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Religion and the Constitution in Contemporary Japan

  • Convention Center Room 109 Denver, CO USA (map)

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)

Panel abstract:

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.