Conference on Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions

On March 20 and 21, 2014, the Numata Conference in Buddhist Studies took place at the East-West Center’s Keoni Auditorium, within the Hawaii Imin International Conference Center. It focused on the theme “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions: Past, Present, and Future.” For two days, twenty-one presenters engaged the local and the scholarly community in lively discussions, followed by the screening of two exceptional movies related to this topic. This event was cosponsored by the Department of Religion at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and by the Buddhist Study Center (Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai‘i).

The primary objective of this conference was to shed new light on the role played by religions throughout Japanese history, Buddhism in particular, by providing a balanced account of how it addressed the issue of violence in specific contexts. The general public tends to be more familiar with romantic ideas about Buddhism being exclusively a religion of peace, whereas historical records and advances in recent scholarship show that there is no way to dismiss all the examples in which the Buddhist clergy, or sometimes Buddhist texts, seem to have condoned violence. Such intertwinement with violence seems to contradict the fundamental emphasis on abstaining from harming and killing, the famous principle of ahiṃsā, which predates the emergence of Buddhism as an organized tradition. Yet, as highlighted by one of the presenters, there was no umbrella term for “violence” in premodern Japan, and the current word bōryoku 暴力 was coined in the nineteenth century to translate its Western equivalent.

Regardless of the labels attached to specific instances of violent behavior or, in the contrary, ideas or attempts aimed at curbing violent behavior, reliable studies focusing on Japanese occurrences are surprisingly scarce. One obvious reason why the issue of religion and violence still remains largely taboo in Japan results from the Pacific War’s stigma. Thus, all indicators were showing that time was ripe for expanding this type of conversation to Japanese religions. Hawai‘i, with its large community of Japanese descent, constituted an ideal location for launching this event. Given this conference’s unique feature as a world premiere, we received numerous requests to make some of the papers available at an early stage before they appear in the form of an edited volume.

This collection in ScholarSpace is a response to such requests. The papers are provided as they were submitted, in the hope they will serve as appetizers for a forthcoming publication. Thus, we ask for the readers’ indulgence regarding their unpolished character. These papers are made available according to the Creative Commons provisions. Please carefully review the terms of the following license before downloading any of the papers:

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