Rituals of a Secular Nation : Shinto Normativity and the Separation of Religion and State in Postwar Japan
Abstract: This thesis explores how the concept of “religion” has been interpreted and negotiated in postwar Japanese courts of law, with a particular focus on its relationship to the adjacent concept “Shinto.” Particular attention is given to the landmark rulings by the Supreme Court on the Tsu Groundbreaking Ceremony case in 1977 and the Ehime Tamagushiryō case in 1997. The central questions discussed in this work relate to how postwar courts have handled the strict separation of religion from the state as established in the 1947 constitution, originally drafted by American servicemen during the occupation of Japan with the aim of preventing a return of “State Shinto.” The study emphasizes the political and ideological questions at the center of lawsuits on state-religion relations in Japan, arguing that these lawsuits must be understood within the greater framework of a hegemonic struggle over postwar national identity. Often filed by plaintiffs representing various “minority” positions, the lawsuits are read as a challenge against what I refer to as a Shinto normative order of discourse, according to which many aspects of Shrine Shinto are considered to be in accordance with common sense and integral to Japanese ethnic and national identity; what it means to be Japanese. Whereas this Shinto normative order of discourse in many ways mirrors prewar ideas about the Japanese national character, it is challenged in courts by liberals, socialists, and religious minorities. Central to this struggle is the question of how religion is to be understood in court. To the opponents of Shinto normativity, religion is understood as a concept which includes Shinto in all its forms, putting Shinto on equal footing with other religions. Proponents of Shinto normativity, on the other hand, argue that while in some ways similar to religion, Shinto is still essentially different from other religions, in particular as it focuses on the public rather than the private. This thesis critically examines both of these positions and how they have been evaluated by postwar courts of law, while also emphasizing the problems in legislating religion caused by the inherent ambiguity of the concept itself.
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