PhD Candidate, History of Religions, Faculty of Theology, Uppsala University
Arguing ”religion” in Japanese courts
The central problem with “religion” as a legal category, as found in legislation on religious freedom or on the separation of religion from the state, is that there exists no generally agreed upon definition of what constitutes “religion”. As American legal scholar Winnifred Sullivan has suggested, legislation on religion requires “essentialized religion” in order to be effective, and since no essentialized religion exists, defining what constitutes religion and, significantly, what doesn’t, is generally left in the hands of individual judges and justices.
This workshop will focus on how religion is argued as a category under Japanese law. Articles 20 and 89 of the Japanese constitution provides a legal framework for both fundamental freedom of religion and, as a guarantee for this, a strict separation of religion from the state. In a number of court cases throughout the postwar period, Japanese courts have argued about what constitutes “religion” in a Japanese setting, and what does not. Although freedom of religion is usually granted to any actor recognized as a “religious juridical person”, the issue is usually more complicated when it comes to the issue of disestablishment. Are Japanese politicians allowed to sponsor Shinto shrines? Can public officials partake in the rituals surrounding the enthronement of a new emperor? Is Shinto “religion”, or is it simply a part of Japanese culture – a set of “social courtesies”?