Textbook Violence - James R. Lewis

Textbook Violence - James R. Lewis

This is not a Religion! 'The Trechery of the Images' of Aum, Yasukuni and Al-Qaeda in Japanese Textbooks

Textbook Violence - James R. Lewis

Satoko Fujiwara
Executive Editor [+-]
University of Tokyo
Satoko Fujiwara is Professor of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tokyo. She has been serving as Secretary General of the International Association for the History of Religions since 2020. Her main focus is on theories in the study of religion with latest publications on the global history of the discipline and the IAHR. She has also published articles on how religions have been described in public school education.


This article begins with the author’s own experience as a high school textbook writer. Three years ago I argued with the Japanese Ministry of Education over how to teach about the relationship between religion and violence. The Ministry’s view was that if a group commits violence, they should not be regarded as religious. The Ministry insisted that religion is, by definition, free of any violence. Since all school textbooks in Japan must be authorized by the Ministry, I had to accept the Ministry’s opinion because, otherwise, my textbook would not have been published. This would have caused my publisher to incur a great financial loss. However, the Ministry’s attitude will increase rather than decrease the prejudice among Japanese young people against religions, Islam in particular, because the Ministry’s view flatly contradicts with the information these young people receive from the Internet, which many of them trust more than their teachers. I will expand my arguments by: 1. Comparing how Aum Shinrikyo (the Buddhist New Religious Group responsible for the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack) and Al-Qaeda (for the September 11 attacks) are treated in social studies/civic studies textbooks. 2. Examining the descriptions of State Shinto and Yasukuni Shrine in those textbooks and explaining what their implications would be in light of the ongoing contention between China/South-Korea and Japan. 3. Critically assessing college textbooks on the same issue, which are produced freely without any official, national authorization and are supposed to offer academically tenable, uncompromised views of Japanese scholars of religion. I will finally present possible alternative descriptions/explanations on religion and conflict/violence that can be taught to Japanese pupils. While there are works in English on the topics of Aum Shinrikyo, State Shinto, Yasukuni Shrine et cetera, there is no publication which addresses these topics together in a systematic way from the perspective of religion and conflicts/violence, especially in a school teaching setting.

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Fujiwara, Satoko. This is not a Religion! 'The Trechery of the Images' of Aum, Yasukuni and Al-Qaeda in Japanese Textbooks. Textbook Violence. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 27-52 Aug 2017. ISBN 9781781792599. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=30513. Date accessed: 30 Jan 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30513. Aug 2017

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