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Discourses on Religious Violence in Premodern Japan

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Title:Discourses on Religious Violence in Premodern Japan
Authors:Adolphson, Mikael S.
Keywords:religious violence
Premodern Japan
Mount Hiei
monastic militias
show 5 moreTendai school
Monastic violence
fabricated image of the sōhei
Heian period
show less
Date Issued:20 Mar 2014
Abstract:Seemingly at odds with the Buddhist precepts, many monastic members and shrine servants in premodern Japan took up arms to solve disputes. Modern observers have frequently condemned such activities, but contemporary sources offer a different picture. While there were cases where the use of arms by clerics was criticized, there were also times when the very same members were either praised for their violent acts, or when they were recruited by members of the imperial court. This ambiguity in part derived from Buddhism itself, since there was also a notion that allowed members of temples and shrines to legitimately take up arms in defense of Buddhism, or in its extension of to the state itself. These cases indicate that the rhetoric about the use of arms by clerics was less based on legal or moral principles regarding violence than on a general desire for order in society. If monks and their retainers were criticized for violent behavior, it was because they were on the wrong side of the imperial order, and conversely, if they were praised, it was because they had sided with the winning side in court factionalism. It would seem, then, that the notion of religious violence was foreign to both nobles and commoners of the medieval age, and that the concept itself belongs more to the modern world than the times preceding it.
Description:Presented at the Numata Conference in Buddhist Studies / “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions: Past, Present, and Future,” held in Honolulu, Hawaii, March 20–21, 2014
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
Appears in Collections: Conference on Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions

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