Deconstructing the 'Essence' of New Religions: A New Approach for an Old Field of Study

Masato Kato (SOAS University of London)
Michiaki Okuyama (Nanzan University)
Religion and Religious Thought
Torre A, Piso 0, Sala 02
Start time:
1 September, 2017 at 14:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel will revisit underlying theoretical assumptions about Japanese 'new religions' (shinshūkyō)—particularly with regards to imperialism, gender, and national identity—through a new analytical framework called the 'dynamic process of collaborative interpretation'.

Long abstract:

This panel will propose a new approach for the study of Japanese 'new religions' (shinshūkyō) as a way to reconsider underlying theoretical assumptions in this subfield of study. Previous studies have generally focused on the founders and their thoughts as the locus of new religions' 'essence', against which the continuity and the change in the development of the movements within Japan and abroad have often been measured. It has been relatively neglected, however, that new religions have been transforming their identity by constantly reinterpreting their inherited traditions since the time of the founders through a process of negotiation with social forces relating to modern nation-state, global capitalism, and mass media, to name a few. In particular, early new religions and their members, most of whom consisted of marginalised social groups such as peasants, working-class people, and women, have been under pressure to conform to the norms of the mainstream society in the face of negative stereotypes assigned to them. As a result, the 'essence' of new religions has been reconfigured through the process of reinterpretation occurring amongst various actors in complex socio-political contexts. This panel proposes to define such development as a 'dynamic process of collaborative interpretation' and aims to situate Japanese new religions in the history of modern and contemporary Japan as well as that of the wider world as an attempt to explore new possibilities in the study of Japanese new religions. To illustrate this process, the present panel will strategically focus on Konkōkyō and Tenrikyō, which were founded toward the end of Japan's early modern period. The individual papers will discuss (1) the theoretical framework of the 'dynamic process of collaborative interpretation' and its relevance in new religions' transformation of their doctrine and practice vis-à-vis the state policy of imperial Japan, (2) the agency of female members in a new religion and the construction of historical narratives about them through the analysis of the representation of women in miracle stories, and (3) the boundary negotiation between religious and national identities in a new religions' doctrine, rituals, and other institutional practices in postwar decades.