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Prof. Dr. Hans Martin Krämer

Senior Research Fellow

(present October 2019 - March 2020)


Areas of interest

  • Transcultural Construction of the Concept of Religion 
  • Spiritual Pan-Asianism 

Research project: Critics of secularism in early 20th-century Japan

By the turn of the 20th century, a secularist consensus had been achieved by the political elites and the mainstream of the established religions in Japan. Policymakers agreed to leave religion alone, as a private affair and protected by the constitutional clause on freedom of religion, while religionists accepted the emperor worship of State Shinto as a secular public obligation that did not infringe on their religions proper. This secularist consensus was so effective that, even today, scholarship on modern Japan is blinded by a methodological secularism: Religion is seen to hold little explanatory power for the political history of modern Japan and, conversely, the religiosity of an object of study is somehow tainted once politics comes into play.

Nonetheless, there were vocal groups opposing the way religion was kept out of politics in Japan in the early decades of the 20th century. Falling neither neatly into the category of political nor religious movements, they have so far mostly been shunned by modern historiography. In articulating their vision of a fusion of religion and politics, all of these groups and individuals invoked not only allegedly traditional Japanese ideals, such as the “unity of rite and rule” (saisei itchi), but also European critiques of Western civilization and modernity, as they were current especially in the 1910s and 1920s. Their interests dovetailed with a “decline of the West” narrative in vogue in Europe, and a number of Europeans, who combined the quest for a higher truth in Asia with anti-colonial activism, gave the Japanese movements under investigation a decidedly transnational flavour.
This project sets out to investigate the critique of secularism voiced within this network by one of these transnational actors, namely the Frenchman Paul Richard, who stayed in Japan from 1916 to 1920, at the height of his prominence. His deep connections to the Indian independence movement provided him with credentials attractive to Japanese anti-colonial activists, but he was clearly also perceived as a spiritually enlightened individual and had close connections to a variety of religionists during his sojourn in Japan. By drawing on the writings and letters of these individuals, as well as primary sources from British, French, and Japanese archives, the project seeks to reconstruct their perceptions and critiques of modern, especially Japanese, secularism, and thereby also to overcome the methodological secularism still dominant in the historiography of modern Japan.


2012​ - present

Professor, Institute for Japanese Studies with focus on history and society, University of Heidelberg (Germany)




Guest researcher, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto (Japan)

2008 - 2012

Assistant Professor, Japanese Studies with focus on religion and history of ideas, RUB Bochum, Bochum (Germany) 


Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, Cambridge (USA)


Assistant Professor, Japanese Studies, RUB (Germany)


PhD (Dr. phil.)

Relevant Publications

  • Krämer, Hans Martin, Björn Bentlage, Marion Eggert, and Stefan Reichmuth (eds). Religious Dynamics under the Impact of Imperialism and Colonialism: A Sourcebook. Leiden: Brill, 2017.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin: “Reconceiving the Secular in Early Meiji Japan: Shimaji Mokurai, Buddhism, Shinto, and the Nation.” Japan Review 30 (2017): 63–77.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “The Role of Religion in European and North American Japanese Studies,” in Religion and Orientalism in Asian studies. Edited by Kiri Paramore, 119–128. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. ”A play of opposites: how religion was defined by the non-religious in early Meiji Japan,” in Japan und das Problem der Moderne. Edited by Urs M. Zachmann and Christian Uhl, 362–75. München: Iudicium, 2015.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. Shimaji Mokurai and the reconception of religion and the secular in modern Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2015.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Pan-Asianism's religious undercurrents: the reception of Islam and translation of the Qur'ān in twentieth-century Japan.” The journal of Asian studies, 73/3 (2014): 619–40.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “An der Schwelle zum modernen Religionsbegriff: Der Beitrag japanischer Buddhisten, 1850–1880,“ in Religion in Asien? Studien zur Anwendbarkeit des Religionsbegriffs. Edited by Peter Schalk, 319–49. Uppsala: Uppsala Universität, 2013.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “‘Die Flamme, die in einer Gefängniszelle entzündet worden war …‘: Repressionserfahrung im Faschismus und Aufstieg der Neuen Religionen in Japan nach 1945,“ in Gewalterfahrung und Prophetie. Edited by Peter Burschel, 147–65. Wien: Böhlau, 2013.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Japanese discoveries of ‘secularization’ abroad and at home, 1870-1905,” in: Religion and secularity: transformations and transfers of religious discourses in Europe and Asia. Edited by Marion Eggert, 193–215. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “How ‘religion’ came to be translated as shūkyō: Shimaji Mokurai and the appropriation of religion in early Meiji Japan.” Japan review, 25 (2013): 67–89.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Interpretatio Buddhistica oder Interpretatio Christianal?: Eine historisch-philologische Skizze der Rezeption von Islam und Koran in Japan,“ in Frühe Koranübersetzungen. Europäische und außereuropäische Fallstudien. Edited by Reinhold F. Gley, 47–95. Tier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2012.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Beyond the dark valley: reinterpreting Christian reactions to the 1939 religious organizations law.” Japanese journal of religious studies, 38/1 (2011): 181–211.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Introduction: ‘Religion’ and ‘heresy’ in East Asia between continuity and discontinuity.” Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasienforschung, 33/2009 (2010): 5–16.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “This deus is a fool’s cap Buddha: ‘the Christian sect’ as seen by early modern Japanese Buddhists.” Comparativ, 20/4 (2010): 75–97.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin, Jenny Rahel Oesterle, and Ulrike Vordermark. Labeling the religious self and others: reciprocal perceptions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians in medieval and early modern times. Comparativ, 20/4 (2010). Special Issue.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. “Not befitting our divine country: eating meat in Japanese discourses of self and other from the seventeenth century to the present.” Food and foodways, 16/1 (2008): 33–62.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin, Tino Schölz, and Sebastian Conrad. Geschichtswissenschaft in Japan: Themen, Ansätze und Theorien. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006.
  • Krämer, Hans Martin. Unterdrückung oder Integration?: Die staatliche Behandlung der katholischen Kirche in Japan. 1932 bis 1945. Marburg: Förderverein Marburger Japan-Reihe, 2002.