Special Issue "Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Japan"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 March 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Kevin M Doak

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D. 20057, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Modern Japan: Religion and Philosophy, Catholic Thought and Literature, nationalism, Tanaka Kōtarō, Yoshimitsu Yoshihiko

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This special issue will focus on religion and spirituality in contemporary Japan.  There is a lot of literature on religion in modern Japan, somewhat less on contemporary Japan.  But there are gaps in coverage and certain biases in approach that this special issue seeks to redress.  For example, the most common approach to religion in Japan is to assume that Buddhism and Shintoism basically cover the topic, with an occasional nod to the small Christian minority.  And there is a growing interest in “New Religions.” For example, Swanson & Chilson’s authoritative anthology Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions (Hawaii, 2006) is a good example.  After introducing “Shinto” “Buddhism,” “Folk Religion,” “New Religions” and “Japanese [sic] Christianity,”  the volume then surveys religion across historical periods before turning to various chapters on thematic issues like ritual, politics and gender.  Yet, like most of the literature on Japanese religion, there is a modernist bias that presumes either real Japanese religions (Buddhism, Shintoism) were things of the premodern era, or as other scholars have argued, Japanese don’t really have an understanding of “religion” (shūkyō) because the term was a modern neologism that never fit Japanese spiritual reality (Josephson, 2012; Kramer, 2013).  Only Shimazono addressed contemporary religion in Nanzan volume, and he has to do so in less than 10 pages. And his approach, like that of others who write on the modern period, emphasizes State Shintoism as an oppressive form of pseudo-religion that ended with the liberation of Japan in the postwar period by American military occupation.  This special issue will take a different, although not necessarily contradictory, approach.  Rather than emphasize traditional political issues like State Shinto and gender, it will look in depth at religious experience and spirituality in contemporary Japan on their own terms.  By no means will it ignore social and political representations of religions—especially minority religions.  But it hopes to captures those realities outside the master narratives which have defined the work on religion in modern Japan, especially in English literature. In order to achieve that goal, the special issue will emphasize contributions from Japanese scholars and non-Japanese scholars living in Japan who are in the best position to comment on religion in the contemporary moment.

Our focus and scope is on religion and spirituality in contemporary Japan.  We take a more informal approach to understanding “religion” than merely organized formal religions, seeking to capture religious experience beyond the usual categories of Buddhism and Shintoism as the mainstream religions in Japan.  To do so, we need to look to the margins of society. For example, Christian influences are important precisely because Christianity is marginal as organized religion but not at all marginal in broader social reality. Thus, we feel a need to look at Christian influence in contemporary Japan and to do so beyond the popular paradigm of indigenization or enculturation, looking instead at the influences of Christianity in museums and World Heritage Organization representations as part of a global religious reality.  This is part of our broader globalist approach that, in contrast to the nationalist paradigm, sees religious experience (or “spirituality”) in Japan as a concrete instance of a more universal, human phenomenon.  By the same token, we need to look at New Religions and other experiences that may not be easily categorized as “religious.” This broader, adventurous approach should grasp aspects of religious experience in Japan today that has often eluded scholars writing on the topic. One key point is to look to society rather than the state to discover a wealth of religious /spiritual experiences in contemporary Japan, especially “on the margins.”

Prof. Dr. Kevin M Doak
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Japan
  • Contemporary
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Christianity
  • New Religions
  • Globalism
  • Society
  • Marginality

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Open AccessArticle Consuming the Tower of Babel and Japanese Public Art Museums—The Exhibition of Bruegel’s “The Tower of Babel” and the Babel-mori Project
Religions 2019, 10(3), 158; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030158
Received: 1 February 2019 / Revised: 27 February 2019 / Accepted: 28 February 2019 / Published: 5 March 2019
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Two Japanese public art museums, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Gallery and the National Art Museum of Osaka, hosted Project Babel, which included the Babel-mori (Heaping plate of food items imitating the Tower of Babel) project. This was part of an advertising campaign for [...] Read more.
Two Japanese public art museums, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Gallery and the National Art Museum of Osaka, hosted Project Babel, which included the Babel-mori (Heaping plate of food items imitating the Tower of Babel) project. This was part of an advertising campaign for the traveling exhibition “BABEL Collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: Bruegel’s ‘The Tower of Babel’ and Great 16th Century Masters” in 2017. However, Babel-mori completely misconstrued the meaning of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1–9. I explore the opinions of the curators at the art museums who hosted it and the university students who took my interview on this issue. I will also discuss the treatment of artwork with religious connotations in light of education in Japan. These exhibitions of Christian artwork provide important evidence on the contemporary reception of Christianity in Japan and, more broadly, on Japanese attitudes toward religious minorities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Japan)

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Spirituality in Japan Outside the Realm of Organized Religion

                    —Its Place in the Teaching of Moral Education—

Abstract: Japan in the 1980’s witnessed the birth of what Professor Susumu Shimazono called “new spirituality movements and culture”. A distaste for authoritarianism and exclusionism set this new spirituality apart from that of Japan’s institutionalized and organized religions. It was, in addition, antagonistic towards the principles of modern scientism, which concerns itself exclusively with the tangible.

Of the many areas in which this new spirituality has manifested itself, from popular spirituality in consumer culture and the media to a much more scientific approach to spirituality in various academic fields, this paper chooses to focus on research into spirituality in the field of Japanese education, and especially moral education. Here, for example, one of the four themes of the new moral education classes introduced into elementary schools in 2018 is our connectedness to what is sublime and lofty. It is far from easy to teach such a subject, since Japanese moral education is required to keep its distance from popular spirituality as well as from the institutionalized spirituality of organized religions. Furthermore, the conventional knowledge that underpins modern Japanese moral education struggles to deal with spirituality and the vast range of human existence, including our search for the purpose and significance of life. This paper will examine current work on such issues and attempt to outline the future role that spirituality might play in moral education in Japan.

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