Course syllabus


Japanese 308 Religion in Modern Japanese Society

SEMESTER 1, 2019

15 points

Course Convenor: 

Mark Mullins 


Mark Mullins 

Course delivery format:

2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of tutorial each week

Lectures:        Tuesday 3:00-5:00, C303/207-303

Tutorial:          Wednesday 2:00-3:00, 119-130

Office Hours: Wednesday 3:00-5:00 (and by appointment)

Room 427, Arts 2 building

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)

 Summary of Course Description:              


The aim of this course is to understand the role of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in modern Japanese society. The first part of the course will review sociological and historical approaches to the study of religion and consider the “layers” of tradition—Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, and New Religions—that evolved over the centuries and continue to shape contemporary Japanese religiosity.

The second part of the course examines religion during Japan’s century of modernization and considers the “invention” of State Shinto and its role in nation-building, the restructuring of Japanese religion and society during the Occupation period (1945-1952), the decline of temple Buddhism and Shrine Shinto during the postwar period, and the emergence and impact of new religious movements.

The third part of the course will focus on several key issues that have been the topic of critical public debate in recent decades:

1) Religion and violence: Aum Shinrikyō, a new religious movement, launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. We will examine the factors that might explain how a small and seemingly harmless yoga group turned to violence and how this incident led the government to revise the laws regulating all religions in Japan.

2) Religion and neonationalism: A second area of conflict and debate revolves around Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial Shinto site dedicated to the military war dead. We will consider how some religious and political groups are using the shrine as a symbolic focus for revitalising national identity and how this is connected to proposals by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to revise the Constitution of Japan, including Articles 20 and 89, which define the nature of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state.

3) Religious responses to disaster: In the wake of 11 March 2011 “triple disaster”—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant—many Japanese religions have a renewed sense of their social and public role. We will examine some of the new initiatives of religious groups to engage in relief work and reconstruction, grief care and critical engagement with the government’s nuclear policy and efforts to revise the Constitution.

Attendance at lectures and tutorials is required. Students should be prepared to discuss the readings and study questions during tutorial sessions each week. Readings are drawn from a variety of books and journals and will be available on the Talis course reading list. The assigned readings each week should be understood as the bare minimum required for the successful completion of this course. Additional research and reading will be required to demonstrate thorough grasp of the subject matter and issues addressed in this course.

 Course outcomes:

At the end of this course, students

  • Should be able to demonstrate knowledge of key terms and sociological perspectives used in the study of Japanese religions
  • Should have acquired a broad knowledge of the key characteristics and distinctive features of representative religious traditions in modern Japanese society
  • Should be able to provide an extended analysis in essay form of the role and significance of organised religions in relation to contemporary religion-state issues, which demonstrates a critical understanding of the larger cultural, political and legal context

 Assessment Summary:

Student assessment will be based on the following four components:

1) In-Class Test (20%) to be held in class on Tuesday 9 April (2nd hour);

2) Tutorial Participation (10%): in preparation for weekly tutorial sessions, students are required to submit via Turnitin (through Canvas) a response (c. 150 words) to the study questions on the assigned readings for the week. In order to receive credit for these submissions, you must attend the tutorial and submit your answer no later than 24 hours before the scheduled session. You are required to submit a minimum of 5 responses over the course of the semester for tutorial participation.

3) Essay 1 (30%, 2000 words) due on Tuesday 30 April; and

4) Essay 2 (40%, 2500 words) due on Tuesday 4 June. Both essay topics must be approved in advance based on submission of paper proposals (one paragraph with preliminary bibliography) and consultation during office hours; and final assignments must be submitted in hard copy and on Turnitin.

Guidelines and details regarding the two essay assignments will be provided in week two. Each student is expected to meet with the instructor during office hours for additional advice on resources for the essays. Evaluation of written work will follow the standard scale and criteria used by the Faculty of Arts. Students should be aware of the University’s clear policy regarding plagiarism and expectations regarding academic integrity for all coursework. See the University of Auckland and School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics (CLL) guidelines about assignments and academic integrity, which follow the teaching schedule below.


Course summary:

Date Details