To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Materializing Memories in Contemporary Japanese Religions
3: Materializing Buddhist Memories: Heritage and the Construction of Community in Post-wwii Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
The University of Chicago, United States
Scholars of East Asia and of religion have recently produced important research on the concept of heritage, revising a predominantly Eurocentric perspective. In my presentation, I will focus on heritage as the product of a memorialization process which finds material form in objects imbued with the value of ‘eternity.’ I will analyze the construction of individual and collective memory at a Japanese Buddhist temple, and show how ideas such as karmic connection and the economy of merit, combined with the concept of heritage preservation, fuel a process of circulation between material and spiritual capital, allowing the temple to thrive.
At Yakushiji temple in Nara, religious narratives and ritual practices turn specific objects into material evidence of individual and collective memory. Relics, ancient artifacts, and the buildings themselves that form Yakushiji are presented as physical proof of the spiritual connection of Japan to Asia through the transmission of Buddhism. The preservation of this artistic-religious heritage becomes for the lay supporters of the temple a way to participate in its sense of continuity through time and it gives a spiritual purpose to the economic wealth of postwar Japan. Donations by laypeople are associated with memorial services for their departed beloved ones, connecting their individual memory to the narrative of a collective Buddhist memory of the temple.
The case study of Yakushiji will show the importance of analyzing heritage as a process that links materiality, memory, religious discourses and practices and their economic dimension.