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Workshop on "Secularities in Japan"

18-20 July 2018
Leipzig University, Kolleg-Forschergruppe (KFG)
“Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities“
Strohsack, Nikolaistraße 8-10
Room 5.55


In discourses on the tenability of classical secularisation theories, Japan has always been an interesting case. For proponents of such theories, modern Japan proved beyond doubt that economic, scientific, institutional and technological progress inevitably leads to a secularised society. In contrast, for critics of these theories, e.g. adherents of rational choice theory, Japan served as an instance of its untenability by pointing out the alleged vitality of Japanese religions. Some post-colonial scholars favouring genealogical approaches have tried to demonstrate that concepts such as secularisation and secularity are deeply rooted in European history and cannot be applied to Japan at all. Yet others have contested this position as a form of ethnocentric exceptionalism. In this regard, it should also be noted that Japanese scholars' views of secularisation/secularity can be very diverse. Although the Japanese debate since the 1970s shows a certain tendency to characterise these concepts as 'alien', not a few scholars have at-tempted to apply/adapt them to Japanese religion(s).

In any case, it is evident that secularity in Japan is not the same as secularity in the United States, France, or Germany. Based on our assumption that there is not just one form of secularity but a multiplicity of secularities, depending on historical path dependencies, specific epistemes and dispositives, social structures, emic taxonomies, and knowledge regimes, we aim at a reconstruction of the trajecto-ries that prestructured the appropriation of hegemonic Western concepts of secularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. We also want to ask whether, and if so, how these peculiar historical preconditions still have an impact on Japanese discourses on the boundaries between religion and the secular sphere (e.g. recent debates on the status of the Yasukuni shrine and attempts to alter articles 20 and 89 of the constitution).

In light of the above questions, we invite papers that explore “secularity/secularities in Japan” with regard to various historical time periods and source materials. Workshop contributions should approach the topic and the surrounding issues from different disciplinary perspectives and focus on negotiations of the boundaries between what we call “religion” and other social domains, practices and interpretations. They should also consider the resulting institutionally, as well as symbolically, embedded forms and arrangements of “the religious” and “the secular.” For the sake of terminological consistency, we reserve the term “secularity” for those forms and arrangements and suggest using the term “secularism” only for the ideological objectives of separation of religion and the secular, the movements associated with them and resultant measures to regulate them.

Guiding Questions

  1. When did differentiations between “religion” and other societal domains emerge (social structures) and how were these distinctions conceptualised (classifications/taxonomies)?
  2. Under which circumstances did these differentiations and related distinctions emerge? Are there specific historical events that triggered the emergence of such differentiations?
  3. By whom have they been put forward, for what reasons, and with what effects?What is the terminology in which conceptual distinctions were expressed and how did these distinctions relate to social structures?
  4. What are the sources indicating social differentiations and conceptual distinctions?
  5. Have there been counter-reactions and counter-movements against certain forms of distinction?
  6. How did early forms of distinction (if there were any) interact with distinctions that were introduced through engagement with Western forms of modernity? What effects did these encounters/engagements have?


  • Christoph Kleine
  • Katja Triplett
  • Ugo Dessì