Shinto's modern transformations

From imperial cult to nature worship

Authored by: Aike P. Rots

Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635035
eBook ISBN: 9781315758534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636465


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Until recently, it was widely assumed that Shinto is the indigenous worship tradition of Japan, which pervades Japanese culture and goes back to pre-Buddhist or even primordial times. This continues to be the dominant narrative of popular-scientific introductory texts, shrine publications, travel guidebooks and online encyclopedias. In recent years, however, a number of critical historians have convincingly challenged this view. They have pointed out that Shinto is in many respects an (early) modern invention rather than an ancient tradition, and that in the course of history the term ‘Shinto’ has been used in a variety of ways, carrying numerous different meanings. Since the beginning of Japan's modern period, in the mid-nineteenth century, both the concept itself and the practices and ideas to which it refers have been subject to significant transformations – as has the relationship of Shinto to those other core modern categories, ‘religion’ (shūkyō) and ‘the state’ (kokka). Today various competing definitions, conceptualisations and historical narratives coexist, and Shinto’s category boundaries remain as fluid and contested as ever.

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