere. Jürgen Habermas conceptualized the public sphere as the discursive arena which grew within Western European bourgeoisie society, arguably overlooking topics such as gender, minorities, and non-European civilizations, as well as the extent to which agency in the public sphere is effective in non-Western societies and how practitioners on the outskirts of mainstream society can participate. This volume responds to and builds upon this dialogue by addressing how religious, intellectual, and cultural agency in the public sphere shapes East Asian cultures, particularly the activities of those found on the peripheries of historic and modern societies.

“Belief and Practice in Imperial Japan and Colonial Korea” (Anderson, ed.)

In January, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Belief and Practice in Imperial Japan and Colonial Korea,” edited by Emily Anderson. The publisher’s description follows:

Bringing together the work of leading scholars of religion in imperial Japan and colonial Korea, this collection addresses the complex ways in which religion served as screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-11-55-57-ama site of contestation and negotiation among different groups, including the Korean Choson court, the Japanese colonial government, representatives of different religions, and Korean and Japanese societies. It considers the complex religious landscape as well as the intersection of historical and political contexts that shaped the religious beliefs and practices of imperial and colonial subjects, offering a constructive contribution to contemporary conflicts that are rooted in a contested understanding of a complex and painful past and the unresolved history of Japan’s colonial and imperial presence in Asia. Religion is a critical aspect of the current controversies and their historical contexts. Examining the complex and diverse ways that the state, and Japanese and colonial subjects negotiated religious policies, practices, and ministries in an attempt to delineate these “imperial relationships,” this cutting edge text sheds considerable light on the precedents to current sources of tension.

Bowring, “In Search of the Way”

In February, Oxford University Press will release In Search of the Way: Thought and Religion in Early-Modern Japan, 1582-1860 by Richard Bowring (Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:

in-search-of-the-wayIn Search of the Way is a history of intellectual and religious developments in Japan during the Tokugawa period, covering the years 1582-1860. It begins with an explanation of the fate of Christianity, and proceeds to cover the changing nature of the relationship between Buddhism and secular authority, new developments in Shinto, and the growth of ‘Japanese studies’. The main emphasis, however, is on the process by which Neo-Confucianism captured the imagination of the intellectual class and informed debate throughout the period. This process was expressed in terms of a never-ending search for the Way, a mode and pattern of existence that could provide not only order for society at large, but self-fulfilment for the individual. The narrative traces how ideas and attitudes changed through time, and is based on the premise that the Tokugawa period is important in and of itself, not merely as a backdrop to the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Paramore, “Japanese Confucianism”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases “Japanese Confucianism: A Cultural History” by Kiri Paramore (Leiden University). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than 1500 years, Confucianism has played a major role in shaping Japan’s history – from the formation of the first Japanese states during the first millennium AD, to Japan’s modernization in the nineteenth century, to World War II and its still unresolved legacies across East Asia today. In an illuminating and provocative new study, Kiri Paramore analyses the dynamic history of Japanese Confucianism, revealing its many cultural manifestations, as religion and as a political tool, as social capital and public discourse, as well as its role in international relations and statecraft. The book demonstrates the processes through which Confucianism was historically linked to other phenomenon, such as the rise of modern science and East Asian liberalism. In doing so, it offers new perspectives on the sociology of Confucianism and its impact on society, culture and politics across East Asia, past and present.

 

The Value of the Humanities and Heterodoxy

Readers of the CLR Forum see every day how scholarship in the humanities and social sciences directly affects the laws and policies that govern our lives. That important perspective is not shared widely enough. On that score, two items of interest appeared last week.

First, TIME reported that “[m]ore than two dozen Japanese universities … will reduce or altogether eliminate their academic programs in the humanities and social sciences, following a dictum from Tokyo to focus on disciplines that ‘better meet society’s needs.'”

In tough times, policymakers tend to think of the academic disciplines outside the sciences as a luxury good, easily abandoned in favor of more practical pursuits. But, in fact, really good scholarship across the humanities and social sciences is necessary to help us try to figure out what kind of society we want to be, and what it will take for us to figure out how to work together to get there.

One reason for society’s lack of enthusiasm for the humanities and social sciences is that it tends to be politically monotonal. The best recent studies suggest that less than 5% of academics in these fields at research universities have right-of-center social and political views. Not surprisingly, this can lead to scholarship that downplays, misunderstands, or simply overlooks views widely held among the public and policymakers.

The Heterodox Academy, recently reported in The American Interest, looks like a very important effort to bring more balance into academic scholarship. A politically diverse group of scholars is setting out to bring a greater degree of viewpoint diversity to scholarship, especially in the social sciences. This effort should not only make scholarship more useful, but it will make it more intellectually invigorating, as well.

For what it’s worth, I have much more to say on these topics in a book coming out in just a few weeks called, Why We Need the Humanities.

Richey, “Daoism in Japan: Chinese traditions and their influence on Japanese religious culture”

In May, Routledge will publish “Daoism in Japan: Chinese traditions and their influence on Japanese religious culture” by Jeffrey L. Richey (Berea College). The publisher’s description follows:

Like an ancient river, Daoist traditions introduced from China once flowed powerfully through the Japanese religious landscape, forever altering its topography and ecology. Daoism’s presence in Japan still may be discerned in its abiding influence on astrology, divination, festivals, literature, politics, and popular culture, not to mention Buddhism and Shinto. Despite this legacy, few English-language studies of Daoism’s influence on Japanese religious culture have been published.

Daoism in Japan provides an exploration of the particular pathways by which Daoist traditions entered Japan from continental East Asia. After addressing basic issues in both Daoist Studies and the study of Japanese religions, including the problems of defining ‘Daoism’ and ‘Japanese,’ the book looks at the influence of Daoism on ancient, medieval and modern Japan in turn. To do so, the volume is arranged both chronologically and topically, according to the following three broad divisions: “Arrivals” (c. 5th-8th centuries CE), “Assimilations” (794-1868), and “Apparitions” (1600s-present). The book demonstrates how Chinese influence on Japanese religious culture ironically proved to be crucial in establishing traditions that usually are seen as authentically, even quintessentially, Japanese.

Touching on multiple facets of Japanese cultural history and religious traditions, this book is a fascinating contribution for students and scholars of Japanese Culture, History and Religions, as well as Daoist Studies.

Mohr, “Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality”

Next week, Harvard University Press releases Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality, by Michael Mohr (University of Hawaii at Manoa). The publisher’s description follows:

In the late 1800s, as Japanese leaders mulled over the usefulness of religion in modernizing their country, they chose to invite Unitarian missionaries to Japan. This book spotlights one facet of debates sparked by the subsequent encounter between Unitarianism and Buddhism—an intersection that has been largely neglected in the scholarly literature. Focusing on the cascade of events triggered by the missionary presence of the American Unitarian Association on Japanese soil between 1887 and 1922, Michel Mohr’s study sheds new light on this formative time in Japanese religious and intellectual history.

Drawing on the wealth of information contained in correspondence sent and received by Unitarian missionaries in Japan, as well as periodicals, archival materials, and Japanese sources, Mohr shows how this missionary presence elicited unprecedented debates on “universality” and how the ambiguous idea of “universal truth” was utilized by missionaries to promote their own cultural and ethnocentric agendas. At the turn of the twentieth century this notion was appropriated and reformulated by Japanese intellectuals and religious leaders, often to suit new political and nationalistic ambitions.

Maxey, “The ‘Greatest Problem'”

From Harvard University Press, The “Greatest Problem”: Religion and State Formation in Meiji Japan, by Trent Maxey (Amherst College). The publisher’s description follows:

At its inception in 1868, the modern Japanese state pursued policies and created institutions that lacked a coherent conception of religion. Yet the architects of the modern state pursued an explicit “religious settlement” as they set about designing a constitutional order through the 1880s. As a result, many of the cardinal institutions of the state, particularly the imperial institution, eventually were defined in opposition to religion.

Drawing on an assortment of primary sources, including internal government debates, diplomatic negotiations, and the popular press, Trent E. Maxey documents how the novel category of religion came to be seen as the “greatest problem” by the architects of the modern Japanese state. In Meiji Japan, religion designated a cognitive and social pluralism that resisted direct state control. It also provided the modern state with a means to contain, regulate, and neutralize that plurality.

Cogan, “The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan”

Next month, Harvard will publish The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, 9780674491977and Gender in Early Edo Japan, by Gina Cogan (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows.

The Princess Nun tells the story of Bunchi (1619–1697), daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo and founder of Enshōji. Bunchi advocated strict adherence to monastic precepts while devoting herself to the posthumous welfare of her family. As the first full-length biographical study of a premodern Japanese nun, this book incorporates issues of gender and social status into its discussion of Bunchi’s ascetic practice and religious reforms to rewrite the history of Buddhist reform and Tokugawa religion.

Gina Cogan’s approach moves beyond the dichotomy of oppression and liberation that dogs the study of non-Western and premodern women to show how Bunchi’s aristocratic status enabled her to carry out reforms despite her gender, while simultaneously acknowledging how that same status contributed to their conservative nature. Cogan’s analysis of how Bunchi used her prestigious position to further her goals places the book in conversation with other works on powerful religious women, like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. Through its illumination of the relationship between the court and the shogunate and its analysis of the practice of courtly Buddhism from a female perspective, this study brings historical depth and fresh theoretical insight into the role of gender and class in early Edo Buddhism.

Yasukuni and Nice Distinctions

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fulfilled an oft-repeated wish to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine while in office. In Shinto belief, the shrine houses the souls of millions who died in the service of the Japanese Empire. Abe has expressed regret that he did not visit the shrine during his last stint as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007.

You’d think a visit to such a shrine by a sitting prime minister would be entirely proper, like an American president visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Abe’s visit has caused great controversy, however, as Abe surely knew it would. Among the souls commemorated at the shrine are a thousand convicted war criminals who fought for Japan in World War II, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. China and Korea, which both suffered greatly at Japan’s hands in that war, deeply resent official visits to Yasukuni and, naturally, objected to Abe’s visit. So, unusually, did the United States, which expressed disappointment “that  Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.” Walter Russell Mead does a good job explaining the diplomatic implications.

For his part, Abe said he had not intended to offend Japan’s neighbors or send a crypto-imperialist signal. He did not visit Yasukuni to honor war criminals, he insisted, but to express to the souls housed there his determination “to create an age where no one will ever suffer from tragedies of wars.” In addition, Abe’s spokesman stressed that the prime minister had visited the shrine, and made a donation, strictly as a private citizen exercising his “religious freedom.” This last part is important for purposes of Japanese law. According to the Japanese Supreme Court, the constitutional “separation of state and religion” forbids officials from making financial contributions to Yasukuni for use in Shinto ceremonies.

So, is everything clear now? It was crucially important for Abe to visit Yasukuni while in office–but strictly in an unofficial capacity. A very lawyerly distinction, but one unlikely to persuade anyone in China or Korea. Maybe not even in Japan.

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