21. Tracing the “Non-Denominational”: Japan and the UK
Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion - In Celebration of Tim Jensen’s 65th Birthday - Peter Antes
Brian Bocking [+]
University College Cork
This article explores some of the issues involved in the relations between ideas such as ‘state’, ‘religion’ ‘secular’ and ‘education’, using examples from Japan and the UK. The focus is on religion in state-provided education, since school education has remained the primary means by which modern citizens are socialised en masse. In Japan, from 1890 to 1945, the ultimate values taught in state schools were ‘Shinto’ in character but after 1945 all reference to religion in schools was abandoned, following the USA model. In the UK, Christianity was dominant throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and the Christian Bible was taught as history. Since the 1980’s, the Christian agenda in UK RE has largely given way to an ideal of benevolent religious multiculturalism. Yet in both Japan and the UK, ‘religious’ ideas taught in schools were always regarded by the state as ‘non-denominational’ (Jap: hishūkyō) – i.e. intentionally distinct from any actual religious sect or denomination. ‘School religion’ was in both countries a superordinate value-system, one of whose somewhat paradoxical effects was to secularise ‘real’ religious adherence, relegating it to the sphere of the individual or family. However, the rights, views and choices of individuals are increasingly the drivers of change in contemporary society. Does it matter that UK children now study multiple religions in school, while Japanese (or American) children study none?