Pamela Winfield Convenes Panel, Presents Paper on Modern Japanese Religions at Regional AAS Conference

Pamela Winfield convened a panel and presented a paper on Jan. 15 at UNC Chapel Hill as part of the Association of Asian Studies southeastern regional conference.

Pamela Winfield

In addition to Elon, panelists hailed from Duke, Wake Forest, UNC Chapel Hill and Hosei Universities (Tokyo). Together, their papers explored the appropriation of the past for modern constructions of Japanese religion. The full lineup of papers appears under panel #10 of the attached Conference Program link, and the abstract of Winfield’s paper appears below:

“New Wine in Old Bottles? Shinnyo-en and the Question of Categories”

This paper focuses on the theme of continuity and change in Shinnyo-en, a hybrid religious group founded in 1936 by the ordained Shingon monk Shinjo Ito and his mediumistic wife Tamaki. In the scholarly literature, Shinnyo-en is almost exclusively discussed as being one of the many New Religious Movements (NRMs) of the twentieth century. However, interviews with adherents reveal a formal and doctrinally-articulated self-perception as being part of the age-old esoteric Buddhist “Dharma Stream.” This paper, therefore, argues that Shinnyo-en resists any neat categorization that classifies it as being either a “new” or “old” religion, and recognizes that these labels stem from primarily outsider and insider agendas, respectively. Furthermore, if Shinnyo-en is to be considered a New Religion as most scholars consider it to be, then this is complicated by its numerous conventional Shingon elements (e.g. goma, mandalas, komyo chanting, Fudo and Kannon veneration, merit transfer and a sustained, symbiotic relationship with the Shingon establishment at Kyoto’s historic Daigoji temple). By contrast, if it is to be considered part of a time-honored religious tradition as most practitioners consider it to be, then this also is complicated by its numerous novel elements (e.g. Ito’s family pantheon, reinosha, the doctrines of bakku daiju and the three wheels). By straddling and nuancing both “new” and “old” in the case of Shinnyo-en, this paper attempts to problematize the facile category of NRMs and remind scholars of the long view that sees both continuity and change as part of the historical development of any religious tradition.

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