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Religion, Hybrid Forms, and Cultural Chauvinism in Japan1

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AbstractThis article analyzes a few selected case studies from different religious traditions in contemporary Japan to illustrate, first, the active role played by religion in Japan in the creation of hybrid forms and, secondly, the potentiality in two instances to promote cultural chauvinism. The topics explored here are Japanese Buddhism and the issue of human rights, Shintō’s self-representation as a ‘religion of the forest,’ and Kōfuku no Kagaku’s adoption of Theosophical themes. The discourse of human rights found in traditions such as Jōdo Shinshū, Jōdoshū, and Sōtōshū shows how this western idea is made to resonate with religious concepts from the Buddhist tradition, thus making possible a reshaping of local religious identities. While in this case the catalyst in the process is provided by an external source, the recent reshaping of Shintō as a ‘religion of the forest’ may be characterized as a glocalization leaning to ‘native’ sources, in which the ‘native’ religious tradition is subject to a creative reading following the worldwide growing awareness of ecology. Here a tendency to emphasize the superiority of the ‘native’ culture may also be noticed. However, as the case of Kōfuku no Kagaku’s adoption of various Theosophical themes illustrates, also glocalization leaning to external sources may be accompanied by forms of cultural chauvinism.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leipzig Leipzig Germany, Email:


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