Departmental Bulletin Paper Between Secularity, Shrines, and Protestantism : Catholic Higher Education in Prewar Japan

NAKAI, Kate Wildman

30pp.97 - 127 , 2017-07-24 , International Research Center for Japanese Studies
Prewar government policy concerning the relationship between religion and education presented Christian-affiliated schools with two intersecting but different challenges. On the one hand, the state adopted a stance that in several regards resembles what Ahmet T. Kuru terms “assertive secularism.” As reflected in Ministry of Education Instruction 12 (1899), the government declared that state-accredited schools, private as well as public, should not offer religious instruction or conduct religious ceremonies. On the other hand, from the 1910s on, the government increasingly promoted the offering of reverence by schoolchildren and students at shrines and comparable demonstrations of reverence to the emperor and nation on school grounds. In the face of objections from Christian and other groups, the government held that such activities were not “religious,” but, taking what Kuru would call a position of “passive secularism,” many Christian school leaders resisted participating in activities of this sort. The history of Sophia University (Jōchi Daigaku) illustrates one way these issues played out in the prewar period. Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1913, Jōchi was of later origin than its Protestant peers, and from the start its leaders chose to adapt to the state’s assertively secularist educational policy. Regarding shrine reverence and state ceremonial, the Jesuits were initially far less accommodating. In the wake of the Yasukuni Shrine incident of 1932, however, Jōchi’s leaders moved away from passive secularist resistance to the government’s promotion of such activities and came to affirm them as “civil” expressions of patriotism and thus compatible with Catholic belief and practice.

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