Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality

Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality

by Michel Mohr


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In the late 1800s, as Japanese leaders mulled over the usefulness of religion in modernizing their country, they chose to invite Unitarian missionaries to Japan. This book spotlights one facet of debates sparked by the subsequent encounter between Unitarianism and Buddhism—an intersection that has been largely neglected in the scholarly literature. Focusing on the cascade of events triggered by the missionary presence of the American Unitarian Association on Japanese soil between 1887 and 1922, Michel Mohr’s study sheds new light on this formative time in Japanese religious and intellectual history.

Drawing on the wealth of information contained in correspondence sent and received by Unitarian missionaries in Japan, as well as periodicals, archival materials, and Japanese sources, Mohr shows how this missionary presence elicited unprecedented debates on “universality” and how the ambiguous idea of “universal truth” was utilized by missionaries to promote their own cultural and ethnocentric agendas. At the turn of the twentieth century this notion was appropriated and reformulated by Japanese intellectuals and religious leaders, often to suit new political and nationalistic ambitions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674066946
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 06/30/2014
Series: Harvard East Asian Monographs , #351
Pages: 346
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Michel Mohr is Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xvii

Abbreviations xix

Note on Conventions xxi

Timeline of Unitarianism in Japan xxii

Part I Seeds and Transplant 1

1 Setting the Stage 3

2 The Advent of the Unitarians in Japan 18

3 The Wavering of Early Japanese Support 38

Part II Bloom and Tensions 61

4 Inspired Buddhist Intellectuals 63

5 Japanese Students at Harvard and the Waseda Connection 86

6 Involvement in the Labor Movement 111

Part III Fracture and Rebuttals 141

7 Dispatching the Hatchet Man 143

8 Discordant Voices 183

9 The Counterexample of Shaku Soen 209

Epilogue: Reexamining the Universalizing Channels 237

List of Characters 257

Bibliography 269

Index 295

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