Dr. Monster and making Buddhism a Religion

NetsukeAfter a number of posts covering skeptical issues I thought it’s about time to examine another study on the topic of religion.

This time the study title is “When Buddhism Became a ‘Religion’: Religion and Superstition in the Writings of Inoue Enryo” published in 2006 in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies by Jason Ananda Josephson.

If the title sounds confusing don’t worry, the basic premise of Josephson’s article is that it was not until the Meiji period and the arrival of foreign influences that the concept of ‘a religion’ developed in Japan and as such prior to this period Buddhism was not ‘a religion’. Josephson argues that in seeking to make Buddhism fit with the ‘Western’ category of religion a number of practices and beliefs particularly those relating to demons and magic which had previously been central to Japanese Buddhism were eliminated.


The Invention of Martial Arts

Judo Throw

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger are two Marxist historians famous for promoting the concept of the ‘invention of tradition’. This concept is based around a Marxist inspired analysis of traditions which questions the validity of any assumption that they are timeless edifices created organically and haphazardly. Instead, Hobsbawm and Ranger contend that in reality ‘traditions’ are often relatively modern constructions created in the service of specific agendas and hence are ‘invented traditions’.

This concept was originally applied by Hobsbawn, Ranger and their co-authors in 1983 to the ‘invention of traditions’ in an European and, in particular, a British Colonial setting. In 1998 however the Mirror of Modernity edited by Stephen Vlastos was published which comprised of a collection of articles looking specifically at the ‘Invented traditions of Modern Japan’. There were many interesting and quite suprising topics covered in the articles and I hope to address several of them in future posts but the one I am interested in examining now is Inoue Shun’s examination of Judo and it’s role in ‘the invention of the martial arts’.


Household Altars in Contemporary Japan

Integrated butsudan

Integrated butsudan

Since this blog was created with the intention of addressing the weird and the wonderful in both anthropology and religion I’ve decided it would be a good idea to start producing reviews of interesting research.

My areas of ‘expertise’ are in the literature from the academic ‘study of religions’ and from anthropological studies (i.e. ethnographies) focusing on religion & East Asia so you can expect most of the material for these reviews to be drawn from those sources.

Now, to get things rolling, the first article I’m going to examine is a recently published article by John K. Nelson, a scholar specialising in Japanese religion, examining how the marketing of household altars in Japan reflects the changing attitudes towards spirituality and religion found in modern day Japan. The article is titled ‘Household Altars in Contemporary Japan: Rectifying Buddhist “Ancestor Worship” with Home Decor and Consumer Choice’ and was published in 2008 in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (incidentally, for anyone interested, the article can be viewed online, for free, here).


The Religion of the Ninja

Rather than bother with a long winded philosophical ramble about my motivations or an indepth exploration of the deep personality flaws that undoubtedly underly my entrance to the blogging world I thought I would jump in at the deep end and kick things off with a discussion of the topic at the heart of almost all religious debates… ninjas!

Lest the infamous ability of the internet to eat sarcasm comes into effect I feel I should duly acknowledge that ninjas, although featuring prominently across the internet, are by and large absent from debates surrounding religion. However, this could all be about to change due to a recent announcement from Masaaki Hatsumi, the current head of the largest Ninjutsu organisation around today; the Bujinkan.