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Unformatted text preview: nically homogeneous people, the Japanese may also have become one of its most homogeneous socially and culturally. A major phenomenon in postwar Japan has been the spectacular rise in the so-called new religions (shinkò shûkyò). Although loosely categorized as new, many of the most important of these religions were founded before the war, some as early as the mid-nineteenth century. But by far the greatest proliferation of the new religions occurred in the period following World War II. By the end of the Occupation in 1952, for example, their number was estimated at more than seven hundred, a figure that prompted one Western scholar to refer to the immediate postwar years as a time of the “rush hour of the gods.”40 Despite the diversity of the new religions, they share certain general characteristics. For example, they have tended to spring up during times of intense crisis or social unrest, such as the early Meiji and post-World War II periods; their founders have typically been charismatic figures who have served as vehicles for the revelation of religious truth; they are highly syncretic, often partaking freely of Shinto and Buddhism, as well as Christianity;41 and they are millenarian in that they characteristically promise the advent of a paradise on earth. Also the new religions have always appealed chiefly to people lower on the social and economic scales: to those who have in some sense been left behind in the march of modern progress. What makes the new religions most fascinating within the larger context of Japanese cultural history is the degree to which they reflect fundamental religious values and attitudes that have been held since ancient times. This can be seen perhaps most tellingly in the kinds of charismatic figures who have founded new religions, the most interesting of which are the female shamanistic types. Shamanism, as we observed in Chapter 1, derives from northeast Asia and exerted enormous influence 336 Culture in the Present Age on early Japanese religion. It centers on belief in the transmission of a deity’s will through a human intermediary, or shaman. This form of divine transmission, known in Japanese as kami possession (kami gakari), is vividly described in classical works of literature such as The Tale of Genji and entai...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.

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