[Report] Zhong Yijiang "Freedom, Religion and the Making of the Modern Japanese State"
On June 29, 2012, Dr. Zhong Yijiang gave a presentation entitled "Freedom, Religion and the Making of the Modern Japanese State" at Komaba Campus.
Dr. Zhong, who obtained his PhD from the University of Chicago, is currently a PD fellow in the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. He has a broad interest in religion and modernity in East Asia. The main topic of presentation was how the separation between church and state in Japan was formed (and deformed) in the process of modernization.
He started his presentation by examining the Meiji Constitution, especially Article 28 which declares freedom of religion in Japan. The separation of church and state was one of the conclusions that modern Western countries have arrived at through the process of their modernization and it was regarded as a necessary feature to be a member of modern society.
In the case of Japan, the biggest problem followed by introducing the separation was how to treat Shinto. If one defines religion as a belief on transcendent and divine matters such as the after-life and gods, Japanese Shinto is obviously a religion. However, if they have to separate Shinto from their government, they also have to separate Tenno from the government---the consequence which surely was unacceptable. The solution to this problem was the sub-classification between the Shinto as public/ritual and the other Shinto as private/religious. Thus, State Shinto became "irreligious." In the presentation, Dr. Zhong paid much attention especially to the political and institutional development, and succeeded in delineating the actual historical process with great subtlety.
After the presentation, a lively discussion including many questions on detail has followed. As a reporter, I want to conclude by mentioning the point which I felt impressive.
Even though ingenious politicians in the era such as Inoue Kowashi have played an important role in creating this system of sub-classification, the system seems no less rhetorical than substantial as long as the public/ritual Shinto claims to be divine and transcendent. It is easy to accuse them of fraud or carelessness from the present point of view, but Dr. Zhong stays cautious not to come to a hasty conclusion. He says that what is important for historians is not a value judgment but a close investigation of the target era's historical context and situation. Obviously, this topic immediately leads us into the argument of relativism. What are required to advance the discussion are, as always, a philosopher's reflection and a historian's scrutiny.
(Report: MOON Kyungnam)