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Varieties of Religious Freedom in Japanese Buddhist Responses to the 1899 Religions Bill

  • Jolyon Baraka THOMAS (a1)
Abstract

Historians have often described early-twentieth-century Japanese Buddhists as ignorant of the importance of religious freedom, myopically focused on their parochial agendas, and sycophantically aligned with the state. Such depictions assume that the attitudes of a minority of elite Buddhist clerics represent majority Buddhist opinion; they also problematically treat religious freedom as a universal principle rather than a historically contingent concept subject to the conflicting claims of competing interest groups. This article highlights the contingency of religious freedom law and the diversity of its interpretation by introducing three discrete attitudes that surfaced in Buddhist responses to a controversial Bill advanced by the Japanese government in December 1899. Tracing differences between statist, corporatist, and latitudinarian interpretations of religious freedom, it shows that religious freedom is never unitary or uniform in any time or place.

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Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. This article is based on a chapter of my book manuscript with the working title Japan, the Allied Occupation, and the Problem of Religious Freedom. I thank Hoshino Seiji, Iwata Fumiaki, Ōmi Toshihiro, Ōsawa Kōji, Ōtani Eiichi, and Yoshinaga Shin’ichi for their help in securing primary sources cited in this article. Cameron Penwell kindly shared an informative unpublished paper on the Sugamo Prison Chaplain Incident. Thanks to Tom Ginsburg and Ben Schonthal for including me in this special issue. Correspondence to Jolyon Baraka Thomas, 847 Williams Hall, 255 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. E-mail address: jolyon@sas.upenn.edu.

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Bukkyō (B)
Kizokuin giji sokki roku (KGSR)
Kyōgaku hōchi (KH)
Meikyō shinshi (MS)
Seikyō jihō (SJ)
Shin Bukkyō (SB)
Shin Bukkyō ronsetsu shū (SBRS)
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Asian Journal of Law and Society
  • ISSN: 2052-9015
  • EISSN: 2052-9023
  • URL: /core/journals/asian-journal-of-law-and-society
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