Understanding Religious Nationalism in Japan – Continuity and Change in the 21st Century

Rin Ushiyama, University of Cambridge

The relationship between Japanese nationalism and the religious right has gained renewed scholarly attention in recent years, as the incumbent Abe Government (2012-present) has been closely aligned with the conservative religious lobby over issues such as constitutional reform, ‘the History Problem’, territorial disputes, and education policy. In particular, commentators have highlighted the role of the lobbying group Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) in pursuing these nationalist agendas. Combining insights from political sociology and sociology of religion, this paper retraces the historical contexts from which Nippon Kaigi emerged as a major conservative force in Japanese politics from the end of the Second World War to the present day. While the religious field before 1945 was characterised by the dominance of State Shinto and severe persecution of heterodox religions, religious freedom after 1945 has resulted in competition between various religions as they sought to enter politics through elections, as seen by political mobilisations by Soka Gakkai, Seicho no Ie, and Kofuku no Kagaku among others. By contrast, Nippon Kaigi, formed in 1997 as a coalition of religious groups and secular individuals, enjoys distinct advantages that differ from previous patterns of political participation by religious actors. Firstly, as Nippon Kaigi does not represent the interests of a single religion such as Shinto, Buddhism, or a new religion, it has enabled different constituent members to pool resources for common goals such as constitutional reform, remilitarisation, and patriotic education curricula whilst also avoiding competing with each other in elections. Secondly, Nippon Kaigi has acted as a ‘boundary organisation’ that translates religious interests into nominally secular political activism, attracting support from beyond its membership base. Their function as a boundary organisation has expanded collaboration and cooperation with politicians, industry leaders, activists, and intellectuals.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 43. Religion, Nationalism, and Populism