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Prof. Dr. Mark Teeuwen

Senior Research Fellow


Areas of Interest

  • History of Japanese Religions
  • The conceptualisation of religion in Japan
  • Religion as heritage in Japan

Questions of Secularity, and the Place of ‘Religion’ in Society.

First Project 

My first project is focused on the Edo period before the introduction of the modern, Western category of ‘religion’ to Japan. I am interested in mapping the concepts that were commonly used in the shogunal administration of temples and shrines, and in the supervision of various kinds of priests and ritualists at different stages in this period. There may have been no ‘religion’ in early modern Japan, but there was a concern with establishing the legitimacy of people’s ‘faith’ (shinkō, shinjin) and expanding administrative control over ‘priests’ (in the widest sense of the term). The legitimacy of people’s faith had to be confirmed by a temple, while priests had to be licensed. This system, which was designed in the latter half of the seventeenth century amid concern about ‘pernicious faiths’, created institutional interests that were defended tooth and nail into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the course of the same period, the public role of priests was viewed with increasing scepticism, and efforts to establish laypeople’s faith all but ceased. I am interested in how this system worked, how it was rationalised, and how it influenced the reception and reshaping of the concept of ‘religion’ once it arrived in Japan and became part of the country’s judicial and political system. The changing relationship between such concepts as faith, teaching, prayer rites (kitō) and Confucian rites (rei) is central to my analysis. I am also currently finishing a book manuscript on the arrest and crucifixion of Christians in Kyoto and Osaka in 1827-1829. Using legal documents relating to the case, I will analyse the notion of Kirishitan as a pernicious creed, as it was understood during this crucial period, more than a century after the presence of Kirishitan had last been officially confirmed in the country. 

Second Project

My second project is about the place of religion and faith in the modern and contemporary period, through a historical analysis of matsuri festivals and their place in the public realm. My focus is on the Gion Matsuri festival in Kyoto and its post-Meiji history. While this festival, linked to a major shrine, has a clear Shinto dimension, its status has changed multiple times in its modern history. Before the Second World War, it was defined as a “private ritual” and therefore excluded from the state funding that was extended to the ‘non-religious’ state shrine Yasaka Jinja. Its private nature allowed for the inclusion of religious elements, and while Yasaka was cleansed of Buddhist elements to transform it into a secular Shinto shrine, the floats that were paraded through the town in the Gion parade were allowed to retain their Buddhist (and even Shugendo – a prohibited ‘mixed’ tradition) imagery. After the war, while Yasaka Jinja was transformed into a private religious institution, excluding it from public funding, Gion Matsuri became a focus of the municipality’s ambition to develop into a “city of international tourism”. To revive the festival, generous subsidies were necessary. This became possible first by classifying the parade of floats as a distinct ‘secular event’, separate from the shrine ritual, and later by designating the parade and its floats as cultural properties and thereby as protected elements of Japanese heritage. This protected status has been conferred under various schemes, most recently by placing the parade and its floats on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The model of separating “traditional culture events” from religious institutions and extending public funds to them as cultural heritage was pioneered in Kyoto, and has since spread to festivals around the country. As a subsidised, secular performance, however, the parade soon descended into a crisis of authenticity. Kyoto city hall transformed the parade to suit its own purposes in the 1950s and 1960s, ignoring protests from the shrine priests and their traditionalist supporters. Opinion pieces in Kyoto newspapers discussed the question of whether the Gion festival had degenerated into a meaningless show, devoid of true faith. These debates spilled over into heritage politics; Gion Matsuri and its politically motivated transformation into a mere show was brought up in Diet debates about revision of the Law for the Preservation of Cultural Properties in the 1970s as a prime example of the need for change. That change, priests and folklorists alike argued, should open up the possibility to designate ‘faith events’ as integrated cultural properties, without differentiating between secular and religious elements. Negotiations about the boundary between the religious and the secular are often discussed with reference to such famous sites as Yasukuni Shrine, or to the legislative marathons that were the Tsu Jichinsai Ceremony case (1977) and the Ehime Tamagushiryō case (1997). These all concerned the participation of public figures in shrine rituals, or shrine involvement in public ceremonies, in a very politicised context. Little attention has been paid, however, to the use of heritage politics as a way to secularise religious events as global, national or regional culture. The listing of 33 major festivals around Japan as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage represented a new benchmark in the development of this policy. Investigating its post-war development and current status will shed new light on secularity in its Japanese guise.



Professor of Japanese Studies, Oslo University (NOR)


Lecturer, University of Wales, Cardiff (UK)


Relevant Publications

  • Fumiko, Miyazaki, Kate W. Nakai, and Mark Teeuwen. The Christian Sorcery Scare: Kyoto and Osaka, 1827-1829. Columbia University Press, forthcoming.
  • Rots, Aike P., and Mark Teeuwen. Sacred heritage in Japan: UNESCO and the changing shapes of Japanese religion. forthcoming.
  • Rots, Aike P., and Mark Teeuwen. “Clashing Models: Ritual Unity vs Religious Diversity.” Japan Review 30 (2017): 39–62. 
  • Rots, Aike P., and Mark Teeuwen. “Formations of the Secular in Japan: Editors’ Introduction.” Japan Review 30 (2017): 3–20. 
  • Teeuwen, Mark, and John Breen. A social history of the Ise shrines: Divine capital. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
  • Teeuwen, Mark, Kate W. Nakai, Fumiko Miyazaki, Anne Walthall, and John Breen. Lust, Commerce, and Corruption: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard, by an Edo Samurai. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.
  • Beerens, Anna, and Mark Teeuwen, eds. Uncharted waters: Intellectual life in the Edo period. Essays in honour of W. J. Boot. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  • Teeuwen, Mark. “Early Modern Secularism? Views on Religion in Seji Kenbunroku (1816).” Japan Review 25 (2013): 3–19.
  • Teeuwen, Mark, and Henk Blezer. “Buddhism and Nativism: Framing Identity Discourse in Buddhist Environments.” In Buddhism and Nativism: Framing Identity Discourse in Buddhist Environments. Edited by Henk Blezer and Mark Teeuwen, 1–28. Boston: Brill, 2013.
  • Teeuwen, Mark. “The Buddhist Roots of Japanese Nativism.” In Buddhism and Nativism: Framing Identity Discourse in Buddhist Environments. Edited by Henk Blezer and Mark Teeuwen, 51–76. Boston: Brill, 2013.
  • Breen, John, and Mark Teeuwen. A New History of Shinto. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Teeuwen, Mark. “Jingi, jindō, soshite shintō: Shintō no gainenshi o saguru.” Bungaku 9 (2008): 247–57.