Special Session: Japanese Religions and the Study of Religion
[27 March, Sun., 9:00-12:00]

Buddhism and Modern Nationalism

SUEKI Fumihiko
(University of Tokyo, Japan)


One of the characteristics of Buddhist thought in modern Japan is the attempt to rationalize and demythologize its theory. Specifically, there is a tendency to be critical of esoteric teachings, to separate "Buddhist" and "Shinto" elements, to deny the validity of a Buddhism centered on funerary rites, and to establish a "contemporary" Buddhism. Such a rationalization of ideas on the surface (the "upper" structure) does not necessarily mean that Buddhism as a whole has been modernized. It also means that there are actual conditions hidden in the shadows (the "lower" structure) that have become even further concealed. These conditions include esoteric-magical elements, the mutual complementation of "Buddhist" and "Shinto" elements, and the management of the dead through Buddhist funerary rites. In other words, modern Buddhism has sought to establish its universality through a modern and rational theoretical framework, but has concealed the faith of the people as it actually functions in society, and has failed to deal directly with this theoretical problem. This concealment is one reason that the relationship of Buddhism to imperial (Tenno) nationalism has not been sufficiently confronted.

This problem, which was concealed and covered up in the Buddhist realm, was confronted in terms of "Shinto" from the late modern through the Meiji period. The Shinto nationalism of modern "State Shinto" was not simply a matter of being imposed from above. There was an indigenous "grass-roots nationalism" that was swept up in the process. As for "emperor worship", when one considers traditional worship of kami and the belief in living kami, it is not surprising that there was little resistance to the expansion of these ideas with the new introduction of the emperor as an absolute-kami-cum-living-god. Again, if we consider the case of Yasukuni Shrine, it must be admitted that the aspects of funerary rites and management of the dead that had been concealed by Buddhism were skillfully incorporated by Shinto, so that Shinto successfully took over these aspects from Buddhism.

In my presentation I will examine, from a mostly Buddhist perspective, the multi-layered structure of Buddhism/Shinto in modern Japan, and also analyze future possibilities, in light of the changes in the social structure of Japan and recent shifts in religious consciousness.

SUEKI Fumihiko studied at the University of Tokyo and received his Ph. D. degree in 1994. He became Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo in 1995, where he teaches Buddhism, in particular Japanese Buddhism. He works mainly on the reconstruction of the intellectual history of Buddhism in Japan from ancient to modern times. His recent research also covers Zen philosophy and comparative studies of modern Buddhism. His publications (in Japanese) include History of Japanese Buddhism (Tokyo, 1992), Miscellaneous Essays on Japanese Buddhism (Tokyo, 1993), Studies in Buddhist Doctrines in the Early Heian Period (Tokyo, 1995), Studies in the Formation of Kamakura Buddhism (Kyoto, 1998), and Rethinking Modern Japanese Thought (2004). He has contributed several articles in English to the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies and other journals. He was Guest Professor at Ruhr University in Germany in 1997, was Guest Researcher at Renmin University in China, and Directeur d'Études Invite de la Section des Sciences Religieuses de l'École Pratique des Hautes Etudes in 2001.

Prof. Susumu Shimazono, President of the JARS Congress Secretariat of the 19th World Congress of IAHR
Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo
7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan 113-0033
TEL: (81)3-5841-3765@ FAX: (81)3-5841-3888
E-mail address: iahr@l.u-tokyo.ac.jp
Congress website: http://www.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iahr2005/