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New Book on the Concept of Religion

Sep 13, 2015

The concept of religion in 19th-century Japan is the topic of a new publication by Prof. Hans Martin Krämer, member of research projects MC5 "Global Concepts" and MC7 "Political Legitimation" and HCTS fellow in 2014/15. The book with the title "Shimaji Mokurai and the Reconception of Religion and the Secular in Modern Japan" has been published by University of Hawai'i Press in 2015.

Religion is at the heart of such ongoing political debates in Japan as the constitutionality of official government visits to Yasukuni Shrine, yet the very categories that frame these debates, namely religion and the secular, entered the Japanese language less than 150 years ago. To think of religion as a Western imposition, as something alien to Japanese reality, however, would be simplistic. The book shows that religion and the secular were critically reconceived in Japan by Japanese who had their own interests and traditions as well as those received in their encounters with the West. It argues that by the mid-nineteenth century developments outside of Europe and North America were already part of a global process of rethinking religion.

The Buddhist priest Shimaji Mokurai (1838–1911) was the first Japanese to discuss the modern concept of religion in some depth in the early 1870s. In his person, indigenous tradition, politics, and Western influence came together to set the course the reconception of religion would take in Japan. The volume not only emphasizes the agency of Asian actors in colonial and semicolonial situations, but also hints at the function of the concept of religion in modern society: a secularist conception of religion was the only way to ensure the survival of religion as we know it today. In this respect, the Japanese reconception of religion and the secular closely parallels similar developments in the West.

The book "Shimaji Mokurai and the Reconception of Religion and the Secular in Modern Japan" has been published by University of Hawai'i Press in July 2015.

Hans Martin Krämer is professor of Japanese studies at Heidelberg University and member of research projects MC5 "Global Concepts" and MC7 "Political Legitimation". In 2014/15, he is fellow at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (HCTS).


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