[Report] Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”, 17th session

30 January, 2010 HANEDA Masashi, WATANABE Shoko, Secularization, Religion, State

On January 18, 2010, we held the seventeenth session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”.

This was a preparatory session to the graduate student workshop “Secularization, Religion and The State”, which is to be held on January 21, 2010 at National University of Singapore. The presenters were Mr. Naohumi ABE (UTCP) and Ms. Mariko NAITO (UTCP), who are among the seven participants from the RAs and PD researchers of UTCP.

In his presentation titled “Who Acknowledges His Right?: Prelude to the 'Modernization' of the Judicial System in Mid-Nineteenth Century Iran as seen in Persian Legal Documents”, ABE dealt with the transformation of the relationship between the state and religion, using the example of Iran’s modernization process in the 19th century. He argues first that the separation of religion and state is essentially a modern phenomenon, given the fact that religion in pre-modern times encompassed much broader spheres, including not only belief, practice and morals but also law and politics. In the domain of jurisdiction, modernization occurred as a process of separating judicial practices from religion, and integrating them into state control.

Threatened by Russian military power and based on the Russo-Iranian commercial treaty (1843), Iran set up a commercial court for litigations between foreign merchants and their Iranian counterparts. Part of the Iranian state, this court used the symbol of the Iranian monarchy (i.e. lion and sun) as its official seal. The governmental character of this court marked a radical change from the Iranian tradition of judicial practice exercised by the Ulama (religious scholars) in Sharia (religious law) courts, independently from the state. Introducing private rights and establishing secular courts independent from the Ulama, the commercial court was the first step in the secularization of the legal sphere in Iran.

While the speaker concluded that the secularization of the legal system was a process of “westernization”, represented by the introduction of modern courts, civil code, etc., in the discussion that followed the question was raised whether we can simply identify modernization with westernization.

In her paper “Rethinking the Dichotomy between Religious and Secular: The Emergence of Religion in Modern Japan”, Ms. NAITO examined how Japanese intellectuals understood Japanese secularization and modernization. She focused on Soseki NATSUME’s novel Kokoro (1914) and on an essay from Lafcadio HEARN’s Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life (1896).

Soseki described how the opposition between the religious and the secular in the Japanese society of that time is reflected in the inner sufferings of the characters in the novel. Ms. NAITO argued that the dichotomy of religious/secular in Soseki was a variant of the broader conflict, which produced other oppositions between individual/state, heart/body, inner world/outside world, refusal to work vs. productive work and so on. This general dichotomy was a product of the modernization of Japan, which went along with the formation of the nation state and the introduction of capitalism.

Contrary to this, HEARN, as a western observer within the Japanese society, focused on a different factor. He said he discovered an “Oriental Ego” constituting the basis of the identity of Japanese throughout history. This “Oriental Ego” is radically different from the “Occidental Ego”, in that the former is marked by primitive beliefs, such as ancestor worship and idea of preexistence. Although HEARN realized that these kinds of primitive beliefs existed even in the Western world, he nonetheless distinguished these Oriental beliefs from the Occidental concept of religion. HEARN’s view is useful for relativizing Soseki’s dichotomy between religion/secular and for revealing its historicity.

In the discussion it was pointed out that the frameworks of Soseki and HEARN seemed to be capable of being integrated into a single dichotomy between a modern and a pre-modern way of life. The presenter explained how the two of them used different concepts and methods in order to deal with a common problem: how to overcome modernity.

This session was an occasion to show all the participants the fruits of study of the past year, as well as to present the problems we are concerned with before a foreign audience. Professor Haneda called attention to the fact that the word “Sezokuka” in Japanese has quite a different nuance from “secularization” in English. We should thus attentively distinguish between “secularization”, which concerns the decline of religious influence in society, and “separation of church and state”, which consists of an institutional relation between state and religion.

Reported by Shoko WATANABE

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