Japanese Studies

Fields of Research

Gender and Religion in Contemporary Japan

Religions contribute to the creation, legitimization and dissemination of gender images by means of their myths, their practices of inclusion and exclusion, and by means of their doctrinal traditions. In Japan as well as in other countries, conservative gender roles are often passed on in religious traditions; especially in Buddhism and Shintō women are excluded from particular offices and forms of praxis. At the same time, Japanese feminism has a long history, and with the "Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality" (2010) at the latest, gender equality became an official political goal of the Cabinet. How does this alleged change in values reflect back on religious communities? Has it led to changes in gender discriminating structures or doctrinal discourses? How do gender conceptions affect the self-understanding of religious experts, and what are these conceptions like? These questions are examined with a special focus on contemporary Buddhism, placing particular emphasis on the example of ordained Buddhist women.

Medicine and Religion in Contemporary Japan

In modern differentiated societies, religion and medicine are regarded as two subsystems with their respective semantics and differing functions: religious agents aim at "salvation", medical agents aim at curing illness. However, these borders seem to be increasingly permeable in contemporary Japan. Whereas some religious communities run their own biomedical hospitals and have thus established their position in the field of medicine, others promise to cure illness by means of their religious practices or have developed their own forms of diagnosis and therapy in close relation to their specific worldview. Against this background, the focus of my research are Buddhist and new religious therapeutical activities combining religious and medical language, as well as claims for salvation and medical cure.

New Religions

The propagation and individual appropriation of moral norms are fundamental to nearly all new religions in Japan. Notwithstanding the diversity of their doctrines and rituals, most of them share a similar set of virtues which are referred to as „everyday ethics“ (seikatsu rinri) by Fujii Takeshi. Building on the so called "popular morality" (tsūzoku dōtoku, Yasumaru Yoshio) prevalent in late Edo era (1600-1868), this ethics rests on moral norms such as discipline, frugality, modesty, diligence etc. In many new religions, moral instruction is characterized by individualization, i.e., it addresses the single believer in his / her concrete living conditions. Based on these observations, my research focuses on reconstructing communicative strategies that are applied within new religions in order to initiate and guide the individual appropriation of moral norms.