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Sacred Spaces, Secular Subjects: American and Japanese Visions of Religion and Education, 1945–55

A Brown Bag Lunch Workshop Talk

Sacred Spaces, Secular Subjects

American and Japanese Visions of Religion and Education, 1945–55

When American-led forces occupied Japan on 2 September 1945 after a brutal war, they set about promoting democracy through several contradictory initiatives: Political purges removed democratically elected leaders from public office. Censorship programs promoted freedom of expression. And liberalization of public schooling prompted draconian crackdowns on curricular content. Japanese schoolchildren redacted their own textbooks with black ink and scissors, while “ultranationalist” educators left schools due to political purges. In efforts to eliminate “State Shintō,” the occupiers discontinued courses in History, Geography, and Self-Cultivation (shūshin) and forbade the wartime practices of bowing in the direction of the imperial palace or venerating the imperial portrait. Even as their project of stripping all traces of religion from Japanese public schools took place overseas, educational experts working in America assumed a complementary relationship between education and religion. Many educators forcefully argued for the introduction of more religious training in American public schools; some advocated “release time” in which students could leave schools early to receive confessional training and moral guidance at their respective places of worship. 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.