Buddhism and New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō)

Erica Baffelli

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Buddhism and New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō)

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The term “new religious movements” (NRMs) is an umbrella term used for movements or organizations that are sometimes called “alternative religions,” “nonconventional religions,” or “new religious groups.” The criteria used to define a group as “new” and to distinguish a “new religion” from a “traditional” religious movement or from a sectarian organization are controversial and they change over time. “New” is always a relative term. For example, when does a new religion cease to be called “new”? Some “new” religions are now more than a hundred years old. In Japan, the concept of “new religions” (shinshūkyō 新宗教) was first used after the end of World War II, and the term indicates a number of groups that arose since the mid-19th century. “New religions” is a useful chronological category, but it is important to note that these religious groups are rooted in different traditions and developed a wide variety of teachings and practices. However, some characteristics have been recognized as common to many (if not all) of these groups: the role of a (charismatic) leader; references to different religious traditions; the ability to change quite radically in a short period of time; and the focus on communal activities. The size of “new religions” also varies greatly: some groups claim membership of millions (Sōka Gakkai 創価学会 became one of the biggest organizations in Japan), while other groups only reached a few thousand members. Some of them tried, with some success, to internationalize their messages, and some became dynamically involved in political activities. Several Japanese new religions founded during the 19th and 20th centuries have been located (or locate themselves) in the Buddhist tradition. Some of them, such as Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kosei kai 立正佼成会, and Reiyūkai 霊友会 are based on Nichiren Buddhism, while others such as Agonshū 阿含宗 and Shinnyoen 真如苑 derive their teachings from esoteric Buddhism. This article will first provide an overview of scholarly debates regarding the definition of NRMs and then focus on some religious groups that are generally considered NRMs (not always without disagreement) and have been situated (or define themselves) inside the Buddhist tradition. Because their roots are from the Japanese religious tradition, most Japanese new religions include elements from Buddhist cosmology and practice. However, this article will focus on groups markedly known as Buddhist. Significant amounts of work on Japanese new religions have been produced in the 1960s and 1970s, but this article will generally focus on more recent publications in the field.

Article.  6825 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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