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In Session: Japan as a Site for Discourses on Religion and Modernity
1: ‘World Religioning’ in Japan: Inter-Asian Religious Exchanges in the Pan-Asianist Moment
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States
This paper explores the ideas, connections, and objectives of three elite Asian men who have usually been studied separately: the Indian pan-Islamist Muhammad Barkatullah (1864-1927), the Sinhalese Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1934), and the Japanese pan-Asianist intellectual and ideologue Okawa Shumei (1886-1957). In particular, I explore their conversation regarding three key issues: first, the concept of religion, second, the connection between religion and anti-imperialism and, third, the role of religion(s) in the history of Indian civilization. I will argue that we can understand these figures in a new light, by recognizing their mutual connections and the structural similarities in their thought. Moreover, by focusing on their encounters and work in Japan, this article also demonstrates how Japan –particularly after defeating Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905– had become a significant site for conversations about race, religion, modernity, and European imperialism.
Conceptually, my paper engages with the critical-constructivist vein within Religious Studies that explores the construction of ‘religion’ as a category, as well as the emergence of the ‘world religions’ paradigm. Tomoko Masuzawa, for instance, has demonstrated how the ‘world religion’ is a European discursive formation that constructs various ‘religions’ as a set of discrete, timeless, and commensurate systems. While Masuzawa’s work is significant in showing the “inventedness” of religious traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism, it is important to recognize that religious traditions were not simply European inventions but “co-creations” that emerged out of the colonial encounter yet developed, in large part, through the labor of colonized subjects.