Departmental Bulletin Paper Premodern Secularism


30pp.21 - 37 , 2017-07-24 , International Research Center for Japanese Studies
This article argues that secularism is not an exclusively modern phenomenon, but is rather a recurring pattern which arises throughout different periods of premodern and modern history. I begin with a longue durée overview of Japanese history as a case study, proposing a regime of such historical cycles over a 1,200-year period. I then focus on changes in religiouspolitical relations which occurred in one specific, important cycle, through the transition from the late medieval into the early modern period. I argue that this period ushered in a new form of political-religious relations where Neo-Confucianism, instead of Buddhism, for the first time represented the religious element in Japanese politics. I demonstrate how this early modern regime of political-religious interaction supported by Neo-Confucianism was particularly stable and functioned to support public discourse. In conclusion, the article notes the destruction of this early modern form of political-religious relations during East Asian modernization, and suggests that the continuing lack of a stable regime of political-religious relations in both contemporary China and Japan can be seen as an ongoing legacy of that destruction.

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