restricted access Cultural Nationalism in Japanese Neo-New Religions: A Comparative Study of Mahikari and Kōfuku no Kagaku
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Cultural Nationalism in Japanese Neo-New Religions:
A Comparative Study of Mahikari and Kōfuku no Kagaku

This study examines the way nationalism has been expressed in the worldviews and teachings of the neo-New Religions (shin shin shūkyō 新新 宗教)-movements that came to prominence in the 1970s following Japan's period of postwar economic growth.1 Focusing on two of these movements- Mahikari 真光 (True Light) and Kōfuku no Kagaku 幸福の科学 (formerly known as the Institute for Research in Human Happiness, but today as Happy Science)-this comparative case study documents the sources of their ideas, the logic of those ideas, and changes that have occurred in them since their establishment.2 [End Page 133]

Religions, and especially those referred to as "salvation religions," have historically sought to offer all humankind a path out of suffering. While the popular religious movements that arose in Japan during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries advocated universal salvation, the "national" was also an unavoidable element of their development. These New Religions, therefore, may be regarded as an amalgam of the universal and the particular, and of universalism and nationalism. For scholars of both intellectual history and religion, therefore, these movements provide a rich body of materials for exploring the various forms in which nationalism and universalism can coexist. The neo-New Religions are a relatively recent extension of the so-called New Religions, which date back as far as the late Edo period and have flourished at various times over the past two centuries.

This study focuses on the roughly two decades from the early 1970s; this period, and particularly the early 1990s, was a time of transition both internationally and for Japanese society. The reemergence of nationalism beginning in the 1970s can be considered a revitalization of the prewar system of imperialistic nationalism (teikokushugi taisei 帝国主義体制) following several decades of marginalization in the postwar period- a development we can attribute to internationalization, globalization, and religious resurgence. While the main purpose of this article is to provide a descriptive analysis of two representative groups, I also seek to address the larger sociological question of how religious movements respond to changing social and economic circumstances and historic events. In addition, I hope that this study will make a modest contribution to research on the history of the neo-New Religions, a field of study that is still in its early phase of development.

I do not intend to engage here the problem of how to define "nationalism," but will simply adopt the one provided by Yoshino Kōsaku 吉野耕作 and then proceed to the analysis of the two cases under consideration: "Nationalism is the collective belief that 'we' are a community that possesses a history and cultural characteristics distinct from other groups, as well as the will, emotion, and energy to maintain and promote that distinctiveness within the framework of an autonomous state."3 What I focus on in this article is not economic or political nationalism, but rather the cultural dimensions of nationalism.4 The discourse on Japan's cultural distinctiveness, popularly known as Nihonjinron 日本人論, or Nihon bunkaron 日本文化論, is another topic closely related to religion that we will necessarily touch upon below.

Literature Review and Research Focus

Mahikari and Kōfuku no Kagaku may both be categorized as neo-New Religions, along with others such as Agonshū 阿含宗, Aum Shinrikyō オウム真理教, Worldmate ワールドメイト, and GLA ジー・エル・エー (God Light Association) and its offshoots. [End Page 134] Nishiyama Shigeru 西山茂 first proposed the concept "neo-New Religion" in 1979, and it was subsequently developed further by Shimazono Susumu 島薗進. In 1997, Inoue Nobutaka 井上順孝 questioned the concept's validity, raising a number of problems, but Nishiyama and Shimazono maintained that it was useful for understanding "society in its contemporary context" (jidai shakairon 時代社会論).5 Shimazono later presented his argument more systematically in Posuto-modan no Shinshūkyō (postmodern New Religions),"6 but the argument has scarcely developed since then. Very little empirical research has actually been done on the religious groups that belong to the category neo-New Religions. Studies on Mahikari include the pioneering work of Miyanaga Kuniko 宮永國子 (1980), a large-scale survey of Sūkyō Mahikari believers by Tani Tomio 谷富夫 (1993), and a number of studies concerning the group's activities...


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