Japanese Religion amid Early Modern Social Transitions

Jon Morris (Komazawa Women's University)
Jon Morris
Religion and Religious Thought
Torre A, Piso 0, Sala 02
Start time:
2 September, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel examines developments within Japanese Religion during Japan's transition from a medieval to an Early Modern society. Focusing on new modes of Buddhist preaching and new published formats of Buddhist texts, this project contributes to a reassessment of Early Modern "secularization."

Long abstract:

The notion that "the Middle Ages were a time of religion, Early Modernity was a time of secularization" has been the subject of considerable criticism by historians of Japanese religions, and must now be reassessed. The role of religious thought in Early Modern society is also being reassessed. How, then, should we understand the connection between religious thought in the Middle Ages and in Early Modernity? This panel considers the ways in which religion changed amid the social transitions spanning the Middle Ages and Early Modernity. The first presentation introduces examples from around the year 1700 of oral transmissions, which were of considerable importance in the Middle Ages, being disavowed. The significance of Matarajin worship in association with these disavowals is explored. The period of time around the year 1700 is recognized by researchers as an important turning point in Japanese Confucianism, but there was also a great change in Buddhism at that time. The second presentation discusses the publication of esoteric Buddhist ritual texts. Secret traditions in oral transmission were limited to a closed world of initiates during the Middle Ages, but with the onset of Early Modernity many were made public in manuscript and, in some cases, woodblock print editions. In these published forms, the focus of these texts' significance tended to shift from usage in practice to a more academic interest. The third presentation discusses the changing forms of Buddhist preaching in late Medieval Japan and the developments in religion in the years leading up to the onset of the Early Modern period. The creation of the popular preaching form known as jikidan 直談 ("direct sermons") at this time led to the production of jikidanmono 直談物 ("writings on direct sermons"). This marked the emergence of Buddhist preaching texts which demonstrate a move toward an Early Modern religious mode founded upon popularization of knowledge. Usages of the term kinseika 近世化 (which implies the introduction of cultural and societal modes typical of the Early Modern period) are many and varied. We apply it here as a means to acknowledge interaction with other Asian regions.