Faculty of Arts


Religion in Modern Japanese Society


The aim of this course is to understand the role of religious beliefs, practices and institutions in modern Japanese society. The first part of the course will review sociological and historical approaches to the study of religion and consider the “layers” of tradition—Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity and New Religions—that evolved over the centuries and continue to shape contemporary Japanese religiosity.

The second part of the course will examine religion during Japan’s century of modernisation and consider the “invention” of State Shinto and its role in nation-building, the restructuring of Japanese religion and society during the Occupation period (1945-1952), the decline of temple Buddhism and Shrine Shinto during the post-war period and the emergence and impact of new religious movements.

The third part of the course will focus on several key issues that have been the topic of critical public debate in recent decades:

  1. Religion and violence: Aum Shinrikyō, a new religious movement, launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. We will examine the factors that might explain how a small and seemingly harmless yoga group turned to violence and how this incident led the government to revise the laws regulating all religions in Japan.
  2. Religion and neonationalism: A second area of conflict and debate revolves around Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial Shinto site dedicated to the military war dead. We will consider how some religious and political groups are using the shrine as a symbolic focus for revitalising national identity and how this is connected to proposals by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to revise the Constitution of Japan, including Articles 20 and 89, which define the nature of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state.
  3. Religious responses to disaster: In the wake of 11 March 2011 “triple disaster”—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant—many Japanese religions have a renewed sense of their social and public role. We will examine some of the new initiatives of religious groups to engage in relief work and reconstruction, grief care and critical engagement with the government’s nuclear policy and efforts to revise the Constitution.

Learning Goals

At the end of this course, students:

  • Should be able to demonstrate knowledge of key terms and sociological perspectives used in the study of Japanese religions
  • Should have acquired a broad knowledge of the key characteristics and distinctive features of representative religious traditions in modern Japanese society
  • Should be able to provide an extended analysis in essay form of the role and significance of organised religions in relation to contemporary religion-state issues, which demonstrates a critical understanding of the larger cultural, political and legal context

Requirements and Readings

Attendance at lectures and tutorials is required. Students should be prepared to discuss the readings and study questions during tutorial sessions each week. Readings are drawn from a variety of books and journals and will be available on the Talis course reading list. The assigned readings each week should be understood as the bare minimum required for the successful completion of this course. Additional research and reading will be required to demonstrate thorough grasp of the subject matter and issues addressed in this course.


Coursework only

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Professor Mark R. Mullins


JAPANESE 308: 15.0 points


ASIAN 100 and 30 points at Stage II in Asian Studies or 45 points in Stage II BA courses, including one of the following: ANTHRO 250, JAPANESE 240, 241, 243, 270, THEOLOGY 201 OR THEOREL 201, SOCIOL 213



Contact details | Search | Accessibility | Copyright | Privacy | Disclaimer | 1