WED Forum: The Politics of Religious Freedom in Modern Japan

WED Forum Sept. 3rd 2014.

As a modern society that can be seen as simultaneously very religious and very irreligious, modern Japan has long been the site of ongoing struggles over religious freedom and the relationship between religion(s) and the state. Since the mid-19th century the stakes have been high in debates over what state regulation of religion is acceptable and how faithful citizens can interact with a state that attempts to define itself in supernatural terms when it asks its citizens to be sacrificed for it. Believers in Japan’s one monotheistic religion, Christianity, comprise less than one percent of the population, making them the smallest Christian minority in Asia, but their presence in particular has been integral to the ways Japanese modernity has taken shape in the last 150 years, including the establishing of legal and academic definitions of religion and the state.  This talk examines how religious freedom has been given its shape in “moments of danger” and has challenged and been challenged by the dominant ideology of the Emperor-centered state within the three modern constitutions: the Imperial Constitution (1889-1945), the “pacifist” postwar constitution (1947-present), and the radically, “dangerously” revised constitution currently being proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.



Gregory VanderbiltGregory Vanderbilt joined the staff of CRCS in June through a partnership with Mennonite Central Committee, a service and peacebuilding organization of the Anabaptist churches of North America.  He earned his Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has published several articles on Christians in modern Japan and their engagement with the state.  He is also the translator of Mitsuo Miyata, Authority and Obedience: Romans 13:1-7 in Modern Japan (2009).



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