Report: Seminar “ Secularization, Religion, State” 8th session

3 July, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, Secularization, Religion, State

On June 29, 2009, we held the 8th session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”.

In this session, in order to prepare for Dr. Christian Uhl’s lectures on Nishida Kitaro’s Buddhist thought, which will take place on July 6 and 13, Dr. Viren Murthy (History of Japanese and Chinese Thought, Ottawa University, Canada) kindly gave us lecture titled “NISHIDA Kitaro: Antinomy between Meiji-era Buddhism and Industrialism”. Before this session the participants read the following works by Nishida.

NISHIDA Kitaro, An Inquiry into the Good [Zen no Kenkyū] (Tokyo: Kodokan, 1911).
NISHIDA Kitaro, “The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious World View” [Bashotekironri to shūkyōteki sekaikan]. In Collection of Philosophical Treaties, vol. 7 [Tetsugaku Ronshū 7] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten).

In the beginning of his talk, Dr. Murthy pointed out that Nishida criticized “Modernity” without an analysis of the meaning of the “Modern” itself. Thus Nishida’s thought involves unsolved problems. For this reason, Dr. Murthy proceeded to explain the relationship between religion and modernity before looking at Nishida’s thought. Here, what is important is the concept of religion itself. Recently we have a lot of discussion about modern religions, which are considered special. Professor ISOMAE in particular suggested that, in modern era, religions in Japan have changed their nature from “practice” to “belief”. Dr. Murthy pointed out that even though Isomae’s argument is very important, the concept of “modernity” in his discussion is not clear.
Professor YASUMARU, who analyzed the phenomena of Haibutsu Kishaku (abolishment of Buddhism) in the Meiji-era in his book The Meiji Reformation of the Gods [Kamigami no Meiji Ishin] (see the fifth session of our seminar), mentioned that the Meiji Government changed its policy toward religion in the process of modernization, in light of the impact of foreign powers. Dr. Murthy showed that Professor YASUMARU did not explain that “the impact of foreign powers” means industrialism, and he insisted we should use the Lukacs’s theory.
Georg Lukacs, who perceived industrialism from the viewpoint of thought, argued that in the course of the development of industrialism in the modern era, the products of the human labor are converted into universal currency, and therby the global rationalization and commoditization emerge. So Lukacs analyzed the modern era from the point of view of rationalization and international industrialism.
After explaining Lukacs’s idea of Reification, Dr. Murthy introduced the thoughts of INOUE Enryo and KIYOSAWA Mitsuyuki, which preceded Nishida’s thought. Both thinkers intended to overcome the opposition between subject and object by using the Buddhist thought, which also influenced Nishida.
Dr. Murthy continued to the analysis of Nishida’s thought. Nishida attached great importance to time in his argument about “immediate experience”. We understand this when we read the sentence “the moment of seeing the color and listening the sound”. In Nishida’s thought, we can approach his idea of religion after understanding the “immediate experience” that overcomes the self. In his argument the attachment to god means attachment to the subject.
It is said that Nishida started to grope with philosophy in order to overcome Western modernity, which denied god in order to overcome him. Nishida comprehended the meaning of modernity to some extent, but his students criticized his lack of historical view. As a result Nishida himself improved his thought through his life.
Therefore, in his process of study, Nishida thought that religion and the world overcome history, and in contrast he also recognized the historical life and limit of the state. Although Nishida understood the necessity of the standpoint of world history, he was inclined towards apocalypticism, and thus didn’t appreciate the new world history. Additionally, Nishida, by adopting liberalism, distinguished between the moral and the religious, and hoped to overcome the state. And yet he never introduced a new image of the state or the world. Moreover, Nishida criticized Lukacs’s idea of reification without understanding reification itself very well. According to Dr. Murthy, these points show the limit of Nishida’s critique of modernity.

After the lecture, we discussed Nishida’s thought and religion.
Some of the participants pointed out that it seems that Nishida’s view toward religion in An Inquiry into the Good is based on the image of the Christian God. Dr. Murthy did not agree with this view, since in Christianity God is transcendental, while Nishida supposed God exists in the unity of subject and object. Another participant doubted that Nishida considered monotheism as a developed religion in contrast to polytheism. Other participant pointed out that there is a kind of development in Nishida’s understanding of religion in the priod between An Inquiry into the Good (1911) and “The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and Religious World View” (1945). Dr. Murthy answered that while it is important to recognize the development in Nishida’s thought, it is also essential to recognize its continuity.
On the other hand, one of the participants asked about the uniqueness of Nishida’s philosophy in the history of Japanese thought. Dr. Murthy referred to INOUE Enryo and KIYOSAWA Mitsuyuki, and said that we can define Nishida’s position in the history of Japanese thought by regarding these thinkers of the Meiji and Taisho eras.
Finally, Dr. Murthy discussed the problem of the distinction between the modern and pre-modern period in history, and said that the concept of pre-modern comes into existence after the establishment of the concept of the modern. He thus posed the question of what is the meaning of studying pre-modern history. It could be that all scholars and researchers of history must confront this problem.

In this session, in order to reconsider the discussion of Secularization, Religion and State in the context of thought, we have taken up Nishida’s thought. Many of the participants were very interested and engaged in this material, even though we had some trouble understanding Nishida’s rather obscure ideas.
We sincerely appreciate Dr. Murthy, who delivered this lecture and kindly answered our questions, and has helped us prepare for Dr. UHL’s lecture next week.

(Reported by Naofumi ABE)

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