Speaker Jolyon Baraka Thomas, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania/Abe Fellow (2017)
Moderator Kate Wildman Nakai, PhD
Professor, Sophia University
When Thursday, April 18, 2019, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Where International House of Japan 404 Seminar Room
5-11-16 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo Access
Outline Americans stationed in occupied Japan at the close of World War II claimed to be bringing religious freedom to a country where it did not exist. They described Japan’s 1889 constitutional guarantee of religious freedom as a fake, and they claimed to implant “real religious freedom” in its stead. But in making such claims, the occupiers overlooked inconvenient historical facts. Japanese people had been debating the meaning of religious freedom for decades before the Occupation began, and military government records clearly show that the American occupiers were not nearly as certain about how to protect religious freedom as their triumphalist rhetoric suggested. The concepts and governing practices the occupiers developed in collaboration with influential Japanese scholars in the late 1940s still dictate how academics, journalists, and policymakers working today imagine who deserves religious freedom, what kinds of political practices infringe on religious liberty, and who bears responsibility for protecting religious freedom. Focusing on postwar debates about morality education, changes to the Fundamental Law on Education, and constitutional revision, Thomas argues that disagreements about how religion should be defined are central to understanding Japanese political life today.
Language Presentation in English with Japanese questions accepted.
Admission Admission free. Booking required.
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Speaker Profile

Dr. Jolyon Baraka Thomas:  Assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD from Princeton University, an MA from the University of Hawaii, and a BA from Grinnell College. Current projects investigate who gets to define religious freedom and with what political effects, how conceptions of “religion” and “the secular” appear in debates about public school education in postwar Japan and the United States, and what sort of relationships exist between religion, capitalism, and sexuality. His first book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan, is available from University of Hawaii Press. His second book, Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan, was published by University of Chicago Press in March 2019. He is now working on a third book, tentatively titled The Problematic Subject of Religious Education: Debates over Morality, Patriotism, and Security in Postwar Japan and the United States.

Photo of r. Jolyon Baraka Thomas


Abe Fellowship Program
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