Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism

Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism

Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism

Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism


To many scholars in the world of religious studies, Zen is a world apart from the world of politics, and the philosophy of the Kyoto school is a politically neutral blend of intellectual traditions East and West, Buddhist and Christian. This volume challenges those assumptions by focusing on the question of nationalism in the work of Japanese Buddhist thinkers during and after the Pacific War. Fifteen Japanese and Western scholars offer a variety of critical perspectives concerning the political responsibility of intellectuals and the concrete historical consequences of working within a religious or philosophical tradition. The first group of essays debates the role of Zen Buddhism in wartime Japan. A second group of essays examines the political thought and activities of Nishida Kitaro, the doyen of the Kyoto school. A third group of essays questions the complicity of other philosophers of the Kyoto school in the wartime spirit of nationalism and analyzes the ideas of modernity and the modern nation-state then current in Japan. This carefully documented volume offers a wealth of information and reflection for those interested in prewar and wartime history, Zen, Japanese philosophy, and the problem of nationalism today.


Each of the essays in this book examines the relationship between Japanese nationalism and intellectuals in the Kyoto school and the world of Zen. All the contributions were originally presented at a week-long international symposium held in March 1994 outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and subsequently revised in preparation for this volume.

The definition of the "Kyoto school" has undergone a change from the time that the name was first introduced in 1931 by Tosaka Jun as a way of branding what he perceived as a rightist tendency in the circle around Nishida Kitarō, Japan's foremost modern philosopher. When the thought of Nishitani Keiji, Tanabe Hajime, Takeuchi Yoshinori, Ueda Shizuteru, Abe Masao, and Nishida himself began to spread in translation through philosophical and religious circles in the West in the 1980 s, it rode the wave of the current popularity of Zen thought, whose inspiration was apparent in many of these thinkers. It traveled with little or none of the stigma associated with the fate of Japan's intelligentsia during and after the war. the names of Suzuki Shigetaka, Kōsaka Masaaki, and Kōyama Iwao -- all of whom were well known to historians of Japanese nationalism -- were left aside as secondary figures, if indeed they were recognized as members of the school at all. Absent the entire problematic of the war years, the phrase "Kyoto school" soon became synonymous with a wide-eyed, open-minded approach to religious philosophy that seemed to answer the need for a serious encounter between East and West as few contemporary systems of thought have.

Among intellectual historians of Japan, particularly those working in the United States, the enthusiastic reception of the Kyoto school religious philosophy in Europe and North America came as something of a surprise. For by and large, the comparative philosophers and theologians who were giving these Japanese thinkers their warm welcome had simply overlooked the political implications of their thought, especially during World War II. Today, the situation has clearly changed.

If there is one single factor we can point to as having brought the political aspect to the fore, it is the case of Martin Heidegger. in the light of new revelations of Heidegger's associations with the German Nazi Party, affections for Heideggerian thought underwent a sea change, and in the process the consciousness of a generation was awakened as perhaps never before to the political practices of supposedly apolitical philosophers and scholars. It was only a matter of time before this rude awakening was transmitted to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.