Departmental Bulletin Paper Public Shrine Forests? Shinto, Immanence, and Discursive Secularization

ROTS, Aike P.

30pp.179 - 205 , 2017-07-24 , International Research Center for Japanese Studies
This article analyzes contemporary Shinto ideology in the light of recent theories on the formation of the category “secular” and on secularization. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s discussion of the original meaning of the categories “religious” and “secular,” as well as the work of Kuroda Toshio and others, it suggests that premodern shrine worship may have been perceived as the “immanent,” “this-worldly” counterpart of a more transcendentally oriented monastic Buddhism. In the Meiji period, Shinto developed into a modern Japanese “immanent frame” (or “Shinto secular,” as Josephson has called it)—a public, collective, non-optional frame of reference— while Buddhism, Christianity, and “new religions” were configured as “religious,” that is, private and optional. Contemporary Shinto leaders such as Tanaka Tsunekiyo and Sonoda Minoru draw upon such Meiji-period understandings of Shinto as the immanent, foundational framework by which Japanese culture and society are shaped and conditioned. According to them, Shinto should not be subject to the same legal restrictions as other religions, as it is an essentially public tradition uniting communities (kyōdōtai) around their shared sacred center, the shrine grove (chinju no mori). As this article demonstrates, these authors actively contribute to Shinto’s discursive secularization: they seek to dissociate Shinto from “religion,” instead framing it as Japan’s underlying “traditional culture” (dentō bunka). Rather than challenging the postwar legal state apparatus and separation of religion and state, therefore, they seek to renegotiate Shinto’s position within this apparatus, asserting its role as a “secular” worship tradition concerned with the common good of the nation as a whole.

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