Thursday, August 14, 2008

Death And The Afterlife In Japanese Buddhism

Death And The Afterlife In Japanese Buddhism Cover

Book: Death And The Afterlife In Japanese Buddhism by Jacqueline Stone

We, the editors of this volume, have no interest in pursuing the modernist critique (except as an object of study), and while we find the roots of the contemporary Buddhist near-monopoly on death rites to be a fascinating subject, we do not necessarily read their history as a trajectory of Buddhist decline. Bracketing Tamamuro’s modernist assumptions, we find the story outlined in his Soshiki bukkyo to be a remarkable one, worthy of further inquiry and historical interpretation. For more than a millennium, despite moments of fierce competition from Shinto, Confucianism, Nativism, and, more recently, the secular funeral industry, Buddhism has dominated Japanese rites for the dead.

No comprehensive understanding of Japanese religion or culture for any period following Buddhism’s introduction would be possible without some knowledge of its death rituals and views of the afterlife and their impact on social practice. Nonetheless, no book-length English-language study presenting an overall history of death in Japanese Buddhism has yet appeared.4 Cognizant of this lack, Mariko Walter organized a paper session on this topic for the 2000 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, which became the impetus for the present volume. The nine essays gathered here include studies by both established scholars and younger voices in the field and display a range of approaches, including not only Buddhist Studies but also art history, literary criticism, ritual studies, gender studies, sociology of religion, and ethnographic fieldwork. They are presented in chronological order of their subject matter, beginning with the Heian period (794–1185), and collectively cover a period of roughly a thousand years—coincidentally, the very length of time deemed appropriate by historian Philippe Arie`s for a proper study of death. As Arie`s suggests in the epigraph above, the perspective of the longue duree does indeed make possible an overview of persistent patterns as well as significant shifts in approaches to death.

Our hope is that this volume will not only benefit scholars and students of Buddhism and Japanese religion but also interest those focusing on other areas of Japan studies or religion and culture more broadly. As coeditors, we asked our contributors to make clear the connections among their individual essays by highlighting one or more of three themes: continuity and change over time in Japanese Buddhist death-related practices and views of the afterlife; the dual role of Buddhist death rites in both addressing individual concerns about the afterlife and at the same time working to construct, maintain, and legitimize social relations and the authority of religious institutions; and Buddhist death rites as a locus of contradictory logics, to borrow a felicitous phrase from Duncan Williams’s chapter, bringing together unrelated, even opposing ideas about the dead, their postmortem fate, what the living should do for them, and what constitutes normative Buddhist practice.

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Jacqueline Stone - Death And The Afterlife In Japanese Buddhism