The Allied Occupation of Japan, Religious Freedom, and Japanese Public Schools

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6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Virtual Event
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About this event

Jolyon Baraka Thomas (University of Pennsylvania)

JRC Meiji Jingu Autumn Lecture 2021

The Japan Research Centre Meiji Jingu Autumn Lecture is sponsored through the generosity of the Meiji Jingu-Intercultural Research Institute.


Conventional wisdom has it that the U.S.-led Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–52) brought religious freedom to a theocratic empire. But this tidy narrative overlooks the fact that Japanese people had been refining understandings of their constitutional religious freedom guarantee for decades before the occupiers arrived. By treating the Americans as magnanimous bringers of religious freedom, the conventional story also downplays the fact that the occupiers vehemently disagreed about what counted as religion and how to free it. My alternative account shows that the occupiers and their Japanese interlocutors solved pressing administrative and conceptual problems by treating religious freedom not as a civil liberty granted to citizens by their state, but as a universal human right. This newly capacious understanding of personal liberties was rhetorically effective and politically inspiring, but it unfortunately introduced confusion about citizens’ social obligations. The confusion was particularly acute in public schools. The postwar constitution prohibited religious instruction, but moral panics about wayward children convinced many observers that schools desperately needed the aid of religion. These longstanding debates over the propriety of morality training and religious instruction constitute an awkward legacy of Occupation-era policy that still impacts education policy in Japan today.

Speaker Biography

Jolyon Baraka Thomas is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches on religion as it relates to media, politics, and the law. He is the author of Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (2012) and Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan (2019), which won an award for excellence from the American Academy of Religion. He is a member of the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies and serves on the steering committee of the Japanese Religions Unit of the American Academy of Religion.


This event is open to the public, however registration is required. Online Registration

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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Sponsor: Meiji Jingu