Embodying the Deities: A Study of the Formation of a Modern Japanese Deity Cult

Scarangello, Dominick John, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The rapid achievement of the Japanese industrial nation-state in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reshaped the body politic, created a national consciousness, and in doing so significantly transformed almost every aspect of social organization and practice, including religion. Two epochal changes that occurred in this period were the new Japanese government's separation of the worship of Kamis (Japanese divinities) from the practice of Buddhism and the formation of modern Shintand sectarian Buddhism. These changes were symptoms of Japan's plunge into modernity and at the same time integral modes of reshaping Japan into a modern nation-state. The differentiation of Kamis and Buddhas, or shinbutsu bunri ravaged combinatory religious complexes, which enshrined deities as both Kamis and Buddhas. The cult of the fire-preventing deity of Mt. Akiha was one such combinatory system. In the years following the promulgation of shinbutsu bunri, Akiha devotion was revived within inchoate modern Shintand sectarian Buddhism as well as through a unique competitive environment in which two temples and a ShintShrine contested the legacy of Mt. Akiha and forged rival communities of Akiha devotion. This monograph highlights an integral relationship between the formation of modern communities of Akiha devotion and the contestation of the cult through the alteration of icons and physical embodiments of the deity. The establishment of modern Akiha devotion is envisioned as a corporeal project in which objectifying the physical human body and remolding both the social body and discursive theology of religion is intimately related to the transformation of the bodies of the deities to which communities are oriented. Exploring the modern Akiha cult from the standpoint of the body and society exposes parallels between the development of modern Japanese religions and Japanese iv nation-state formation, and reveals how Buddhism and Shintpursued similar modes of appropriating deities, reviving old traditions and forming new ones. This study also underscores the importance of objectifying the intentionality of community formation in bodies of religious material culture. Although social constructions, these orienting bodies are shown as vital, active agents engaged in reflexive relationships with their communities.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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