How have American audiences understood Japanese religions? How did Japanese Buddhism transform from a type of un-American emperor worship practiced by unassimilable Japanese Americans to an artistic inspiration for Beat Generation authors? How did the word “Zen” become a long-running Daily Show comedic bit, an adjective for marketing merchandise, and a legitimate Scrabble play? Why did a popular Netflix show get American audiences suddenly talking positively about the “Shintō roots” of tidy closets in January 2019, and what historical factors allowed this usage to differ so much from WWII-era descriptions of Shintō as a religion of war? Examining newspaper articles, magazine spreads, martial arts films, television programs, and anime, this talk explores how Japanese and American people have collaboratively constructed images of Japanese contemplative and therapeutic practices that reinforce, challenge, and transcend the commonsense category of religion.
Inspired by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan's question, "When does mere location become place?," the symposium seeks to scrutinize formations of location and locatedness—geographic, sensorial, imaginative, architectural, legal, incarnational, cultural, virtual, affective, and otherwise—as generative frames in the study of religion and theology.
"Intellectual Giants" at the University of Tokyo Lecture: Kishimoto Hideo's Attempts to Reform Religion and the State after 1945
Kishimoto Hideo’s Attempts to Reform Religion and the State after 1945
Building on research conducted for both Faking Liberties and Difficult Subjects, I’ll be sharing some reflections on how Kishimoto Hideo (1903–1964) created the image of the religious studies scholar as a public intellectual and policy expert.
Drawing on publications from the Japan Teachers’ Union, the Ministry of Education, and various political pressure organizations, this talk shows that the Occupation-era concept of the “spiritual vacuum” continued to shape debates over religious education, morality, and patriotism long after the occupiers left.
I’ll be responding to a paper by Hirafuji Kikuko on representations of Japanese antiquity in Japanese pop culture products.
I will talk about debunking as pedagogy, focusing on competing didactic approaches to debunking taken by bureaucrats, scholars, clerics, and journalists during the Allied Occupation of Japan and in its immediate aftermath (roughly 1945–1960). Others will cover Herman Melville novels, Joseph Smith’s golden plates, the social sciences in Cold War America, debunking and the figure of the spoilsport, and televised spirit possession.
I’ll update here when I’ve confirmed the date and have decided what I’ll talk about.
In 1958 the Japanese government introduced “morality time” (dōtoku no jikan) in Japanese public schools as a way of counteracting perceived social ills. The move was hotly contested. Some stakeholders saw morality training as indispensable in a period of rapid economic growth. Others saw morality education as a throwback to the self-cultivation (shūshin) classes of wartime Japan. School teachers dragged their feet on rolling out the new (vaguely defined) curriculum, while policy wonks said that schools had a responsibility to foster moral dispositions. Behind all of this lay a fierce debate about whether morality was inherently religious and whether schools were the proper places to instill it.
Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom, American-Occupied Japan, and Postwar Politics (Northwestern University)
I’ll be visiting Northwestern University to talk about Faking Liberties.
Jackie Stone’s students and friends gather to honor her retirement from Princeton University.
Many people have argued that when American occupiers introduced “real religious freedom” to Japan, it led to an explosion of “new religious movements.” This talk offers a different story, showing that the scholarly concept of new religious movements emerged in occupied Japan as an outcome of negotiations between religious leaders, scholars, and occupiers.
A widespread historical narrative suggests that Buddhists failed to defend religious freedom in prewar and wartime Japan. But religious freedom was not a universal principle that Buddhists failed to understand or protect. Rather, Japan’s 1889 constitutional guarantee of religious freedom enrolled Buddhists in the project of defining “real religion” in order to free it.
Difficult Subjects: Religious Freedom, American Occupation, and Postwar Education (SSRC/Japan Foundation Abe Fellow Talk)
A Social Science Research Council/Japan Foundation Abe Fellow Talk at I-House
When Americans occupied Japan at the end of WWII, they claimed that Japanese religion was a political problem and declared religious freedom a solution. But in doing so, the occupiers ignored a long history of debate about religious freedom in Japan. Their narrative also masked competing interpretations among Americans themselves about was religion was and how it could be freed. This talk traces the lasting consequences of those debates, both for Japan and the world.
I’ll be talking with Heather Blair about changes to morality education in Japan, comparing changes introduced in the 1950s with changes introduced in the last few years.
I’ll be speaking after lunch on the Monday as part of a roundtable about religion and capitalism. (One of my fave topics!) Teaser: What do tidy closets, sugar addiction, and human rights have in common?
A workshop, reading primary sources related to religion and education in occupied Japan.
Lecture: April 4, 4:00–5:30, Nau 342
Primary Source Reading Workshop: April 5, 12:00–13:30, Nau 441
This chapter shows that even as the occupiers stripped Japanese schools of religious practices and paraphernalia, a concerted effort was underway in the United States to enhance the position of religion in schools as part of morality education, anti-communist propaganda, and patriotic training.
Book talk: 2 April 2019, 16:00 in Cupples I, Room 215
Brown bag work-in-progress lunch: 3 April 2019, 11:30–13:00 in Busch Hall 18
Guest lecture in “Animism and Animation” 3 April 2019, 14:30–16:00 in Cupples II 230
When Americans occupied Japan at the end of WWII, they claimed that Japanese religion was a political problem and declared religious freedom a solution. But in doing so, the occupiers ignored a long history of debate about religious freedom in Japan. Their narrative also masked competing interpretations among Americans themselves about what religion was and how it could be freed. This talk traces the lasting consequences of those debates, both for Japan and the world.
Religious Activism, Educational Reform, and Legal Revision in Contemporary Japan
This presentation introduces pedagogical constitutionalism as a tool for understanding links between educational reform, religious activism, and recent attempts to revise Japan’s postwar constitution. I first briefly describe Occupation-era (1945–52) legal reforms in the arenas of religion and education before showing how the 2006 revision of the 1947 Fundamental Law on Education (FLE) served as a crucial test case for revising an Occupation-era law. I then analyze the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) draft constitution of 2012, revealing the party’s presupposition that constitutions should tell people what to think and how to feel rather than simply reflecting abstract political ideals. Pairing various political groups’ recent pro-revision pamphlets with Ministry of Education materials explaining the newly revamped morality education curriculum, I then show how constitutional reform efforts and educational policy changes alike aim to foster particular affective dispositions such as pride. Ultimately, while I agree with the critics of revision that rendering constitutional law in the language of instruction makes it disturbingly easy to prioritize majoritarian claims over the rights of minorities, I also stress that pedagogical constitutionalism ironically re-instantiates the very aspects of the postwar constitution that proponents of revision aim to overcome. Furthermore, because political circumstances continually impede efforts to bring religion (or something like religion) “back” into Japanese public life, the alluring narrative of a return to Japan’s imperial past interferes with understanding the complicated and shifting relationships between subject formation, religious activism, and constitutional revision in contemporary Japan.
I’ve put together a panel with a diverse group of junior scholars titled “Social Welfare Institutions as Sites of Inclusion in Contemporary Japan.”
Here’s a panel abstract (subject to minor changes):
The Japanese state takes care of its own. State agencies ensure the health and wellbeing of the populace through social welfare programs such as reduced price physical exams, mandatory leave policies for new parents, and extensive safety measures that mitigate daily dangers while ensuring readiness for extraordinary events such as natural calamities. Japanese schools endeavor to mainstream children with special needs, while various “barrier-free” initiatives enhance access for persons with disabilities (PWDs). But behind all of these official efforts at inclusion and support lie biopolitical anxieties about social reproduction, which in turn reflect and reinforce prevailing notions of what it means to be Japanese. The Japanese state may take care of its own, but the question of who counts as a person deserving of care is decided in quotidian, localized situations where individuals receive or do not receive the care and support they need. Through three cases on social welfare institutions like public schools and assisted living facilities, this panel explores how well-intentioned efforts at inclusion can sometimes have exclusionary effects for PWDs, linguistic and religious minorities, and people who do not fit the stereotypical Japanese phenotype. The panel’s composition reflects our shared intellectual concern with diversity and inclusion: We include a non-Japanese resident working as a full-time lecturer in Japan, an American graduate student who uses a powered wheelchair, and a black American junior professor. Our discussant is a Japanese female researcher who works on the topic of women and religious minorities in modern Japan.
And here’s my tentative abstract:
"Japanese People Don't See Race": Exclusionary Practices in Public Education
Jolyon Thomas, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania
References to Japaneseness pervade daily life in Japan. The idea of Japaneseness cloaks personal opinion with the mantle of common sense, renders specific practices and dispositions as aspects of a timeless culture, and censures undesirable behavior while establishing social norms. Little of this discussion is about race, but I contend that the language of Japaneseness is nevertheless racist. As the experiences of marginal communities such as Japanese-born Koreans (now fourth-generation, but technically not fully “Japanese,” immigrants; Chung 2010) and traditional outcaste communities (burakumin; Bondy 2014) attest, conceptions of Japaneseness create a social center that tolerates difference but does not fully include it (Brown 2006). In this talk I use the cases of two marginal student populations to highlight how insider/outsider groups may be ethnically “Japanese” but can still be racially coded as “not Japanese enough.” First, a recent Osaka District Court case about a public school forcing a Japanese brunette to dye her hair black shows how deviations from a narrow phenotype (black hair) elicit not only physical coercion but also moral condemnation. Second, the case of Japanese “returnees” (kikokushijo) shows how children of Japanese elites who live overseas for extended periods of time acquire a bodily habitus that marks them as unassimilable when they return to Japan. I conclude by examining how racist thinking in Japanese public school settings reflects recent changes to the Fundamental Law on Education (2006) and the newly revamped curriculum for mandatory morality education.
A panel hosted by the Japanese Religions Unit and the Law, Religion, and Culture Unit at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (Denver)
After Abe Shinzō became prime minister of Japan for a second time in 2012, he soon signaled that constitutional reform would become one of the flagship issues of his administration. As of 2018, Abe is closer to initiating the process of reforming Japan’s 1947 constitution than any other prime minister of the postwar period. While attempts to reform Article 9 tend to gain much attention, other aspects of postwar Japanese society that could be the target of significant reform include the principles of religious freedom and the separation of religion from the state. Article 20 of the 1947 constitution provides the basis for these principles, while at the same time forcing Japan as a constitutional democracy to deal with “religion” as a legal category. The papers of this panel explore issues related to “religion” and Japan’s postwar constitution from various perspectives, historical as well as contemporary.
Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania
Religion and the Controversial Subject of Constitutional Law
In the last two decades conservatives in Japan have experimented with ways to revise the postwar constitution. The redefinition of the capacities of the Self-Defense Force during the Iraq War, the 2006 revision of the Fundamental Law on Education, and the 2017 passage of anti-conspiracy legislation have all presaged a concerted push for constitutional revision. Notable among these initiatives is the LDP draft constitution of 2012. The draft document preserved the idiosyncratic constitutional language of “fundamental human rights,” but it also refocused attention on duties over rights, granted rights to “persons” (hito) rather than “individuals” (kojin) and treated the household, not the individual, as the fundamental legal unit of society. Building on recent advances in the critical study of religion and religious freedom, this paper interrogates what sort of human the LDP proposal imagines and how the proposed revisions change the way religion might be free in Japan.
A panel hosted by the Law, Religion, and Culture Unit and the Secularism & Secularity Unit at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (Denver)
Public schools are noted sites of legal battles over the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Yet, even as scholars have noted the significance of religion and law outside the courts, few have turned their attention to public schools and education as sites and sources of religious practice, organizing, and debate. Building on work that denaturalizes the court-centric categories of religious freedom and establishment, this panel aims to decenter American legal definitions of religion altogether in scholarship on twentieth- and twenty-first- century religion and public education. With papers on corporations and patriotic education in mid-twentieth century Japan and America, government aid to parochial schools and public school desegregation in 1967 New York State, homeownership and the Islamic school movement, and contemporary Holocaust education, the panel will take an interdisciplinary and transnational approach to explore themes such as secular governance, corporate influence, race, respectability, and national identity.
Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania
Inculcating Corporate Morality in Public Schools: A Comparative Look at Japan and the U.S.
This paper uses archival materials from Cold War-era Japan and the United States to examine corporate influence on public school education, especially as related to morality and patriotism. While morality and patriotism training in public schools serve obvious disciplining functions by socializing students in preparation for civic life, they also serve ideological functions by preparing humans to accept the potentially dehumanizing demands of the workforce as normal and natural. Punishment and rewards systems in schools inculcate allegiance, obedience, and specific modes of comportment. Training in morality and civics gives students concrete tools to distinguish “right” from “wrong.” Because corporations play major roles in curriculum development and because training in morality and civics overlaps with implicit religious norms and ideals, the academic study of religion can benefit from sustained inquiry into the complicated relationship between morality, patriotism, and corporate interests in postwar Japan and the United States.
2018 Race and the Analytical Study of Religion
Friday, November 16, 2018, University of Denver, Denver, CO
“(The ideas) of Racecraft govern what goes with what and whom (sumptuarycodes), how different people must deal with each other (rituals of deference anddominance), where human kinship begins and ends (blood), and how Americanslook at themselves and each other (the gaze). These ideas do not exist purely inthe mind, or only in the mind. They are social facts - like six o’clock, both anidea and a reality. Because Racecraft exists this way, its constant remakingconstantly retreats from view. This, “now you see it, now you don’t” quality iswhat makes racism - the practice of a double standard based on ancestry -possible.”
Karen E. Fields and Barbara J Fields, “A Tour of Racecraft,” in Racecraft
“Evidence of the changing and inconsistent composition of racialized groups,and definitions of racial difference in the course of modern history, suggeststhat "race" must be recognized as at least as unstable, at least as contingent, assubject to the same historical contexts that have continually reproduced andreconstituted class, gender, and other social formations. Evidence for theinextricability of racial formation from other historical processes emerges in thefrequent observation that the "new racism" of the late nineteenth centuryaccompanied rising antisemitism, including pogroms, and the Dreyfus Affair,and enhanced class stratification in Europe. Yet how do we comprehend therelationship between race and other historical processes?”
Laura Tabili, “Race is a Relationship and Not a Thing.”
In its 8th annual workshop, SORAAAD asks, How do we design research and collectdata on race, the processes of racialization, and religion? How do we trace theirintersections with disability, gender, orientation, and class while also challenging theidea that race or phenotypic preoccupation is a universal mode of human aggregation?How do we rejoin attention to these issues along with different scales of social andpolitical aggregation and power? To address these issues and more, we are pleased toannounce that Rudy Busto, Kelly J. Baker, Karen E. Fields, Chloe Martinez, Jolyon B. Thomas, Jens Kreinath, Angela C. Sutton, Monique Moultrie, and Sarah Dees will sharetheir work and insights with regard to Race and: history, white supremacy, legalclassifications, Racecraft, Japanese culture, visual culture, the Slave Societies Database, womanist ethnography, and Indigenous religion.
SORAAAD asserts that all discussions of race, racialization, and religion necessarilyfactor into larger social scientific discussions regarding principles of representation andresponsible uses of evidence. At the same time we recognize that research on race andreligion needs to integrate other facets of human existence and modes of aggregation,such as politics, economics, culture, and organizations, and these at varied scales. Multiple disciplines are working now to decolonize themselves, and yet such effortsexist often alongside—and sometimes overlap with—others to defend empire. How dowe construct studies of race that are not trapped in narratives of white supremacy or the impacts of colonialism retrojected over time? And how do we construct studies of race and religion that capture these categories as discursive sites and constructiveprocesses?
SORAAAD is happy to host an alliance of scholars to discuss the state of differentinitiatives to correct public and scholarly understandings of race. Drawing on researchfrom across the humanities and social sciences, and noting also new advances in thedigital humanities that provide unprecedented access to primary sources, we asktogether: How do we revisit the data of human history?
- Ipsita Chatterjea, David Walker, and Jamel Velji for the SORAAAD workshopcommittee.
SORAAAD at the University of Regina
Religious Studies Department, University of Regina
Film, Media & Journalism Studies Department, University of DenverReligious Studies Department, University of Denver
Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania (1:30 p.m.)
“Japanese People Don’t See Race”: Linguistic Tics, Ambient Norms, and the Constructed Qualities of Race and Religion in Japan
While the concepts of “race” (jinshu) and “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu) exist in contemporary Japanese, these terms feature as loan words that fit imperfectly with the English terms that they translate. Japanese perceptions of race are no less real for that fact, but Japanese sensitivities about race manifest themselves somewhat differently than, say, American perceptions of the same. For example, references to Japaneseness pervade daily conversation, from overheard conversations in coffeeshops to nighttime news broadcasts. The idea of Japaneseness cloaks personal opinion with the mantle of common sense, renders specific dispositions aspects of a timeless culture, and censures undesirable behavior while establishing social norms. Little of this discussion is about race as such, but the language of Japaneseness creates a social center that tolerates, but does not fully include, marginal communities (Brown 2006). Insensitivity to racial discrimination appears in the continued Japanese use of blackface in comedic situations, the ubiquity of minstrel kitsch in Japanese bars and cafes, nostalgia for Nazi paraphernalia in Japanese sub-communities, and casual indifference to the continuing marginal status of Japanese-born Koreans (now fourth-generation, but technically not fully “Japanese,” immigrants; Chung 2010) and traditional outcaste communities (burakumin; see Bondy 2014).
Building on the constructivist insight that both race and religion are invented categories that exist as socially dependent facts but not as ahistorical essences, in this presentation I look at some ways that religion and race intertwine in Japanese public life. Critically examining language that appears in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft constitution of 2012 and the revised Fundamental Law on Education (FLE) of 2006, I show that majoritarian approaches to constitutional revision and national legislation would render some aspects of religion as facets of a timeless Japanese culture. Specifically, by making Shinto essentially Japanese (it is not), conservative lawmakers can make public sponsorship of shrine rites immune from allegations of violating the constitutional principle of religion-state separation. Furthermore, by defining Japaneseness quite narrowly, lawmakers can restrict political participation to people bearing linguistic fluency (a high exclusionary hurdle given that Japanese is among the most difficult foreign languages to master), a narrow phenotype (e.g., black hair), and set of fetishized cultural dispositions (e.g., “harmony,” wa) that may include ritual practices. Not all of these ideals appear explicitly in the draft charter or the FLE, but by tying these legal issues to recent debates over the role of morality and patriotism in public schools, I show that children learn a type of racist thinking that refuses the language of race and a type of religious thinking that eschews explicit mention of religion.
Race and the Analytical Study of Religion
8:45-9:15 Workshop Check-in; Refreshments and Informal Introductions.
9:15 Introduction and Opening Statement
9:25 Introductions across the room - Ipsita Chatterjea & David Walker, Moderators.
Race and the Analytical Study of Religion - Sean McCloud, Session Chair
9:45 Rudy Busto “Race, Religion and the Chains of Human History”
10:25 Kelly Baker “Foregrounding White Supremacists in Religious Studies”
11:00 -11:15 Break
Race, Religion, Categories, and Classification - David Walker, Session Chair
11:15 Karen Fields “Race as America’s Totemic Constructs”
11:50 Chloe Martinez “Making Race, Making Space: Bhagat Singh Thind Beyond the
Supreme Court Case”
12:25- 1:30 Lunch
Race, Religion, Reframing the Data of Racialization - Tim Jensen, Session Chair.
1:30 Jolyon Thomas “’Japanese People Don’t See Race’: Linguistic Tics, Ambient
Norms, and the Constructed Qualities of Race and Religion in Japan”
2:10 Jens Kreinath “Visual Culture and the Formation of the Anthropological
Category of Race: Implications and Consequences for the Study of Religion and
Culture, with a Particular Focus on Islam and the Middle East”
2:50 Angela Sutton (via Skype) “Religious Documents in the Slave Societies Digital
Race and Methodology - Ipsita Chatterjea, Session Chair
3:40 Sarah Dees “Presence, Absence, Refusal: Race and Indigenous Religions in the Academy “
4:20 Monique Moultrie “Womanist Ethnography: Race, Sexuality and Media”
4:55 Conversation across sessions
5:20 Announcements and clean up.
SORAAAD reception - 5:40- 7:00, Location TBD
Americans stationed in occupied Japan at the close of World War II claimed to be bringing religious freedom to a country where it did not exist. They described Japan’s 1889 constitutional guarantee of religious freedom as a fake, and they claimed to be implanting “real religious freedom” in its stead. But in making such claims, the occupiers overlooked inconvenient historical facts. Countering the victors’ narrative, Jolyon Thomas shows that Japanese people were actually involved in a robust debate about religious freedom for decades before the occupation began; he also demonstrates that the American occupiers were far less certain about how to define and protect religious freedom than their triumphalist rhetoric suggested. And whereas post-Occupation histories have commonly assumed that the occupiers introduced the human right of religious freedom to Japan, Thomas argues that the inherently transnational circumstances of military occupation prompted stakeholders to conceive religious freedom as a "human right" in the first place. Along the way, the occupiers and their Japanese counterparts collaboratively constructed a new technical vocabulary about “good” and “bad” religion. The categories they developed in the late 1940s still dictate how academics, journalists, and policymakers working today imagine who deserves religious freedom, what kinds of political practices infringe on religious liberty, and who bears responsibility for doing anything about it.
University of Vermont, Aiken Center 102.