Buddhism in print. Japanese Buddhist intellectuals and the periodical press in the Early Meiji period

Start - End 
2018 - 2021 (ongoing)



In the years surrounding the Meiji Restoration (1868), the suppression of Buddhism in favour of a Shinto-based ideology propelled Buddhist thinkers into a reactionary movement aimed at regaining a prominent place in Japanese society. This project will argue that Buddhist intellectuals' involvement in journal publication in the 1870s constituted an important means to achieve that goal. As a popular medium of the time, journals were instrumental in shaping the intellectual movement known as the Japanese Enlightenment, and Buddhist journals were an integral part of this dynamic, as this project will demonstrate. Much like journals today, their contents reflected hot topics of the time, both addressing debates stemming from Japan's increased interaction with Western nations, and immediate Buddhist concerns such as the 1873 ban on cremation. Through a content-based analysis of four Buddhist journals, which also invited contributions by non-Buddhist intellectuals, the project will uncover issues that were on the minds, not only of Buddhists, but of the broader Japanese intellectual community of the 1870s. Research on the journal contributors will shed light on underlying social networks that enabled Buddhist modernisers to reclaim a leading role for Buddhism in Japan at a time when their institution was under pressure. As such, the project will challenge the narrative of a weakened Buddhism, reconsider its agency in early Meiji Japan, and ask how religion shaped Japan's modernity.