Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Inken Prohl and John Nelson, eds., Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012. xxii + 652 pages. Cloth euro192.00/ us$267.00. isbn 978-9004234352.

This edited collection presents an overview on contemporary religion in Japan and some recent research on the topic. The editors have worked hard to bring together twenty-five chapters by well-known figures in the field and they provide a wealth of information within them. The book includes both an overview and introduc- tory chapters on what are deemed to be the main religious traditions in Japan, plus other chapters examining specific topics of concern in the contemporary religious world. The book is divided into four main sections. Part I is titled "Orientations" and ostensibly provides the broader context of the topic of "religion" in Japan. Part II is titled "Transformations within Japan's Religious Traditions," Part III "Religious Responses to Social Change," and Part IV "Spirituality and Religion for a New Age." The main traditions, as defined by Part II, are Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity; one wonders, given their extensive history and presence, at what stage the new reli- gions (which continue to be treated as a generic category in the volume, but dealt with in Part III) will come to be seen as "traditions" rather than, as is still the case here, located within the framework of responses to social change.

Part I begins with the editors' overview, followed by a chapter on Japanese reli- gious statistics by Michael Roemer, which is useful in examining the reliability (or rather the reverse) of survey data. I was not in agreement with some of Roemer's claims, however, notably his comment that "until very recently, anyone who has tried to find survey data to support his or her research on Japanese religiosity has most likely been struck by the unavailability of data" (52). I was surprised to read this, having found an abundance of such data available when I began working in the field; I used a lot in my first book and in many subsequent publications, and in examining the topic of pilgrimage have benefitted from the plentiful data-rich surveys done by Japanese scholars in that field. Next comes a chapter by Jun'ichi Isomae and Tim Graf questioning the formation and use of the term "religion" in Japanese contexts. Basically a rerun of Isomae's earlier published work on the topic, it critiques the development and use of the term in Japan. The irony is that, although the book thus raises an area of critical debate here, few of the authors in it appear to have taken notice of Isomae's arguments, in that they continue to use the term "reli- gion" in the uncritical, rather traditional and normative religious studies manner that Isomae and others who follow his line have criticized.

Later there is also a very good chapter by Urs Zachmann examining the postwar Japanese constitution and the religious issues associated with it, which, rather oddly, comes not in the opening section, where it belonged, given the extent to which it is part of the "orientations" of the topic, but at the start of Part III. It is an important chapter for outlining the parameters within which "religion" is perceived in legal contexts, and Zachmann takes us through several major court cases that have dealt with the conflicts and confusions over where the boundaries of "religion" might be drawn in contemporary Japan. As he shows, this involves a continuing process of cases and litigation, for attitudes and perceptions are constantly changing, and the courts thus continue to be needed to produce contemporary definitions and dis- tinctions in this disputed area.

In the chapters that follow there is a general weighting towards the notion of "tra- ditions," with Buddhism coming out especially well in several senses. Its practices and activities are the focus of numerous chapters scattered throughout the book, sev- eral of which overlap in a variety of ways, and that hint at a degree of redundancy. …

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.