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Japanese Religions under Globalization

Panel Chair: Ugo Dessì | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.

Despite the growing interest in religion under globalization, attempts to engage the interplay of Japanese religions and globalization have been unexpectedly few. The only monographs to date dealing with this subject are Cristina Rocha’s Zen in Brazil (University of Hawaii Press 2006) and Ugo Dessì’s Japanese Religions and Globalization (Routledge 2013). Most recently, a special issue of the Journal of Religion in Japan (Brill 2014) has been devoted to the same topic, but within the field of religious studies the inclination to reduce the globalization of Japanese religions to their expansion is still apparent, and there is often resistance to the application of contemporary globalization theories to concrete case studies. This panel intends to address these existing gaps with papers on Seichō-no-Ie in Brazil, the translation of western occultism in Japan, Sōka Gakkai and Zen in Cuba, and a theoretical perspective on Japanese religions and globalization in Japan and overseas.

Ioannis Gaitanidis

Translation and Interpretation of Western Occultism in Contemporary Japan

Translation of religious texts has been a core component of the ways religions choose to react to globalized trends, and most research on this subject has focused on the cultural adaptations that become necessary in this process. However, cultural translations cannot happen overnight and it often takes several editions for core texts to be deemed appropriate by the receiving culture. Revised translations often also seek to renew local popular interest and in that case tend to differ greatly from original texts. This paper looks into two such cases. More precisely, the paper provides an analysis of consecutive Japanese translations of two popular texts of Western occultism that have been published in the last ten years in Japan – Eric Pearl’s The Reconnection (2001) and Stylianos Atteshlis’ Esoteric Teachings (1990) – and explains the degree to which translators seem to have been conscious of the ever changing occultural interests of contemporary Japanese audiences.

Girardo Rodriguez Plasencia

Japanese Religions Abroad as Resources for Representing Other Cultures: Reflections on the Case of Cuba

This paper explores the potentials of Japanese religions abroad, or elements of these, in providing symbolic resources for the representation of local particularisms in non-Japanese cultures. Focusing on the examples of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and Zen in Cuba, some glocal forms and functions which these Japanese religious proposals have in the Caribbean island are discussed. Through cultural exchanges, SGI contributes to the incorporation of Cuban culture into global flows. The second instance turns to the work of a Cuban artist who introduces elements of Zen and ‘Oriental’ spirituality in his painting, not only for artistic self-expression, but also for representing local natural images and national political symbols. In the multidirectional interactions involved in the globalization process, Japanese religious organizations abroad can cooperate with local institutions in the promotion of particularisms, while Japanese religious elements can be creatively appropriated for individual reinterpretations of local identities.

Ugo Dessì

A Theoretical Perspective on Japanese Religions and Globalization

The globalization of Japanese religions is still often identified with the global expansion of several new religious movements characterized by high-pressure proselytization, which has contributed to the relative neglect of other fundamental aspects of global dynamics. In this paper I will approach the globalization of both traditional religions and new religious movements in Japan as a multidimensional phenomenon, through which religious institutions and their followers reposition themselves in response to global processes of cultural relativization and functional differentiation. Based on a working definition of religion as a system regulating the access to a set of this-worldly and other-worldly goods, I will especially focus on the glocalization of Japanese religions and some of the underlying factors, such as the emergence of global consciousness, resonance with the local tradition, decontextualization, and the pursuit or consolidation of religious capital.


Cristina Rocha


Cristina Rocha will respond to the issues raised in the previous papers.


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