Livin’ on a Prayer? A Practical Introduction to Religion, Spirituality and the Secular in Contemporary Japan

October 25, 5pm (JST) by Prof. Andrea De Antoni (Ph.D.)

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AIRJ would like to invite you all to this workshop held by Prof. Andrea De Antoni (PhD).

Are the Japanese Religious? Even this simple question – very common among people who are unfamiliar with Japanese society and who visit Japan for the first time – implies several assumptions, such as ideas about “the Japanese” and, perhaps more importantly, a certain conceptualization of “religion”. In this presentation, I will start from problematizing such assumptions shedding light on the need to rethink them in order to achieve a better – more practice rather than belief focused – understanding of religiosity and spirituality in contemporary Japan. Secondly, I will discuss some examples and explanations of religious and spiritual practices that can be observed in everyday life in Japan, such as festivals and memorialization of spirits of the dead during obon. I will provide a brief general introduction of their historical background, with a particular focus on their modernization and commodification. Finally, I will present some ethnographic examples that I gathered through fieldwork and rely on them to touch upon and rediscuss stereotyped notions of pollution, “tradition” and “Japaneseness”. In doing so, I will offer an introductory understanding of religion, spirituality and the secular in contemporary Japan from an anthropological perspective. That is, an understanding from the native’s point of view.

Andrea De Antoni (Ph.D.) is Program Specific Associate Professor of cultural anthropology at Kyoto University. His main research area is contemporary Japan, but he has carried out ethnographic research also in Italy and Austria. His fields of inquiry include experiences with spirits and social suffering, especially in relation to the perception of space and place (particularly places related to death and the afterlife, as well as haunted places), rumors and discrimination, construction of social memory and “tradition”, tourism and commodification, spirit/demonic possession, exorcism and religious/spiritual healing. From a theoretical perspective, he focuses on the anthropology of the body, the perception of the environment, affect and emotions. He published extensively on these topics in English and Japanese. He authored Going to Hell in Contemporary Japan: Feeling Landscapes of the Afterlife, Othering, Memory and Materiality (Routledge, forthcoming), and co-edited several books and special issues of academic journals. He is also the coordinator of the international networks “Skills of Feeling with the World: Anthropological Research on the Senses, Affect and Materiality,” and of a research group on affect and religious/spiritual healing based at Kyoto University.