Modern Societies and the Science of Religions: Studies in Honour of Lammert Leertouwer

By Gerard Wiegers | Go to book overview

MODERN JAPAN AND THE SCIENCE OF RELIGIONS

MICHAEL PYE

Marburg University


INTRODUCTION

There is a widespread assumption that the academic study of religion(s) is a western cultural project which has in some cases been adopted elsewhere in a derivative fashion. While there is some truth in this, it is not the whole story. Japan is a significant counter-example. The academic study of religion(s) in Japan has an extremely significant history with a complex relationship to its own intellectual traditions and to modernity. It is therefore of interest to discuss the Japanese situation as an important example in the wider pattern of the relations between 'modernity' and the 'science of religion'. What is needed, for this wider discussion, is a broad perspective in which some of the various strands in the Japanese tradition of shûkyôgaku, 'study of religion(s)', can be located. The Japanese term shûkyôgaku does not distinguish between the singular and the plural. In English, the name for the discipline under consideration here occurs in several variations: science of religion, academic study of religion(s), study of religion(s). No particular importance is attached to these variations here.

The presentation given here will lead to a very specific conclusion, which is as follows. The modern study of religion(s) in Japan is influenced not only by reaction to western models but also by underlying ideas available in the Japanese intellectual tradition itself. However in the Japanese literature reflecting on the development of the study of religion, its relation to developments in the western world is usually emphasised to the neglect of its roots in the Japanese intellectual tradition. The distinctive East Asian setting is not always clearly noticed or set out by Japanese scholars who, in general, are more concerned to locate their work by reference to western scholarship. Indeed, it is sometimes said by Japanese scholars that there simply is no indigenous tradition of scholarship relating to religion, and that as far as they are concerned it is an entirely western import. However, the

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