Moulding the past in 20th-century Japan. The influence of narrative and academic discourses on the study of Japan's history of religions.

Claudio Caniglia (SOAS, University of London)
Gaetan Rappo (Harvard University)
Chiara Ghidini (L'Orientale, Naples)
Religion and Religious Thought
Torre A, Piso 0, Sala 02
Start time:
2 September, 2017 at 14:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

The panel's aim is to stimulate discussion on the ways pre-existing or commonly accepted ideas, self-representations, ideologies and visions later labeled as "essentialistic" have come to inform and influence studies on specific topics and notions within the field of Japan's history of religions.

Long abstract:

Academic and theoretical works play a crucial role in shaping "ordinary" perceptions of historical periods, and contribute greatly to the processes of invention or reinvention of tradition. Even though theoretical concepts and frameworks commonly used in the academia can provide a sense of "scientific" security, they should not be considered as absolute or self-evident. As previous scholarship, notably by Reinhart Koselleck, and more recently by Olivier Christin on the idea of "nomadic concepts," has shown, such notions are born in defined contexts, linguistic, historical and sociological, often to answer specific issues, and they have their own history. Their use can thus have crucial, and often unconscious, implications on scholarly work, and especially on the process of history writing. The aim of the panel is to stimulate a debate on the ways in which such preconceived or commonly accepted ideas, self-representations, ideological perspectives, and visions -- which have been critically assessed as either "essentialistic" or unhistorically romantic-- have come to influence specific research in the wide field of Japan's cultural history and, more in detail, in its history of religions. In particular, we will attempt on analysing research carried out in the 20th century on Japan's religious systems, beliefs and practices, which has produced a strong impact both within and outside Japanese academia, and has enhanced notions and/or groups at the expense of others, that have been, as a result, either ignored or minimised. Such studies, still considered authoritative, have partly undergone a process of deconstruction and revisitation, but constitute a theoretical reference impossible to overlook or bypass. We aim to engage with such scholarly works, investigating not only the context which saw their emergence, but also whether and how their influential authors have informed or even "formed" the very organisation of sources and documents, thereby affecting and moulding the results of the research. We intend to pay particular attention to the way they have worked towards the fabrication of fixed, artificial or romanticised historical periods (e.g. the Middle Ages, "primitive" Japan, kodai), as well as towards historically questionable interpretations of notions such as heresy or kotodama.