electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies
Discussion Paper 2 in 2004
The Religion-Secular Dichotomy
A Response to Responses
Reader in Religion
|信教自由 (shinkyō jiyū)||freedom of faith/ belief|
|聖道 (shōdō)||sacred doctrine; sacred path [of Buddha]|
|神仏礼拝 (shinbutsu reihai)||‘worship’ of kami and buddha|
|神を祭る (kami wo matsuru)||‘worship’ of kami|
The salient point that I believe Isomae wishes to make in the lecture is that all these terms, including the relatively obscure shūkyō, derive their meanings from specific, institutionalised contexts of discourses and practices. As far as I understand it, none of them were generic terms in the way that modern ‘religion’ is, and the adoption finally of shūkyō as the term most often used to correspond to a belief-centred non-Japanese cosmology changed its meaning and its usage. It was in this sense that I suggested that shūkyō is a modern invented category of a generic abstraction claimed uncritically to be found in all societies at any time in history. This is the ideological translation to which I tried to draw attention. The fact that these kanji [Chinese characters] have been found together a few times in obscure texts does not mean that there was a single word with a stable, established meaning corresponding to modern ‘religion’.
In my view the modern English-language category of religion has been formed through the same process that led to the separation of church from state in Northern Europe and North America and which simultaneously made possible the idea of the right to freedom of worship. If religion in the modern senses had already made its appearance in the 18th century in Japan, then how does one explain what happened at Meiji?
Given the importance that a historian such as Kuroda Toshio has given to the emergence of the modern invented meaning of shintō in Meiji, and the importance that in a somewhat parallel way Isomae Junichi has given to the emergence of a modern meaning for shūkyō, it seems crucial that the reader knows which Japanese words are being translated into which English words.
Pye uses the word ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ copiously throughout his book. However, my copy of Pye’s book has few Japanese words in Chinese characters in it. This is not primarily a complaint, but an observation. There is an impressive index, printed in kanji, of 250 names of writings referred to by Tominaga, yet none of them contain the characters 宗教 (shūkyō). This is hardly evidence that the word was of fundamental importance to the dominant discourses of that time. On page 157 there is a reference to “Futtantan’s transmission of two religions” and a footnote that says:
“Two religions’ stands for nishūkyō. Although Ishida transforms this into a different character compound by replacing the last character with that for ‘sūtra’ (also pronounced kyō) following a Chinese source…this appears to be, in Tominaga’s text, an early use of the modern Japanese term for ‘religion’. “ (footnote 152 on page 157).
This is the one place I can find a reference to shūkyō, and this is apparently a different kanji. Thus in this specific case there is no way for the reader to check (short of doing the research for him or herself) what is actually being asserted when Pye argues that ‘religion’ in the modern sense was already an indigenous category equivalent to ‘shūkyō’ in Japan in the 18th century.
Short of duplicating the work of translation for her- or himself, the reader has no way of checking what Japanese words are being translated for ‘religion’ in the 18th century (and this point applies in a more general sense to other categories which we all use to organise our thinking, for example ‘law’, ‘economics’, ‘markets’, ‘politics’) and what contextual nuances they carried. But Reader informs us that, in a different article, Pye does definitely specify shūkyō as the word used by Tominaga Nakamoto, and that by this he meant practically the same thing as we mean when we talk about religion. Furthermore, this idea of religion was arrived at in the Japanese context entirely independently from the developments in European languages. This claim, I admit, would be a serious challenge to an important part of my argument if it can be established. Yet if this is genuinely the modern nuance, one would like to know what has happened to the non-religious sphere that would be implied in the separation of ‘religion’ and ‘politics’「政教分離」and how it was possible to come up with the same concept before this historical event had come to pass.
I do not argue that ‘religion’ in English only has one essentialised meaning, and my book The Ideology of Religious Studies gives examples of a very large range of meanings attributed by scholars. The point here was to show that ‘religion’ is often treated by scholars as a loose bag into which a very wide range of things can be placed, including things that in other contexts would be placed in the ‘secular’ bag. However Isomae convinces me that the dominant meaning at the time of Meiji was ‘belief’ derived from private Protestant piety and hoisted on Japan by the (civilizing?) Protestant powers that threatened Japan with relegation to the status of ‘barbarian’ nation (yaban koku「野蛮国」；see Isomae below) if they refused to separate church from state or if they failed to understand and honour the principle of ‘freedom of religion’ (shinkyō jiyū 「信教自由」).
However, having said that, this is not an attempt to define religion in terms of some fixed essentialised meaning; it is to highlight the ambiguity and flexibility of the term. Its power lies in that it has both a strong historical and semantic association with private protestant piety, with a strong emphasis on correct belief, keeping it tied to some specific context of meaning. At the same time the same word is actually used by specialists as an empty container for whatever they want to put in it on the basis of ever more distant analogies to that relatively fixed point. The implied analogy between religion in its most strongly associated meaning of Protestant Piety or more generally Christian faith/belief and some other cross-cultural or cross-historical practice or institution at times becomes dangerously and even absurdly stretched.
Kuroda’s article (1993) as it has been translated into English is one example where ‘secularity’ is represented as “itself religious in nature.” (See footnote 4) and this is not uncommon in religious studies texts. I believe we can find examples in various publications where humanism, science, the Individual, football, the theory of evolution, the state and nationalism have been described as ‘religious’ or ‘religion’. I’ve even heard ‘the secular’ sphere described as a ‘religion’, along with humanism, science, the liberty of the Individual, baseball, the theory of evolution, and the state and nationalism. To describe things that are usually placed in the secular classification as a religion or a religious ideology is to go so far in the direction of flexibility as to completely un-tether the term from its semantic origins in Christian piety and to make it a mere arbitrary marker at the whimsy of any writer. In this context it seems surprising that scholars who specialise in the subject don’t appear to sense any problem, and seem merely to wish to protect the specialism from outsiders.
With the help of my friend Minako Takahashi, and my colleague Tom McAuley (School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield), I have attempted to translate Isomae Junichi’s lecture on the origins of 宗教学 (shūkyōgaku) in Japan during Meiji. This part of Isomae’s lecture is offered in translation with modesty and caution. We saw above that Nitta Hitoshi uses shūhō as equivalent to the western category ‘religion’, which at that time was heavily indebted to Protestant Christianity, and I have shown above that there were a number of different words and expressions, all tied in to specific institutional contexts, that were being picked up and put down again as possible equivalents. Eventually it was shūkyō that gained ascendancy. Isomae seems to be saying that shūkyō was a relatively obscure term at the time, which prompts the thought that it was partly because of its relative obscurity that it was most easily adapted to its new generic usage:
“…it was in 1857 that the word ‘religion’ was [first] translated from English into Japanese, for use in the 1858 US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce. At that time Christianity was still banned in Japan, and translations of ‘religion’ were, for some time after that, exclusively created for use in diplomatic treaties with western countries. The translation, however, was not yet fixed as shūkyō 宗教, and various early modern terms, such as shūhō 宗法 and shūshi 宗旨, were used as equivalents for religion6. Although freedom of belief [信教自由 shinkyō jiyū] was agreed at the national level, there was no debate on whether or not there was a correspondence between the western concept of religion, which centred on Christianity, and the Japanese concepts typified by shūshi 宗旨, yet the word religion was accepted by both Japan and the west for use in their external relations as being roughly equivalent to shinbutsu no reihai 神仏の礼拝 [‘worshipping’ kami and hotoke.]
It was after the prohibition of Christianity was withdrawn in 1873, or rather, once the practice of Christianity was tacitly approved, that the various Japanese words used as rough equivalents to the English word religion became unified to shūkyō 宗教. From this turning point (removing the ban) there was a debate within the wider society about how the word religion should be translated, this being seen as a problem of national policy concerning shūkyō 宗教. This debate indicates that the influx of Christianity to Japan was the trigger for the creation of the unified word shūkyō 宗教 which was generated from various terms of various religions that already existed in Japan [日本在来の諸宗教]7. In the first place the need arose among those Japanese people who participated in the debate to find a standard translation for religion which could be used consistently, and a consciousness arose in Japan about the relationship between Christianity and the various Japanese religions [キリスト教と日本在来の諸宗教との関係性]7. However, the debate only took place between governmental officials or a few intellectuals such as Fukuzawa Yukichi who had contact with western culture.
The point that I want to make here is that, before translations of religion were unified in shūkyō 宗教 two different types of translation equivalents were used: a word such as shūshi 宗旨 which is rich with the nuance of practice, and words such as kyōhō 教法 which has more of a meaning of belief. Words such as shūshi and shūmon emerged from the system of household registration with particular temples (terauke) and were only used to indicate practices entailed by personal membership of a specific sect temple, or of Christianity which was regarded as a deviant form (of sectarian practice). Only practices which were clearly followed by all members of a sectarian organisation [kyōdan sōshiki 教団組織] such as the dankaseido 「 檀家制度」, or funeral rites as suggested by the term ‘funeral Buddhism’ [sōshiki bukkyō 葬式仏教] were regarded as shūshi 「 宗旨」.
On the other hand terms such as kyōhō [教法 the Teachings of the Buddha] and shōdō’ [聖道 The Holy Path] indicate belief in the sense of doctrine [kyōgi 教義] or creed [shinnen 信念]. Debates on doctrine [kyōgi 教義] had taken place between Buddhists 「仏教」and others, principally Confucianists 「儒教」 and national learning scholars 「国学」but these were limited to intellectuals; concepts such as kyōhō 「教法」 and shōdō 「聖道」 existed on a different level from the ordinary person’s practice – shūshi 「宗旨」 – which was limited to Buddhism and Christianity. The characters for shūkyō 「宗教」originated in Buddhist texts 「仏典」 and were more like shūshi 「宗旨」 in nuance.
During the 1850’s and 1860’s, shūmon 「宗門」and shūshi 「宗旨」 were mainly used as the translation for religion in diplomatic documents and in the work of enlightenment scholars. Those words were often used because early modern Japanese were more familiar with them. However, the fundamental emphasis on belief that lay at the heart of the Protestant Christian sense of religion did not correspond to the sense of practice which underlay the early modern concept of shūshi 「宗旨」; so kyōhō 「教法」 and shōdō 「聖道」 began to be used in parallel with shūshi 「宗旨」.Eventually these translations became lined up into one word shūkyō 「宗教」with its emphasis on belief. This shows that the understanding of ‘things which appear like shūkyō 「宗教的なるもの」transferred from practice to belief among intellectuals in the early 1870’s.
At the same time the transfer from shūshi 「宗旨」 to shūkyō 「宗教」 widened the range of things that were recognised as religion 「宗教」. Whereas shūshi 「宗旨」was used exclusively in the context of either temple practice 「仏教or Christianity 「キリスト教 」, as is well known the word shūkyō 「宗教」 came to include Shinto [shintō 神道]、folk practices [minkan shinkō 民間信仰] and even Confucianism [jukyō 儒教]. Moreover the underlying concepts of shūshi 「宗旨and shūkyō 「宗教」 continued to diverge. Shūshi 「宗旨」 remained limited to the relation between believers 「 帰属という個別的な関係」and one of the sects 「仏教の各宗派」 whereas in the modern period the underlying principles of the word shūkyō 「宗教」 are quite different, including a wider set of phenomena 「近代での宗教という言葉は諸宗教を包括する」7. (Isomae Junichi, 平成１２年３月, 3 March 2002).8
I believe that Isomae’s historiography opens up the issue in an interesting way. Is Reader really saying that the modern category of religion, with its distinction from the secular and implying the separation of church and state and the further principle of the freedom of religion or worship, were established as concepts and principles prior to Meiji? If that were the case, it would be difficult to understand why there have been any debates at all about how to translate ‘religion’. If the term with the same nuances was already established in the literary and scholarly tradition, what were the Meiji debates actually about?
I end my response to responses here. No doubt there are mistakes in my argument, and these things can never be decisively proved one way or another. But I hope the discussion has at least stimulated thought, if not agreement.
1. Fitzgerald, T. (1995)
2. For example, on this issue see Pye (1992) in Despland and Vallee, 101-109.
3. Tominaga, Nakamoto (1990 ).
4. There are problems with the English language terminology in this translation, such as when Kuroda is translated as writing “It is said that Shinto played a secular role in society and existed in a completely different sphere from Buddhism. I would maintain that this very secularity was permeated with Buddhist concepts and was itself religious in nature.” (1993: 9) I believe that Kuroda is trying to say something important here, but either he or his translators were unable to find the right language. What does it mean to say that the secular sphere “is itself religious in nature”? I do not blame the translators for this; I merely point this out because it may illustrate my point about the confusion in language between religion-secular and sacred-profane.
5. See also Inoue (2003); and reviews by Fitzgerald (forthcoming and 2004)
6. Author’s bold.
7. These sentences are for me problematic, since it suggests that the several Japanese ‘religions’「諸宗教」already existed in Japan prior to an agreement about what constitutes a religion. Given the complexity of what Isomae is attempting it is hardly surprising that he, like most scholars, should be occasionally trapped by a terminology that is being problematised.
8. I am grateful to Professor Isomae for his permission to translate and publish his paper. I am grateful to Minako Takahashi for her translation help, and also to Tom McAuley for checking through the final translation and making improvements.
Breen, J. & Teeuwen, M. (eds.) (2000) Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami, Honolulu: University of Hawaii.
Despland, Michel and Vallee, Gerard (eds.) (1992) Religion in History: The Word, the Idea, the Reality; La Religion dans l'histoire: le mot, l'idee, la realite, Waterloo, Canada: Wilfred Laurier University Press.
Fitzgerald, T. (1993). Japanese religion as ritual order, Religion, 23: 315-341.
Fitzgerald, T. (1995) Things, thoughts and people out of place: a review of Mullins et al Religion and Society in Modern Japan, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 22 – 1/2: 201 - 217
Fitzgerald, T. (2000) The Ideology of Religious Studies, New York: Oxford University Press.
Fitzgerald, T. (forthcoming) Review of Breen, J & Teeuwen, M (eds.) (2000) Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami, Japan Forum
Fitzgerald, T. (2004) Review of Inoue (2003) Shinto - A Short History, CSJR Newsletter, January Issue No. 9
Hori Ichiro, Ikado Fujio, Wakimoto Tsuneya and Yanagawa Keiichi (eds.) (1972). Japanese Religion: A Survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Tokyo: Kodansha.
Inoue, Nobutaka (ed.) Ito Satoshi, Endo Jun, and Mori Mizue (2003), Shinto - A Short History, London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
Isomae, Junichi (2000) Kindai nihon ni okeru ‘shūkyō’ gainen no keiseikatei, Nihon joshi daigaku sōgō kenkyūjō nyūsu, No 8, March, 2000. (“The formative process of the category ‘shūkyō’ in modern Japan”, Japan Women’s University Research Institute Newsletter.)
Kuroda, Toshio, (1993 ), Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion, translated by Suzanne Gay and James C. Dobbins, in Mullins, Mark, Shimazono, Susumu, Swanson, Paul L. (eds.) Religion and Society in Modern Japan, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press: 7 – 30.
McCutcheon, Russell T. (1997) Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, Oxford: OUP.
Mullins, Mark, Shimazono, Susumu, Swanson, Paul L. (eds.) (1993) Religion and Society in Modern Japan, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press.
Pye, Michael (1990) translation plus Introduction and commentary, Tominaga Nakamoto (1990 ) Emerging from Meditation, London: Duckworth
Pye, M. (1992) An Asian starting point for the Study of Religion,
in Despland and Vallee (eds.) (1992) Religion in History: The Word, the Idea, the Reality; La Religion dans l'histoire: le mot, l'idee, la realite: 101-109
Tominaga Nakamoto (1990 ) Emerging from Meditation, translated with an Introduction by Michael Pye, London: Duckworth.
Timothy Fitzgerald began his career within Religious Studies at King’s College, London, then did a PhD also at King’s College, London, in the field of philosophical theology, and then moved into social anthropology at the LSE where he did an MSc. He did field work on Ambedkar Buddhism, an untouchable movement of collective and individual transformation and liberation in Maharashtra. Soon after his first field trip to India, he moved to Japan and taught in a university near Nagoya for several years. His wife Noriko is Japanese and their children, Taro and Mari, are bilingual. His recent book is The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
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