Guest Lecture: Incentive to Secularize Buddhism – Naikan Meditation in Japanese Prisons in the 1950s

Guest Lecture: Incentive to Secularize Buddhism – Naikan Meditation in Japanese Prisons in the 1950s

Time: Thursday, March 10, 2022 – 6:00 PM PST/ 7:00 PM CST/ 9:00 PM EST

Location: Room 120, CK Choi Building, UBC, Vancouver

Zoom Registration:

This event is offered as a Hybrid Lecture—in-person and online attendance are available, although Zoom Registration is required for all attendees.


Abstract: Officials for the US government during their occupation of Japan in the late 1940s wanted to ensure that Japanese leaders would not use Shinto or any other religion to inspire popular support for military aggression. So the Americans included in the postwar constitution they drafted articles to prevent state sanctioning of any religious activity. With their legal reforms, they said they were promoting freedom of religion; but the history of Naikan meditation to rehabilitate prisoners in the 1950s indicates that the new constitution ironically restricted religion by limiting where it could by practiced and by whom. To avoid these restrictions and promote Naikan in publicly funded prisons, the founder of Naikan, Yoshimoto Ishin, began to present it as non-religious. In doing so, he showed that the US occupiers and legal reformers, regardless of what they intended, wound up incentivizing secularization. The paper, overall, makes the case that secularization can occur as the result of strategic choices by religious actors.

About the Speaker: Clark Chilson is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches on religions in Asia and the relationship between Buddhism and psychology. He is the author of Secrecy’s Power: Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment and the co-editor of two books: The Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions (with Paul Swanson), and Shamans in Asia (with Peter Knecht). He has published articles on Shin Buddhism, Kūya, Ikeda Daisaku, non-religious spiritual care in Japan, and Naikan, a meditative practice that has been used as a psychotherapeutic intervention.


This event is sponsored by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society.


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