This online interdisciplinary roundtable discussion seeks to bring together scholars of religious studies and the art history of Japan. Specifically, it aims to engage the discourse of “the invention of religion” in Meiji Japan, and asks whether and to what extent this discourse may still serve as a framework for analyzing modern and contemporary imagery with “religious” themes. To what extent have – or can – modern artists still be recognized and categorized as “religious?” How should we read their reformulated Buddhist and Christian iconographies? Where is the fine line between continuity and change, innovation and “tradition,” when these terms are such historically contingent and arbitrary social constructs? This roundtable examines how artistic strategies can destabilize the very notion of “religion” in Japan, and how conversely, the idea of “religion” may nevertheless persist throughout such visual challenges.
Jason Ānanda Josephson-Storm (Religious Studies), author of the award-winning The Invention of Religion in Japan, has traced the intellectual and historical developments that produced the abstract category of “religion” in 19th century Japan as a private, ahistorical, sui generis, nonsectarian, and apolitical sphere of belief. His critical reflection on the theoretical implications of perceiving “religion” in this way will serve as a point of departure for discussion. Chinghsin Wu (Art History) will examine the artist Koga Harue (1895-1933), who was born into the family of a Buddhist temple priest and whose oil paintings of cross-boundary religious iconographies presented in public exhibitions in the 1920s speak to the modern category of religion as much as to various modes of artistic modernism. Yasuko Tsuchikane (Art History) will investigate and problematize the modern invented category of “religious art” by examining Dōmoto Inshō’s (1891-1975) prolific Christian-inspired art for Buddhist temples in the era leading up to World War II. Elizabeth Tinsley (East Asian Studies / Religious Studies) will problematize the limited scope of the category of “religion” that excluded unfitted genres that found a new home in the underground visual subculture of post-war times. It will specifically explore magazine illustrations by Itō Seiju (1882-1961) and his contemporaries whose reconceptualization of Buddhist/Christian iconographies evoked sex and violence.