Fourth Annual Robert Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions:

Fourth Annual Robert Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions: "Religious Self-Cultivation as Politics: Examples from Grassroots-Level Activism in Japan"

Levi McLaughlin, Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, North Carolina State University

Though a majority of people in Japan self-identify in survey responses as “non-religious,” religions and religion-affiliated groups nonetheless wield significant influence on Japanese politics and policymaking. In this presentation, McLaughlin will draw on his recent ethnographic engagement with participants within the Association of Shinto Shrines, non-profit ethical training groups, and the Buddhist lay association Soka Gakkai, to shed light on how their quotidian engagements in local-level organizations shape the ideological dispositions and activities of institutions that guide voters and elected officials. The complex and at times paradoxical commitments of these grassroots-level activists, some of whom are devotees to Japanese nationalism who are not themselves Japanese and transgender lay Buddhists who work to perpetuate gender-divided religious administrations, also suggest how the operative categories “religion” and “politics” might be reassessed.

He is co-author of Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan (IEAS Berkeley, 2014) and author of Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan (University of Hawai`i Press, 2019).

The Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions commemorates the work of the late Professor Emeritus Robert E. Morrell, a specialist in Japanese literature and Buddhism who taught at Washington University for 34 years and who holds special significance for the campus, as Morrell was the first to teach a course on Buddhism. This annual series commemorates his life work by bringing distinguished scholars of Asian religions to campus.

This lecture is a cosponsored by the Program for Religious Studies and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.