Black and White Proselytism: The Publishing Revolution that Changed Religious Propaganda in Twentieth-Century Japan

Change log
Triola, Luigi Ivan 

The twentieth century was an era that praised science and rationality in which religion seemed superfluous. However, despite the dominance of secularist and positivist thought, religious organizations in Japan and around the world continued to flourish. While there have been studies on the importance of religion in modern societies, it is not clear yet why and how religions survived or even prospered in such a hostile environment. The primary aim of this project was to identify the practical reasons behind the emergence and preservation of New Religions. To achieve this, my dissertation draws liberally from several publications produced by different New Japanese Religions. I reconstructed the history that revolutionized religious propaganda and helped religions maintain their position by analyzing magazines, newspapers, and books produced by prewar groups Tenrikyō, Ōmoto, Kurozumikyō, and Sekai Kyūseikyō; and postwar Soka Gakkai, Happy Science, and Aum Shinrikyō. These religions were selected as the most popular and representative of their era. As they were very influential and promoted ideas often in contrast with state ideology, I also analyzed laws and decrees that tried to limit their freedom to understand the power dynamics at play. This project is the first to investigate the practical reasons behind the development of New Religions in Japan. The key finding is that religions, following existing dynamics within their milieus, used publishing as a powerful instrument for role-negotiation and proselytism, which allowed them to maintain currency in a secularist society. Secondly, I identified continuities between the prewar and postwar periods, which indicate a unique pattern for religious propaganda throughout the twentieth century. Contrary to what other studies suggest, this has demonstrated that 1) the Pacific War (1941–1945) was not a clear-cut watershed that changed Japanese society forever; 2) interrelation and intellectual cross-pollination were fundamental for the development of New Religions and need to be addressed; 3) publications were not dethroned by newer media such as DVDs and the Internet, but the latter became additions to the new twentieth-century relationship between media and religions.

Adolphson, Mikael
Japan, Modern history, New Religions, Media, Publishing, Imagined Communities
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge