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From Salvation to Spirituality – Conversations with History

From Salvation to Spirituality – Conversations with History


– [Announcer] This program
is a presentation of UCTV for educational and
noncommercial use only. (retro electronic music) – Welcome to a Conversation with History. I’m Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International Studies. Our guest today is Susumu Shimazono, who is professor in the
Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tokyo. He is the author of From
Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Movements in Modern Japans. And he is the 2010 Forster Lecture on the UC Berkeley campus. Professor, welcome to Berkeley. – Thank you. – Where you born and raised? – I was born in Tokyo in 1948. And I was raised there. But I moved to another
local city named Kanazawa. – And looking back, how
do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world? – Oh yes, my father was a psychiatrist and also
a university professor. And he believed that science to help people. Thank you for pronouncing
my name (chuckles) which might be difficult
to pronounce for the, but what does it mean, Susumu? That means progress. So (chuckles) this I think reflects the mentality of the
after-war period of Japan. So my parents wanted me to make Japan intellectually
progress. (chuckles) – I see, and you ultimately wound up doing religious studies. Was there something in your background that pointed in that direction? – Mm-hm. As you may know, in Japan religion is
very complex. (chuckles) My parents were married in 1945 before the war ended. But the ceremony was in Shinto. But my mother was educated
in Catholic schools from elementary school up to the university. And my family belongs
to a Buddhist temple. So we die, and we make ceremony in Buddhism. And my, as I said, my father has some faith in modern
science and technology. So (chuckles), it’s been complex. – That’s so interesting,
because one of the themes, and we’ll talk about
this later in your book, in fact, you had an
essay on the relation of spiritual, the new religions in Japan to psychology and psychotherapy. And there’s an important connection there. – Yes, yes, I think so. So my father believed that he’s helping people. And the medical doctor is a profession which is
special, you know. (chuckles) So I think there is
something close to religion. – In that.
– Yes. – What were you trained as in your college studies, and how did it point the path toward religious studies? – So when I entered the university, I took the course for medicine. So first I intended to
be a medical doctor. And I chose the medicine because it is about religion. Interacting with, ah no, no, it is about human beings. In medicine, doctors will interact with people. And I like that. But when I started to study medicine, I thought it not be like that. The contemporary medicine
is more scientific, and they are looking at body as like things, (chuckles) not the human beings. – The spirit.
– Spirit, maybe. – Yeah.
– Yes. So I was disappointed, and I changed my field from medicine to religion. – And how are you trained? Are you trained as a sociologist? Or as an anthropologist, or what? – I was in the University of Tokyo. The faculty of letters,
there’s a department of religious studies, mm-hm. I think in Japan there
is religious studies is very big, you know. And they deal with Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity, and folk religion. Very mixed. And I liked the professors. (chuckles) So my parents was very much disappointed that I changed my mind. – They wanted you to be a doctor. – Yes. And they didn’t like to say that their son is studying religion. (chuckles) – (laughing) But as a scientist, right? You are a social scientist
studying religion. – So there are two big,
sort of big schools in Japanese religious studies. In Kyoto, the religious studies is more oriented to philosophy. And in the University of
Tokyo where I studied, religious studies is more
oriented to social sciences. But I think religious studies
is not science, I think. And literature, art, philosophy, thought; I was also interested in that. – And what did you do
your dissertation on? – My first, oh… My BA thesis is of Sigmund Freud, (chuckles) the psychoanalyst. And then for the MA thesis, I studied Japanese folklorist, folkloric studies. – And let me ask you then now, before we talk about
your work and your ideas, what are the skills required, you think, to study religion in
a nuanced, subtle way. – So this is a problem
that in religious studies, there is no definite, clear methodology. If you want to study classical texts, you must learn languages. This is a very important
areas of religious studies. There are other ways. And first I didn’t know
what kind of methodologies I can learn. And later I started the… what is called field work. So I walked around the city and meet people and interviewed. – It would seem that in religious studies, because of the way
secularists dismiss religion, that if you’re gonna do the
kind of work you do well, you really have to be respectful of the people you’re studying. That is, really come to understand what you call the magical
religious elements of their belief system. Is that hard to do? Or do you learn to do that,
let me put it that way? – So I think what motivate us is the interest in other people. So to understand how they think, and curiosity. So I think this is a bit
similar to anthropology, and also the psychiatry. So difference is very important, and from understanding
the different people to know ourselves, who we are. So this is, I think, a basic methodology. – And what is very clear
in the New Age religions in Japan, which we’ll
talk about in a minute, is that these individuals are struggling to come to a way to deal with
the modern environment. – Right, right. So many Japanese would say that they are not related to religion, they don’t like religion. But I think when they say that, the common religion is technology-defined. So in fact, they interested in religious or spiritual matters very much. Myself too. – Yeah, and do you, looking at yourself as a scholar, do these kinds of studies require that you have a certain
kind of temperament? Tell us a little about yourself as you do this work. – Yes. When I was a student, it was a complicated time. It was around 1970. In Japan too, there was demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the university administration. And I was involved in it. And I was also very much confused. I insisted that I’m on
the side of justice. But when looking back,
reflecting on myself, I didn’t have any, you know, important experiences, any
firm sense of, you know, principles, ethics. So I want to think by myself on these issues, but not from only the classical texts or big thinkers, but
from the ordinary people who we can learn respect. – So in a way it’s sort
of answering questions for yourself, about questions of ethics, principles, how to deal with the world; and looking at your contemporaries in contexts that one
might normally not look if you were a secularist. – Mm-hm.
– Yeah. You did some of the early work on the Aum Shinrikyo,
which was a religious New Age group that became much more, and in the end wound up
being a terrorist group. Talk a little about how you, as just an example of how you came to understand that group overtime. – Okay. So first I studied
folklore and folklorist. But then I realized that folklore is interesting, but they are already outmoded, obsolete. – Outmoded, yeah.
(chuckles) – They would disappear soon. So I wanted to study things which are living, which are reactive, and which will affect our future. And then I chose what
we call new religions. And the term new religions may be a little bit different in the nuance of the term here. In Japan, the Shinto and Buddhism are main religions, but they’re mixed. So when the new groups appear, it is not important whether
they are Buddhism or Shinto, but they’re different from the traditional established (mumbles) groups, and we call them altogether new religions. And the main new religion started in the early 19th century. I first studied those older new religions. I liked the founders, foundresses. There are not educated people, but they are very creative. They have the deep spiritual senses. And I worked with the teachers, you know, priests of these groups. And I can respect them. So my first study of new
religions are very sympathetic. But later I learned that new religions altogether are not good, (chuckles) only not good. But they–
– They’re complicated. – Complicated, they may have bad defects. And recently… Many people who are
involved in new religions lose many things. – Lose?
– Many things. – Yeah.
– Yeah. They are for the poor heart. Their relationships are destroyed. So I became more and more critical. And then what we call new new religions, the groups which are more violent, which are more aggressive, they became more powerful. And then that incident occurred, the terrorist attack of
Aum Shinrikyo in 1995. – This was the sarin gas released in the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyo. – Yes.
– Yeah. – And at the time, the school of religions were very much accused
because they didn’t warn against the dangers of these groups. So it was a hard time for me too. – To deal with the subject matter. I mean, it raised real questions about your responsibilities as a researcher. – Right, right.
– Yeah, yeah. Now let’s understand the new, when you talk about
religion, whether old or new, help us understand what
you mean by religion. – Oh, yes. It is very difficult, it isn’t a topic which is discussed very often. Maybe since the, about 1990. Many people now realized
that the term religion is not easy to use. It is used in such a complicated way. We cannot use the word safely. If I talk about religion, you might think about
it in a different way. So the communication’s not easy. And now I am working that how the term religion is translated in Japan. The religion is the Western word, and when it was translated into Japan, there were many difficulties. (chuckles)
– Such as, yeah. – Yeah, such as, yes, for example, Confucianism is
very influential in Japan, (mumbles) religion. Many discussions. – Is it a religion, is that the question? – If you take the term broadly, it is religion. But I must explain in what sense first is use religion. Yes, so… – You say in your book that beings, power or experience
that cannot be confirmed by the five senses;
something that gives meaning, strongly influences a
person and continuously lead their thoughts and actions. – Mm-hm, yes. So… (chuckles) – Okay, and religion, in the whole theory of modernization, was something that was very, the study was influenced by Weber. And Weber thought that
the magical religious elements would disappear, but part of the implications of what
you’re writing about is that it doesn’t disappear, it’s sublimated in a way. and old questions arise anew. And this was something
that the secular world discovered in the 1970s, therefore the search for new religions became a global phenomena. – So in, around 1970, when I was a student, many political movements there were, but they were not religious. For example, in Paris there was a student revolution, but it is influenced by Marxism, or socialist kind of ideology. It was secularist. In Czechoslovakia there was a new socialist movement with a human face, but it was still socialist. And in China, Maoist movement. But in the ’80s, many of the new political movements were motivated somewhat by religions. It is your area, really. (chuckles) After the Iranian revolution, in Philippines, for
example, the democratization was much helped by Catholic organizations. And popular movements helped by religions organizations. So why this happen? I think the secularization proceed to some point, to a certain point, because science, if you learn science and modern technology, it can help you. But there is a limit when you know that human beings cannot live only by secular knowledge. And so there is a turn. What they call desecularization or re-sy-co-la-ri-za-tion. And I think this is, there’s a spread since the 1970s. – And what people are looking for answers to questions, and you suggest that a lot of this occurs as they confront the
realities of human existence: suffering, disease, illness; and then the whole
momentum of modern life. People are left with a
sense of uncertainty, and they’re looking for answers. – Right, right. So good example is the medicine. Around 1970, in the West, they started
the hospice movement. Medicine has long helped people to be cured, to be freed from diseases. But they better lead to how to live to die. (chuckles) So, but people who are, you know, who have a very severe disease of course are very conscious
about his own death; his own death. And those who cure them must be aware that. So suddenly they realize that, but in medical department in universities, they
don’t teach about that. So this is a new way
that modern institutions have to learn about the
limit of secular knowledge, the limit of modern
science, modern rationalism; and to learn from the old
wisdoms of human beings. – Interestingly enough,
one of the first people we interviewed in the early
’80s was Norman Cousins who was an American
writer who began writing and influencing medical
education in the country by arguing that there
were alternative issues. You even have an essay in your book on alternative sources of knowledge. And so this is a much
larger phenomena globally than just kinda just
new religions in Japan. I mean, it’s a kind of global search by humanity for answers in a world that seems inadequate because
it’s become so secular and so dismissive of religion. – Yes, so Japan is an interesting example that they started modernization earlier than other countries in Asia, in Africa; maybe in other parts of the world. – This is the Meiji Restoration. – Yes, yes, in the middle 19th century. So we were very eager to learn from the West. But there have been always some sense of difference. And we did not agree with the principles, with the basic way of behavior, which I learned from the West. And so there are many attempts to adapting the Western way but in our own way also. So new religions are, in a sense, one example. And there are, for
example, the alternative agricultural movements,
alternative medicine. There are many alternative things. – You discuss one
religion where the founder of the religion was
really somebody interested in soils and fertilizer and microbiology. And talk a little about that, what was the name of the religion, but it evolved into a, almost a kind of psychotherapy, but also a religion, but
also a movement about what you should eat. – Yes, yes. Interestingly, Shinto, rather than Buddhism, has
influenced that kind of movements, alternative knowledge movements, I said in my book. Oomoto-kyo is an important example. This is very well known and studied because it had a very
strong political impact. But it has many other aspects. This religion was very much involving, for example, arts. Most of the followers practiced some arts, for example, poems, making short poems, Japanese poems, or writing calligraphies from arrangements, tea
ceremony, like that. And in arts and also the life technologies, so how to live, aating, growing the crops. They wanted to invent their own ways, uh-huh. And it has influenced in the West. This is not the influence from Oomoto, there is another important movement named microbiotics. This was… transplanted from Japan to the West. And now I think in the West,
this is a bigger movement. – And let’s kind of help people understand the common elements in these movements. And you compare these new religions to what you call salvation movements. So explain to us what salvation
religions movements are and how they differ from
the New Age religions. – Okay. So… Modern people, for modern people, when they learned modern science, still they say there is something unique to religion. And… So, because this will help people to be independent, to think by themselves. And if you, for example, face the god above, you’ll be alone, and you will situate yourself in a fundamental way. This is the fundamental self recognition. And in what religions this, what kind of religions this happens? I think this is salvation religion. Salvation religion regards human suffering’s very important, also the limits of humanity; for example, we must, we cannot escape from hurting us, violence, for example. And we also cannot escape from the death itself. So there is an important limit. We cannot… escape from them. But if you have faith, you can overcome that limit. This is the basic very powerful, you know, source of the idea which motivated human beings. And Christianity’s a very good example, and Buddhism too, Islam too. So still they are spreading in the world. They are helping people to, to be, confirm that you are yourself. And new religions in Japan, I think they are, in their own way, salvation religions. But I think now, we are more and more conscious that salvation religions have their own limit too. – And the important
point that you emphasize in the book with
salvation religion is that the turning, the catharsis
comes through faith, but from an outside power. There is a god or an entity that confirms the salvation. And it is most likely in other world, not in this world that
that salvation comes. – Yes, yes. – And so, but the difference
with the new religions are telling us something else. They are putting the burden more on the individual, and as I understand it, the salvation is in this world. – Yes, I am influence by Max Weber. And in his book, he said that this worldliness and the… As a worldliness or the limit of realizing this worldliness; this concept, the concept of world is very important in his work. What I found is that traditional salvation religion has much emphasis on
the other worldliness. But immortality, there are new type of salvation religions which
emphasize this worldliness. The salvation occurs within this world. This is especially
conspicuous in the East Asia. And this trend from the other
worldly salvation religions to this worldly salvation religion, if they continue this
way, what comes next? I think New Age, which
is called in the West, is something here. – What, you know, as I listen
to you and I read the book, there is a point at which it’s very clear you’re addressing a global phenomena. And that it, in a way, it touches on all kinds of movements we
see in the world today. In California, for example,
the whole thing about proper eating and how the
proper diet can change you, to all, you know, many kinds of (mumbles). So the question is when is it religious, when are these things religious? Where does, what elements in these common phenomenas
make them religion? Because if you’re changing
a diet in the United States, you’re not doing it for religious reasons, at least many people are not. – So there is not one common element which defines religion; there are many ways. So the term religion is not the word which catches the essence, the gathering of many elements. But anyway, for modern people, the sense of their limit over a scientific knowledge and the limit of the
method of modern science, what is called reductionism; knowing things in parts, but not as a whole. If you study diseases, modern scientific medicine studies the parts of your body, not the person as a whole: mind, body, spirit. But we need to acquire that kind of sense. So this is, I think, a new global awareness that we need a different way of grasping the world, and this is a basis which, you know, there are many
different, what do you call it, new spirituality movements,
new spirituality cultures importing from different sources. And many things are very
much commercialized. But still there are many common elements, and I think they can be
called religious too. – Now you make an important
point in your book about beginning with the Meiji Restoration that there was as social basis for the new religions and
their evolution overtime. One element you identify is essentially these religions emerged from the masses as opposed from the elites. Tell us about that and other elements that tell us the social
basis of this phenomena that you’re describing throughout
the period of modernization. – So if you, this is
(laughing) very big topic. – Yeah. (chuckles) Well what we’re doing is
we’re interesting people so they go buy your book. – Thank you for your careful review, I’m very grateful. If you look back the whole
history of religions, and especially the salvation religions, in the age, what we call Middle Ages, some people have the major initiatives, and other people just, you know, following. Of course, they were just not obeying but they have their own way. But it was not expressed. But in the process of modernization, people have their own, you know, way of expressing themselves
and organizing themselves. So this is different in Europe and the US. In Europe, the church structure has a still strong power. So popular religious movements are not welcome speakers. But here in the United
States, there are many sects, many religions movements, and it represents the power of the people. So religion has been changing that the initiative moved from the elite to the popular elements. – You say in your book,
the new movements are a reflection of radical individualism that is necessitated by the affluence and information-oriented
nature of contemporary society. – Yes. But so, in the case of Japan, in the 19th century and until about 1970, popular religious movements are very much com-mu-lar. They like to form the local community, local congregational community. There are local leaders. Many of them are housewives. They are very powerful people. They may not be educated in the higher education. But they have their own very powerful personal experience, they have their own source of wisdom. But after the 1970s, that kind of, it was not easy to form that kind of community in their localities. And when they gather, for example, there is an, you know, screen, TV screen, and
they watch (chuckles) the same TV screen, but
they don’t talk each other. So this is a new way, and they don’t know how to interact for the very important existential things. This is related to what is called New Age in the United States. – So you’re suggesting that the weakness of these new religions, in addition to their veering off course
and becoming extremists, as we talked about earlier, is that they may not be creating
an institutional structure for social cohesion. So the burden of everything, of changing, finding catharsis,
falls on the individual. – Yes. So salvation religions were so influential in human history because they are the way, they taught the way to form community. But recently, salvation religions sometimes help individuals to feel that you are yourself, but they do not help construct stable community which can convey the traditions. So this is a difficult time. So the dangerous elements
of salvation religions, for example, excluding the other people. – That is, people who have not been saved are outsiders, yeah.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the auth-it-ar-ian element. This was in some groups, this became, this is becoming very much to, you know, to be warned against, yes. – What are the political implications of New Age religions? I would imagine it varies
country by country. In the United States,
religious fundamentalism has become important
in electoral politics. It’s linked to the anti-abortion movement. What is the story in Japan, and then what do you think
the global implications are? – Yes, I didn’t discuss about this in this book. But the religions which are politically influential
in contemporary world are not only salvation religions. In Japan, the state Shinto is very important. It doesn’t teach individuals to be independent and to learn about how to be saved. But it gives people the
sense that they are powerful and they can be united, and sometimes they, it can be aggressive. In India, so what is
called Hindu nationalism, is very powerful. In Japan, there was always the religious power, which are different from
salvation religions. Buddhism and Shinto, Confucian type of religious ideology. And I think in contemporary Japan, this kind of nationalist religious ideology, this is also
to be carefully examined. – When, are there factors that you can identify in
the case of Aum Shinrikyo where they go off the road, so to speak. In other words, is it that the, is it the mixing of it with
authoritarian leadership, or is the, it seems to have become a moneymaking entity? Is it that the market intruded? What makes New Age religions go astray? – In my, you know, theoretical scheme, Aum Shinrikyo is not close to New Age, New Age type of religious phenomena. It is more a communal. It is not very individualistic. It denied family, family. – It denied family.
– Family, yes. So this is very much against traditional Japanese morality. So… The loss of the sense of the
continuity from the past, this was very strong. And I think, this is why the younger people, and especially educated people, were attracted by this group. And this became very dangerous. – To what extent, when you
examine these religions, have they been influenced by a sense of the apocalyptic that might come from the fact that Japan was a victim of the use of the first atomic bomb? Does that enter into this at all, or are these New Age religions
not relating to that at all? (Susumu chuckles) – The Aum Shinrikyo used many (chuckles) different ideas, for example, Nostradamus was used by them very effectively. And Christian apocalyptic ideas was employed by them. Some Buddhist prophetic elements was also used. So… very new, but they inherited many things from the popular religions movements in Japan. And this was not very much
emphasized by our scholarship but from the magistration on, there are many religious movements, popular religious movements; the scholars emphasized
they were oppressed by the totalist government. But popular movements helped to make the totalian, you know, social system in the 1930s. So there was always the danger. So it was so rapid in the, the group started in the mid 1980s, and the mid ’90s, only after 10 years after they started they caused such a big– (voices interposing)
– Yes, yes, the incident. It was difficult to prognose. But there was always that kind of element. Popular religious movements can become the dangerous element, yes. – One final question, a brief answer, for our audience out there, is there one point of departure when they confront new religions,
say, in the United States or else where? One idea that you would
like to leave them with as a result of your studies to, because you started by
saying you were interested in understanding people and why they were returning to this
religious phenomena. Is there one insight that
stands out in your work? – Yes. So… Human beings, (chuckles) I’m saying us, two big
things right now. (chuckles) Human beings are weak. You cannot control yourself. We must help each other. And when we help each other, and when we overcome the violence, we need something beyond us. So religion is so essential for human beings. But it can be also the dividing, aggressive forces. So what make you strong may make you dangerous. So this kind of a paradox we must face, and you know, we must deal with our reason. – On that note, let me
show your book again because I think it’s very lucid and people will find it instructive, even if they’re not interested primarily in religious movements in Japan, but rather the global phenomena. Let me thank you very much
again for being our guest on Conversations with–
– Thank you very much. – History; and thank you very much for joining us for this
Conversation with History. (retro electronic music)

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