SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Themes in Japanese Religions

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This course explores specific topics relevant for the understanding of Japanese religion in its cultural context. By focusing on selected themes, it aims to analyse the practice of religion in Japan as a complex phenomenon which embraces institutions, rituals, doctrines, beliefs, and active participation.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course the student will have:

  • achieved a basic knowledge of the characteristics, sources and framework if significant practices and ideas in Japanese religion
  • developed an understanding of Japanese religion as a complex and inclusive phenomenon were elements apparently contrasting or belonging to different traditions coexist symbiotically
  • acquired an awareness of how different factors, political, social and doctrinal, converge in shaping the religious landscape of Japan

Scope and syllabus

The starting point is the contemporary  religious landscape of Japan, but links are made with the historical background and pre-modern material is used to explain several developments, in order to disclose the paradigms of continuity and change in the religious practices explored. Themes to be addressed include:

  • the geography of sacred space
  • the position of women in Japanese religion
  • pilgrimages; the use of sacred scriptures
  • the meaning of rituals
  • and the coexistence of different religious traditions. 

The approach will be interdisciplinary and different types of material, textual, visual and audio-visual, will be employed.

Method of assessment

  • One 4,000 word essay (80%)
  • One presentation (10%)
  • One class presentation (10%)

Suggested reading

  • Mullins, M, Shimazono, S and P Swanson eds. (1993) Religion and Society in Modern Japan : Selected Readings , Asian Humanities Press.
  • Reader, Ian (1991) Religion in Contemporary Japan , Macmillan Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules