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Buddhism, Science, and Ideology in Modern Japan

Chair: Masahiko Okada | Thursday, Aug 27 | 9-11 a.m. | LG 1 223

This panel session aims at considering the relationship between Buddhism, Science, and Ideology in modern Japan (1868-1945). The modernization of Japan was triggered by the Western impact in East Asia, which also had a great influence on Buddhism. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Japanese Buddhists tried to modernize by reconsidering themselves within the framework of modern science, academic disciplines, and political ideologies from the West. However, the attitudes of Buddhists towards these “modern” forms of knowledge remained complex, alternating between resistance and acceptance. We will clarify the process of the formation of modern Buddhism in Japan by exploring how Japanese Buddhists were affected by knowledge about astronomy, evolutionary theory, religious studies, and socialism. From these analyses we will formulate larger questions about the process of the modernization of Buddhism.

Masahiko Okada

The Development of Buddhist Science in Nineteenth Century Japan

In 1810, a Japanese Buddhist monk, Fumon Entsū, published his main work and established his unique theory of Buddhist astronomy. Entsū calculated the movement of heavenly bodies and predicted solar and lunar eclipses, while he maintained the flat world-view of Buddhism. He arranged the statements on astronomy and worldview in Buddhist scriptures and visualized an image of a flat world system. Then he invented a mechanical model of the Buddhist worldview and organized a unique calendar system based on the descriptions in Buddhist scriptures. The intellectual movement developed by Entsū and his followers became highly popular at the turning point of Japanese history. Their activities are not limited to the field of astronomy, but actually included the works in other areas of science. In this paper, I would like to introduce this unique intellectual movement in nineteenth century Japan and consider the impact of modernity on Japanese religious tradition.

G. Clinton Godart

Buddhist Receptions of Evolutionary Theory in Modern Japan

The history of the complex relations between evolution and religion has generated a wealth of studies. However, it is no exaggeration to say that research is still very much limited to Christianity and the problem of creationism. How did Buddhist thinkers in Japan respond to the transmission of evolutionary theory? I will provide a broad overview, taking into account a variety of responses to evolution from Buddhist thinkers, from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. I will argue that overall Japanese Buddhist intellectuals not only responded positively to evolutionary theory, but also became active interpreters and transmitters of evolutionary thought. Evolutionary theory also stimulated the development of new interpretations of Buddhism. On the other hand, while Buddhist intellectuals tended to accept the fact of evolution, they strongly opposed materialist and reductionist interpretations of evolutionary theory, and tried to embed evolution within an idealist and pantheist worldview.

Yulia Burenina

The Reception of Evolutionary Theory and Religious Studies in Modern Japanese Buddhism: the Case of Nichirenism

Evolutionary theory and religious studies were introduced into Japan in the late nineteenth century. Japanese intellectuals readily accepted these new scientific methodologies and Buddhist thinkers were not exception. In this paper, I would like to focus on the reception of evolutionism and religious studies as modern scientific methodologies used by Nichiren Buddhists, Tanaka Chigaku (1861-1939) and Honda Nisshō (1867-1931). Chigaku offered an evolutionary interpretation of Buddhist eschatology based on the principle of progress, and positioned Nichirenism at the apex of a unilinear temporal evolution. For his part, Nisshō sought to uncover the superiority of Nichirenism based on the Religionsphilosophie of K.R.E von Hartmann and the evolutionary religious morphology of C.P. Tiele. Hence, evolutionism and religious studies became the scientific foundation for Chigaku and Nisshō to stress the superiority and scientific validity of Nichirenism as a religion in keeping with modernity.

Eiichi Otani

The Crossroads of Modern Buddhism and Socialism

The purpose of my presentation is to examine the relation between Buddhism and socialism in modern Japan. The encounter of religion and socialism in Japan started with the Christians in the second half of the 19th century. Although the relations between Christianity and socialism in Japan are well known, the relations between Buddhism and socialism are not. The encounter between Buddhism and socialism happened in the same period. Takagi Kenmyō, a Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land School) priest, wrote his essay, “My Socialism” in 1901. After that, Toyoda Kenryō promoted “Buddhist Socialism” in his works Buddhism and Socialism (1924) and The Theory for reforming Buddhism (1925), and his ideas were put into practice by Seno’o Girō and the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism in the 1930’s. I will analyze the development of Buddhist socialism from the 1900’s to the 1930’s.

Orion Klautau


Orion Klautau, one of the leading specialists on the history of modern Buddhism in Japan, is our respondent to the issues raised.


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