Lecture explores relationship between religion and politics in Japan
About 50 people came to Weiser Hall Thursday afternoon for a presentation by Levi McLaughlin, Toyota Visiting professor of Japanese studies. The Center for Japanese Studies and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures hosted the conference as part of the CJS Noon Lectures Series.
In his lecture, McLaughlin discussed the relationship between religion and politics in Japan. He is a professor at North Carolina State University and author of “Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan”.
Addressing the complex nature of religion in Japan, McLaughlin shared a personal experience he had visiting Japan a few years ago while staying with friends’ relatives.
“They had reserved a room entirely for this huge Buddhist altar,” McLaughlin said. “We were talking about the reason I was there and the subject of religion, and as he replaced the water on the altar, he said, ‘We are not religious,’ and I would have liked. filming this because it’s the perfect example of what it’s like to talk about religion in Japan.
He noted how religion in Japan relates to public relations with the royal family.
“Many see some access to the royal couple as access to the divine and treat it as a lifecycle,” McLaughlin said. “The events surrounding the emperor and the royal family are in a way part of their own identity.”
Additionally, McLaughlin said there are other religious groups such as Buddhists, Christians and New Religions grouped under the Liberal Democratic Party that are impacting the country’s politics. He said these groups influence legislation, mobilize voices, create power for politicians and impact public discourse.
McLaughlin also discussed specific religious groups such as Jinja Honcho and the Soka Gakkai. He said these groups have the power to eventually disrupt the government in its current state.
Rackham student Sophie Hasuo, who does research at the Center for Japanese Studies, said the conference challenged her understanding of Japanese national belonging.
“It has complicated the whole religious and political divide that you can connect to other regions as well,” Hasuo said. “It brought a human-centered perspective to a really complicated subject that only academics grapple with.”
Allison Alexy, assistant professor of women’s studies and Asian languages and cultures, said the conference taught her more about the interplay of politics and religion in Japanese culture.
“I think it was a really fascinating speech about the intersections of religion and politics in Japan in a way that is largely invisible to people, even those involved in it, certainly to foreigners,” said Alexy.
To conclude the talk, McLaughlin touched on the challenges of studying the true effect of religion on the Japanese political situation.
“On the one hand, we have to take into account the divergent organizational types – many of which reject the label ‘religion’ but from an editing standpoint seem genuinely religious,” McLaughlin said. “What is important is to follow the people, the activities, the flow of information and the money to really understand Japanese politics.”