Religions of Japan
Potential Final Paper Topics
The final assignment for the course is an 8-10 page research paper on virtually any aspect of Japanese Religion that interests you. You can explore one of the traditions that we’ve studied in more detail, or choose a topic that covers several different traditions; however, you should try to narrow down the focus of your topic as much as possible, since this will help you to define and defend a coherent “thesis.” In order to help you develop an appropriate thesis for your paper, you will be required to submit a 1-page topic paper (due on Monday, May 22) that identifies the issue you wish to explore and explains how you intend to pursue your research, together with an annotated bibliography that includes at least seven “academic” (i.e. peer-reviewed) sources with “annotations” that summarize your sources, assess their reliability, and reflect on their relevance to the project. To give you some ideas to get you started, I’ve provided a list of “Potential Paper Topics” at the end of this handout; please feel free to revise any of these topics as you see fit, or else develop a topic of your own choosing. The final paper should include appropriate citations for both direct and indirect quotations using “Chicago Style” footnotes as well as a final bibliography (without annotations). If you have any questions regarding what does or does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the college’s plagiarism policy. Essays that contain significant instances of plagiarism will receive a 0 and be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs in accordance with college policy. Papers should be submitted online at Blackboard/Assignments/Final Paper by Friday, June 2, after which your grade will go down one degree (e.g. from B+ to B) for each day that the paper is late.
 
1. The Japanese did not have a concept of what we call “religion” until the late nineteenth century, when Western nations forced them to sign treaties that included a “freedom of religion” clause (Christianity had been outlawed since the beginning of the seventeenth century). Define “religion” and explain why the Japanese are or are not religious.

2. Discuss the historical origins, fundamental teachings, and main practices of one form of Japanese Buddhism. What is the significance of this form of Buddhism within the broader scope of Japanese religion. Would you say that the tradition in question has continued to thrive in contemporary Japan, or is it in a state of decline?
Related topics on Buddhist sects:
   • Compare Zen and Pure Land in terms of “Self-Power” and “Other-Power”
   • Compare Pure Land and Christianity
   • Compare Nichiren’s gohonzon/daimoku with Pure Land and Shingon/Esoteric Buddhism

3. Discuss the developments in Shinto from the “National Learning” (kokugaku) of Motoori Norinaga to the “State Shinto” of the Meiji era. How did this “nationalistic” form of Shinto continue to develop in the first half of the 20th century, and what role did it play in the rise of militarism that ultimately led to Japan’s involvement in World War II?

4. Purification, rituals and amulets represent persistent themes in the history of Japanese religion. Discuss the role of purification, rituals and/or amulets in the Shinto and/or Buddhist traditions with a particular emphasis on one of the items from the table below:
 
Purification
• shrine rites
• tea ceremony
• bathing rituals (misogi)
• pilgrimages
Rituals
• temple/shrine rites
• kamidana/butsudan (home altars)
• festivals (matsuri)
• nationalistic rituals
Amulets (omamori)
• health
• traffic safety
exam success
• talisman for the home (ofuda)