This course will examine the major religious
traditions of Japan (Shinto, Buddhism and the so-called “New Religions”) with a
particular focus on the harmonious co-existence of religious diversity from the
ancient past to the contemporary period.
The breakdown of grades for the course is as follows:
You final grade
will ultimately depend on my assessment of your
performance in each of the above areas, though the following
should provide you with a rough idea of the defining characteristics of
students within particular grade ranges:
|A||Possesses a deep understanding of the major
concepts and themes of the course. The “A” student is able to consistently
identify and explain key ideas in the readings, develop genuine insights into
the broader significance of these concepts, and demonstrate a high level of
intellectual engagement in class discussions.|
|B||Demonstrates a serious commitment to the course
and a strong grasp of the major concepts and themes but with less depth and/or
consistency than the “A” student.|
|C||Demonstrates a reasonable effort to attend class
and participate in discussions as well as a basic grasp of the course material.|
|D||Demonstrates a minimal commitment to the course
and a weak grasp of basic concepts and themes.|
|F||Fails to demonstrate an acceptable degree of
effort in the course through low attendance, inability to discuss basic
concepts and themes, missed assignments and/or plagiarized work.|
Class Participation Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
- discuss the contemporary significance of Japanese religion through the
analysis of two films
- provide an objective description of a Buddhist service and a detailed discussion
of a specific ritual
- engage in and reflect upon the contemplative dimension of
- identify ways that Japanese
religion has been influenced by other cultures and developed over time.
- explore questions about religious experience and the nature
of being human by analyzing religious texts, objects, events, and ideas using
methods common to the humanities/religious studies
- explain the global significance of Japanese religion with
particular emphasis on Japan’s unique perspective on religious pluralism
The Class Participation mark will be based on your
ability to demonstrate that you have made a sincere attempt to read and
understand the assigned material. Although the quality of your comments will
obviously be taken into consideration, all attempts to seriously engage the
readings — from sharing your perspective on the material to simply asking a
relevant question — will enhance your grade.
All written work should include appropriate
references to academic (peer-reviewed) sources using either
MLA (brackets with author and page number) or Chicago
(footnotes). Papers should be submitted online at Blackboard/Assignments by the specified due date, after which your grade will go down by one
degree (e.g. B+ to B) for each day that the paper is late. Essays
that contain significant instances of plagiarism
will receive a 0 and be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs. All
submitted work may be used for program assessment (with names removed).
Shinema Rebyuu (Cinema Review)
There is a writing
assignment associated with each of the two movies that we will be watching
over the course of the semester.
1. Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
This 2001 masterpiece by director MIYAZAKI Hayao (which won the Academy
Award for Best Animated Feature and is the highest grossing film in Japanese
history) follows the exploits of a ten-year-old girl who is “spirited away” (kamikakushi)
to the realm of the kami where she faces a variety of challenges before
successfully saving her parents and returning to the human realm. For this Shinema
Rebyuu you will explore the relationship between the human and kami realms.
Some of the questions you may wish to consider include:
Your paper should be at least 1500 words and must cite
a minimum of four academic (peer-reviewed) sources, including two that were assigned for the film and two that
focus on Japanese religion (such as the required texts for the course).
- What is the relationship between humans and kami?
- How do issues of “purity” affect this relationship?
- What is the ideal relationship bewtween the two realms?
- Can humans bridge the gap between the two realms ... and if so, how?
- Does the film promote Shinto beliefs or should it be regarded as a work of fantasty? Or is this a question that only a gaijin (non-Japanese) would ask (i.e. the question and/or answer is inappropriate and/or irrelevant)?
The underlying theme
of the movie focuses on “a fiery spirit called Yomotsumono: a creature
composed of the resentment carried by the multitudinous things mankind has
Great Yokai War). While it may be difficult for Westerners to imagine
inanimate objects resenting those who discarded them, this is not so uncommon
in Japan, where “rites of separation are performed not only for human beings
and animals, but also for inanimate objects” (Mortuary
Rites for Inanimate Objects). For this Shinema
Rebyuu you will explore the religious significance of abandoned objects in The
Great Yokai War. Some of the questions you may wish to consider include: 2. The Great Yokai War (Yokai Daisenso)
Your paper should be at least 1500 words and
must cite a minimum of four academic (peer-reviewed) sources, including two that were assigned for the film and two that
focus on Japanese religion (such as the required texts for the course).
- How can inanimate objects become yokai?
- What is the purpose of performing mortuary rites (kuyo 供養) for inanimate objects ... and what does the existence of such rituals sugget about Japanese religion?
is the relationship between kami and yokai ... and how does this help
to explain why the yokai in the film feel abandoned? Hint: Michael Dylan Foster notes that “the line
between demon and deity is a fuzzy one” (Yokai) and Komatsu Kazuhiko further suggests that
“yokai are ‘unworshipped’ kami and kami are ‘worshipped’ yokai” (The
Book of Yokai, 21).
- What does the film’s focus on the theme of “abandoned
objects” suggest about “modernity”? Do you see similar critiques in
Miyazaki films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke? Is this a religious theme, a secular critique of materialism in the modern world ... or both?
- It seems unlikely that the average viewer
(Japanese or otherwise) would literally believe in the existence of the
yokai depicted in the film, but is this type of “belief” required for the film
to convey a “religious” message?
Temple Visit Paper
order to help you
gain a deeper perspective on the practice of Japanese religion, we will
a service at the Nichiren Temple in Bartlett (approximately 20 minutes
campus), tentatively scheduled for Sunday, October 23. (If you cannot
service or would like to attend a service at a different Japanese
me know so that I can help you make alternate arrangements.) After the
visit, you will write a 1500-word reflection on your experience and how
relates to the material that we’ve studied in the course. Your paper
should include a general summary of the service as well as a
detailed description of a specific ritual (or other element of the
that you found particularly interesting. You should then explore the
of your chosen ritual/element through references to at least four academic (peer-reviewed) sources. Your conclusion should explain how the temple visit and additional
research helped you develop a deeper understanding of Nichiren Buddhism and/or
Japanese religious practice more generally.
Contemplative Event Paper
Each semester, the
Department of Religious Studies hosts a number of “contemplative events,” each of which features a brief talk by an experienced
practitioner of a particular tradition (religious or secular), followed by a
meditative exercise and open discussion. During the semester, you will attend
at least one of these events and then write a 750-word paper based on the
experience. In addition to describing the event, your paper should explore the
significance of the contemplative exercise with regard to the various meditation
traditions that we are studying in this course, such as the Buddha’s practice
of mindfulness meditation, Tendai Buddhism’s “one-practice samadhi,” Pure Land
Buddhism’s “nembutsu samadhi,” Dogen Zenji’s shikantaza (just
sitting), or Rinzai Zen’s koan-based tradition. Although you
may use “first person” to discuss your subjective experiences at the
contemplative event, the rest of the paper should follow
the more formal conventions associated with academic writing, including
references to at least two academic (peer-reviewed) sources.
Required Texts (Available online at Akademos)
- de Bary, Wm. Theodore, et al. Sources of Japanese Tradition.
Second Edition, Volume 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
- Ellwood, Robert. Introducing Japanese Religion. New York: Routledge, 2008.
- Kasulis, Thomas P. Shinto: The Way Home. Honolulu: University of
Hawai’i Press, 2004.
- Reader, Ian. Religion in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991.
Virtual Office Hours & Contact Information
I will be available via Zoom at the following times or by appointment:
Monday/Wednesday 4:30-5:30 ~ Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-2:30 ~ Friday (Tea/Talk) 4:30-5:30