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Princeton University Symposium: Celebrating Jackie Stone


Buddhism and the Politics of Public Education in Postwar Japan

This talk examines Buddhist attempts to contribute to the public good by promoting private morality through public education in postwar and contemporary Japan. Buddhist organizations' formal contributions to public life were largely channeled through private humanitarian and cultural activities in the postwar decades. Simultaneously, social changes such as urbanization diminished longstanding temple connections with parishioner families and refocused Buddhist attention on developing individuals as moral agents. Against this historical background, Buddhist groups turned to public education as a site for cultivating a type of individual morality that could also address public concerns about problems such as compensated dating, violence, and other antisocial behavior such as bullying. When the Japanese government began considering proposals for revising the 1947 Fundamental Law on Education as a way of addressing some of these social concerns, transsectarian Buddhist organizations like the Japanese Buddhist Federation, the Kyoto Buddhist Association, and the All-Japan Buddhist Youth Edification Association weighed in by trying to offer ideal legal language that would clarify the importance of Buddhism as the core of Japanese moral values. Despite their concerted efforts, the 2006 revision of the Fundamental Law on Education failed to include any of the proposed language Buddhist groups had sought. The debates over the revision did, however, give Buddhists new ways of thinking about how they could contribute to the public good as tax-exempt religious juridical persons.