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Patriotism, Secularism, and State Shintō

D.C. Holtom’s Representations of Japan

Avery Morrow, Carleton College <>
As published in Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journal, vol. 36 (2011)

This paper explores the ideology of religious studies with respect to early 20th
century studies of Japan. Since 1945, “State Shintō” has been defined in academic
literature as a state religion which was enforced by the Japanese government from
an undetermined date after the Meiji Restoration until it was disestablished by the
Allied Occupation. In fact, the Japanese government took concrete steps to separate
their patriotic ceremonies from religion. Our current definition of the term “State
Shintō” was produced by the religious scholar D.C. Holtom.

Imperial Japan represents a unique case in the history of civilization before World

War II. Alone among its East Asian neighbors, it cast off the unequal treaties of the

nineteenth century and became recognized by the European nations as a “Great Power”. The

West had agreed in the prewar period that Japan had modernized itself and was to be treated

as an equal. It was awarded mandate over a group of Pacific islands by the League of Nations

after World War I, and would have been the first non-Western host of the Olympic Games

were it not for wartime interruptions.

To achieve this modernization, it was necessary to engender a perception of Japan as

a cohesive nation-state. To this end, imperial Japanese authorities in the late 19th and early

20th centuries can be said to have invented a variety of teachings, actions, and physical

institutions designed to inculcate reverence and obedience towards the state and its

personification in the emperor. Notable among these were a national war memorial called

Yasukuni Shrine (1869), a calendar of imperial holidays (1870s), a document called the

Imperial Rescript on Education (1889), attendance at shrines by primary schools (1911), and

installation of imperial photographs in homes, schools, and other institutions. For a

government that was adapting itself to European civilization for the first time, this was a

remarkably modern technique, paralleling contemporary American inventions such as

Arlington National Cemetery (1864), Washington's Birthday and Flag Day (1880s), the

Pledge of Allegiance (1892), the school flag movement (1890s), and so forth.

When the Allies occupied Japan in 1945, however, they saw these developments in a

vastly different light. Japanese fascism, the Allies declared, was not merely reliant on local

traditions but a “perversion of Shintō”, which was not a cultural vocabulary fit for use by

civilized nations, but “a primitive religion put to modern uses.”1 Confusingly, this meant that

they could not ban Japanese fascism outright, because this would deny freedom of religion;

instead, they could only “disestablish” it, even though there was no church or bureau which

was responsible for all of the above institutions.

The direct consequence of this report was a document called the Shintō Directive,

which in its own words “free[d] the Japanese people from ... compulsion to believe or profess

to believe in a religion or cult officially designated by the state.” The Directive reorganized

policies that were considered secular by the previous government into part of a religion.2 The

most visible consequence of this re-secularization of Japanese culture is the privatization of

Yasukuni Shrine, the national war memorial which was once visited annually by the emperor.

As a private religious organization, Yasukuni has honored war criminals in its shrine, invited

paramilitary groups to its festivals, and built a museum on the shrine grounds devoted to a

1 Ken R. Dyke, “Shinto: A Study Prepared by General Headquarters, SCAP, C I & E Section”, Contemporary
Religions in Japan 7.4 (1966)
2 Ibid.

revisionist view of the Pacific War. These actions have led to international controversy in the

postwar period, but the Japanese government is unable to regulate this behavior. Why did the

Allied regime privatize Yasukuni and other shrines it?

Superficially, privatization affirmed the superiority of the Western way of life, and

critiqued Imperial Japan’s appropriation of secularist language as the sort of “inappropriate”

uses of Western symbols that Homi Bhabha describes as “mimicry”. But the Allies were not

consciously trying to create a colonial discourse; rather, they were relying on an existing

narrative that denied the legitimacy of Japanese authority. I will here examine the writings of

a religious scholar named D.C. Holtom who was largely responsible for creating this

narrative, both to understand the normalcy of his opinions within the religious studies of his

period and to provoke further thought about the role of religious scholars in constructing and

upsetting balances of power.

The Modernization Project in Japan

In Edo period Japan (1603-1868), a mixture of shrines and temples dotted the

Japanese landscape. The temples were built, staffed, and regulated by private monastic

institutions, dedicated to Buddhist rites and education. The shrines, however, had no

institutional affiliation, except where a Buddhist temple had stepped into maintain them.

Shrines served important nonsectarian purposes in Japanese society: they were places where

festivals were held and historical or mythological figures, called kami, were memorialized.

The kami could be construed variously as heroes from an ancient era, figures who instilled

Confucian morality, or an unseen, animist force.3 If asked the common beliefs that all these

shrines shared, an intellectual might wager the generic word shintō, meaning matters of kami,

3 Susan Burns, Before the Nation (Durham: Duke University, 2003)

but not without a disclaimer: “The shintō are a difficult thing to speculate about.”4 There was

no singular Shintō, the way of the kami.

Because shrines were present throughout the country and mostly apolitical, they were

employed by the state for censuses and public announcements towards the end of the Edo

period. During the Meiji Restoration in 1868, part of the overthrow of the previous

government was a “restoration” of the ancient ways of the kami according to a philosophical

movement previously founded by Atsutane Hirata and Norinaga Motoori. These two

philosophers had identified shrines as heirs to an indigenous Japanese identity superior to the

“foreign” Buddhism, and aimed to “restore” their influence in Japanese society, but they

were actually inventing a new power structure, so to implement it some new rules had to be

made. Shrine owners now separated enshrined kami from the Buddhist images they had

previously intermingled with (shinbutsu bunri). Many Buddhist monks left the priesthood to

join this movement, but their training was too hasty and their mission too vague. In the

popular press, their effort was dismissed as an “insignificant movement”, their public lectures

were roundly mocked, and their ineffective government bureau was dubbed the “Ministry of

Afternoon Naps.” The government ignored the call to declare their shintō, a term they

popularized for the first time, the national religion.5 Instead, a way forward for the shrines

was proposed by the Buddhist priest Seiran Ōuchi (1845-1918), who relied on the new,

4 After Toshio Kuroda, James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay, “Shintō in the History of Japanese Religion,”
Journal of Japanese Studies 7.1 (1981), 10
5 James Edward Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan (Princeton: Princeton University, 1990),
98; Helen Hardacre, Shintō and the State, 1868-1988 (Princeton: Princeton University, 1989), 50, 294;
Jun’ichi Isomae, “The Formative Process of State Shintō in Relation to the Westernization of Japan: the
Concept of ‘Religion’ and ‘Shintō’,” trans. Michael S. Wood, in Religion and the Secular: Historical and
Colonial Formations, ed. Timothy Fitzgerald (London: Equinox, 2007), 96; John Breen, “Ideologues,
Bureaucrats and Priests”, in Shintō in History: Ways of the Kami, eds. Breen and Teeuwen (Honolulu:
University of Hawai’i, 2000), 234

Western idea of “religious freedom” when he composed a letter to the government bureau in

charge of the restoration movement:

If you insist on calling this shintō a religion — we should really call it not merely a
polytheistic religion, but a rag-bag religion ... if we attach the name religion to the
veneration and worship of our imperial ancestors, then, with respect, what will
happen is that those who believe that the spirits of the imperial ancestors repose
eternally in the other realm will believe, but those who do not will make a mockery of
it. Shintō rituals are national or public in character, and so the state should itself
perform rites at national shrines.6

Bureaucrats implemented Ōuchi's idea without much variation. The system of

national indoctrination was abandoned, and freedom of religion was declared throughout the

country in the 1889 Meiji Constitution. But the “freedom of religion” was actually a freedom

of personal faith, with an explicit disclaimer that religion could not interfere with public

“peace and order.”7 Religion in Japan was, and still is, considered a private matter of one's

inner mind, while in contrast, morality was deemed, in the words of the modern scholar

Jun’ichi Isomae, “a national, and thus a public, issue.”8 Thus, a new Shrine Bureau was

created that continued to own and operate the shrines as public moral institutions, even while

a Religions Bureau was separated from it for the regulation of private Buddhist, Christian,

and new religious sects.

The great majority of Japanese people accepted government control of shrines as

uncontroversial, because it was scarcely different from how shrines were managed in the age

of their parents and grandparents. They never recognized something called “Shintō” that was

distinguishable from other habits of life in Japan, and even today, many Japanese will insist

that shrines are not religious but function as a public, nonsectarian part of Japanese culture.
6 Quoted in Hitoshi Nitta, “Shintō as a ‘Non-Religion’: The Origins and Development of an Idea,” in Shintō
in History, 255
7 Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan, 131-2
8 Isomae, “The Formative Process of State Shintō”, 93

The Shrine Bureau gave new prominence to the imperial shrine, Ise Jingū, and the imperial

ancestors. New shrines were also built (e.g. Yasukuni Shrine) and existing shrines were

remodeled to commemorate Japan’s war dead, an innovation on the existing, widely accepted

practice of memorializing ancestors to prevent them from coming back as disturbed spirits.

Shrines were being used in a way akin to American flags and war memorials, as national

monuments and civic institutions.

A number of laws were drawn up to prevent shrine priests from using their public

position for private interests, and to separate them legally from private religious movements

led by charismatic leaders, which were dubbed Sect or Religious Shintō. The term jinja was

invented to distinguish shrines from other buildings that housed kami, and it was reserved for

nonsectarian purposes. Shrine officials were prohibited from conducting funerals, which

were the private business of Buddhists and Christians. They were also banned from

proselytizing in any medium, whether by “sermon lecture, printed page or private

conversation.”9 Religious Shintō churches were banned from using the torii shrine gate,

which was repurposed as a nonsectarian national symbol. These laws made some novel

distinctions between religious and secular, causing angst among shrine priests who wanted to

continue their “restoration”, but to make such distinctions was the intent of the government.

They aimed to separate sect and shrine, so that shrine attendance could remain the duty of all

Japanese no matter their private beliefs.10

These policies to distinguish religious Sect Shintō and secular Shrine Shintō had little

effect on Japanese perceptions of Christianity. While it had traditionally been viewed as a

9 D.C. Holtom, “Modern Shintō as a State Religion”, in The Japan Mission Year Book, vol. 28 (Tokyo:
Kyobunkwan, 1930), 57
10 Nitta, “Shintō as a ‘Non-Religion’,” 266

foreign influence, beginning with the “Three Religions Conference” in 1912, Japanese

Christians and missionaries alike were welcomed into the fold of Japanese society.11 Even as

relations between Japan and the West grew tense when Japan adopted fascist tendencies and

invaded China, there were no restraints put on Christian schooling or missionary work. In

1940, William P. Woodard related his surprise that missionaries from quasi-hostile states

continued to operate in Japan without interference, asking, “Is there another country in the

world where this could occur?”12 In this sense, at least, it is difficult to dispute the Japanese

commitment to freedom of religion. But at the same time, these minority communities often

debated the influence of government in their everyday lives.

The Shrine Question

Even though the Japanese government was embracing freedom of religion and

pluralism on its own terms, the Japanese Christian community was uncertain of whether to

embrace government practices in return. For missionaries, Japan was an enigma: a

Westernized state that had not embraced the religion popular among Western countries. The

secular world considered Japan an equal partner in trade and diplomacy, but did that mean its

newly invented internal customs were civilized and secular? Both the foreign missionaries

and Japanese converts felt confused and tested by the state's invented traditions.

The missionaries began complaints against Japanese state policy at the turn of the

century by claiming that bowing to the portrait of the Emperor, as was frequently asked of

them during school ceremonies, was “Caesar worship.” Their refusal was akin to the

Jehovah’s Witnesses' refusal to salute the flag, which had caused them to be labeled traitors
11 A. Hamish Ion, The Cross in the Dark Valley: The Canadian Protestant Missionary Movement in Japan
(Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier, 1999), 84
12 William P. Woodard, “The Foreign Missionary in Japan.” In The Japan Christian Year Book, vol. 38 (Tokyo:
Kyobunkwan, 1940), 89

to the United States and frequently persecuted.13 Nevertheless, the missionaries were

convinced that their way was the only civilized way. The American Baptist perspective on

this dispute was not merely that the Japanese had different customs from the missionaries,

but that “there is evidently room for progress and enlightenment even among the advanced

classes of Japan.”14 But of course, they were not actually talking about technological or social

“progress”, but about their own sectarian agendas, which they felt had not been sufficiently

disseminated into the Japanese conscience. By the mid-1900s, however, this particular issue

had died down. Bowing to the portrait was reconsidered as a patriotic duty, similar to saluting

a flag.

In 1911, though, controversy flared up again when the Japanese government asked

Christian schools to begin sending representatives of each class to a state shrine on an annual

basis in order to pay their respects to those who gave their lives for the empire.15 Missionaries

were concerned by this development, which seemed to them to violate the separation of

church and state. Of course, the Japanese Christians grew up in a culture where families went

to shrines together, newspapers talked about them, and the government built them for special

occasions. They did not see shrines as alien or blasphemous to their Christian faith; they were

rather an integral part of Japaneseness. Many Christians disagreed with the missionary

perspective, and drew on familiar Japanese scholars to resolve the question: for example, in

1915 the Christian Tatsu Tanaka (1868-1920) published a book entitled My Opinion of Shintō

which cited dozens of authors to prove that the shintō of the modern shrines was non-

13 Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights
Revolution (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000)
14 The Baptist Missionary Magazine, October 1898, 4.
15 D.C. Holtom. The National Faith of Japan (London: Trubner, 1938), 73

religious.16 They won over not only other Japanese but also some Western hearts during

frequent discussions and meetings on the subject, such as the missionary R.C. Armstrong

(1876-1929), who beginning in 1916 agreed that “the Japanese are justified in saying that

Shintō is not a religion” and advocated for Christians to continue employing shrine priests in

secular ceremonies.17

In 1918, Armstrong expanded on his opinion with a theory of “Shintō as a National

Cult,” where he considered the nonsectarian and national value of the shrines:

We stand in a transition period in Japan: the fight over the homage and the
adoration of the Imperial photograph has been fought, but it has been
interpreted in a manner to give offence to no right thinking man, who
understands that all of these patriotic ceremonies are nothing but the
embodiment of the national spirit of reverence for the Imperial ancestors of
the Japanese people. In this sense, bowing before the national shrines may be
interpreted. It is not unlike our action in removing our hats in the presence of,
and out of respect for the dead.18

Armstrong still had some misgivings: he did not like the “foxes and other animals”

which stood inside the gates of some shrines, and looked forward to a stricter government

separation between religious and secular activities. But in general, he saw Christianity as a

fulfillment of traditional shintō culture, and not a rival threatened by it.19

On the Japanese side, too, there were some goodwill attempts being made at a

compromise with Christian qualms. In 1919, the shrine priest Kiyosuke Yasuhara published a

book entitled Shrines and Religion. Yasuhara considered that while some kami were

16 Tatsu Tanaka (田中達), Shintō Kanken (神道管見; Tokyo: Japan Christian Social Work League, 1915).
Others who expressed their support in writing include Jintarō Takagi, Danjō Ebina, Hiromichi Kozaki, and
Toyohiko Kagawa.
17 R.C. Armstrong, “The Religious Value of Shintō”, in The Japan Evangelist 23.11 (1916), 429-433
18 R.C. Armstrong, “Shintō as a National Cult”, in The Christian Movement in the Japanese Empire ... A Year
Book for 1918, ed. Edwin Taylor Iglehart (Tokyo: Fukuin, 1918), 266
19 Following the publication of D.C. Holtom's thesis in 1922, Armstrong changed his mind. See “Modern
Revivals of Ancient Religions in Japan”, The Japan Evangelist vol. 31, no. 2 (July 1924).

relatives, ancestors or other historical individuals, other kami had weak historical grounding

and seemed closer akin to characters of folklore or mythology. To resolve this he proposed

that lists of religious and non-religious kami be drawn up, and that some shrines could be

granted the ability to reorganize as a religion, while others could remain secular and be

purged of any “religious” influence.20 Several religious organizations for private shrines

already existed, e.g. Shintō Honkyoku for shrines associated with the restoration movement,

and Shintō Taiseikyō for more eclectic shrines; beginning in the 1920s, some religiously

oriented shrines were privatized and moved into these groups.21

Writers such as Armstrong and Yasuhara suggest a route the Shrine Bureau could

have taken to answer the Christians’ qualms. By reforming their mandates for enshrinements

and prayers to match Western expectations for secularity, they could acknowledge and

respond to the Christian position without doing too much damage to Japanese customs. But

unlike the issue of the imperial photograph, the shrine question was not going away that

easily. Among the missionaries there were many who saw “Shintō” as a monolithic entity

that could not be reformed. They simply could not see how something that had been

described as religion from the earliest accounts of foreign visitors could be reformed into

something non-religious. As early as November 1916, a Christian association concluded after

two years of debate that shrine attendance could not be permitted.22

To make matters worse, the Japanese authorities seemed uninterested in internal

Christian arguments, and did not take much of an effort to respond to them. Their solution to

20 I suspect compromises like this were proposed by many groups: for example, the Buddhist priest Beihō
Takashima printed such a proposal in a Tokyo newspaper as late as 1930. See D.C. Holtom, “Modern Shintō
as a State Religion,” 41-43
21 Isomae, “The Formative Process of State Shintō in Relation to the Westernization of Japan”, 98
22 “Shrine Worship and Christians”, The Japan Evangelist, vol. 23, no. 12 (December 1916), 458

the problem of religiousness was to purposefully refrain from defining shrines, so that people

could interpret them however they wanted.23 A statement of the Home Ministry, which

managed the Shrine Bureau, affirms this solution: “Whatever opinion may be held as to what

should be done regarding religious attitudes toward the shrines, the government will maintain

a neutral position on the ground that religious belief should be free.”24 When the government

finally established a committee to discuss religious problems surrounding the shrines in the

1920s, it did not involve Christians in its discussion but put off their complaints for later. One

of the few officials who did answer the Christians offered this explanation:

Although the word kami continues to be used in the national cult, it has in no way the
meaning of a supernatural being, which you give to it. It connotes only illustrious
men, benefactors of their country. Consequently all Japanese, no matter what their
religion, can pay them honour without doing violence to their conscience. … I have
no doubt that you will willingly consent to enlighten your followers and to confirm
their patriotism and loyalty towards the Emperor.25

This response contains a good amount of truth, since kami often are human beings,

and the aim of government policies was indeed to induce “patriotism and loyalty,” not to

convert Japanese away from Christianity. But in his flat-out denial that any religious

complaint could be made, the governor also indicates a reluctance to address the Christian

perspective, or to make a compromise with them as Yasuhara’s proposals would have done.

Perhaps the official was considering such factors as widespread approval of the government

uses of shrines, the strong association between patriotic feeling and the preservation of

ancient traditions, or Christianity’s insignificance and powerlessness within Japanese society

as a whole.

23 Isomae, “The Formative Process of State Shintō in Relation to the Westernization of Japan”, 97
24 D.C. Holtom, The Political Philosophy of Modern Shintō: A Study of the State Religion of Japan (Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1922), 66
25 J.D. Evans (?), The National Cult in Japan (Kobe: Japan Chronicle, 1918)

Overview of D.C. Holtom’s Work

An anthropological analysis of the situation at this point would have framed it as a

stand-off between the Christians and the Japanese. To the overwhelming majority of

Japanese, shrine attendance was unproblematic; indeed, as late as 1936 an outside observer

concluded that “whatever their religious beliefs,” all Japanese citizens were capable of

participating in state ceremonies, and “Christianity alone seemed to conflict.”26 One of these

conflicting Christians was Daniel Clarence Holtom (1884-1962), who was initially sent to

Japan by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society in the early 1910s and continued to

live there as a religious scholar through the 1940s, teaching at Japan Baptist Theological

Seminary and lecturing at various universities. In 1922, he submitted a Ph.D. dissertation to

the University of Chicago entitled The Political Philosophy of Modern Shintō: A Study of the

State Religion of Japan. This work initiates a line of argument which remains constant

throughout Holtom’s work, even into the postwar period.

Within Holtom’s major works are two narratives. The first will ring a bell for students

of Japanese history on either side of the Pacific: he discusses such major philosophical

figures as Kūkai and Saichō in the early ninth century (who had unified kami with Buddhas)

and Norinaga Motoori and Atsutane Hirata in the early nineteenth century, explaining the

influence of all of these figures on the development of the concept of kami. He then goes into

the important restoration campaign of 1868-1872 as well as the lesser-known Shintō-

Buddhist combined campaign of 1873-1875, both of which attempted to create a sense of

pan-Japanese unity and obedience to the state. In this history, kami is a complicated subject,

related to such ideas as Buddha, Emperor, spirit and heart, that changes over time in response

26 E.E.N. Causton, Militarism and Foreign Policy in Japan (London, G. Allen & Unwin, 1936), 30

to the social and political currents of Japanese history.27

At the same time, a teleological narrative, which contradicts this history, dominates

his work. According to the history as described by Holtom himself, to put it simply, kami is a

term that has developed over time. But in the other narrative, kami is an undeveloped

concept: it is a “primitive religion” which should be irrelevant to “the vital interests of

intelligent men in the modern world.”28 Although Holtom does not accept Shintō-influenced

government as legitimately modern, he occasionally intimates that if it were to conform to

his teleological path, a “modern”, Western-style religion would eventually appear.

Holtom begins his book Modern Japan and Shintō Nationalism (1943) not with a

description of the history of Japanese nationalist movements, but with a presentation of the

evolution of religion from its primitive state to the modern, advanced state typified by

Christianity. He questions “our essentially sound conviction that religion ought somehow to

have a more vital adjustment to contemporary social life than that reached through dogma

and theology,” lumping this belief in with things such as “Christmas trees ... Santa Claus ...

fairies and elves, our names for the days of the week” and calling all these things the

“outmoded” remnants of “communal folk religions.” He claims that because of the saving

sacrifice of Christ, religion has progressed beyond “the primitive way of life”, and today

represents the fulfillment of all its promises in “the new loyalties of an uncompromising and

at the same time universalizing monotheism.”29

In this passage, the word “universalizing” is put in contrast to the “communal”. What

is being universalized? From the examples given, it appears that Holtom holds in his mind an

27 Holtom, National Faith, 3-76

28 Holtom, Political Philosophy, 179, 301
29 D.C. Holtom, Modern Japan and Shintō Nationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1947), 1

idealized Christianity, which he would like to see both believed and practiced the same way

around the world—with Christmas trees and Santa Claus representing profane, tribal

remnants of our pre-monotheistic culture. His preference for Christianity is not only made

explicit but put in stark contrast to every heathen idea he can think of, including the belief

that religion (not just Christianity) should reflect social norms rather than the other way

around. His definition of what makes religion good is therefore clearly grounded in this

rejection of socially grounded religion and preference for universalist teachings. Assigning

the positive value to the universal, he dismisses the communal as its antithesis. From this

passage he jumps directly into his representation of Japanese society: “The old communal

form of religion that was normal in the West two thousand years ago exists in Japan as a

powerful social and religious force.”30

Besides its Christian origins, this teleological narrative is theoretically grounded in

evolutionary sociology of Émile Durkheim and the French anthropological school. Although

Holtom does not explicitly make the connection, he derives his definition of religion from

Durkheim and cites him in his dissertation.31 Durkheim’s classic example of primitiveness is

the Australian aboriginal claim that the sun is a white cockatoo, which he saw as a starting

point on the “intellectual evolution of humanity.”32 Thus, although he considered all humans

to have the same capacity for development, the “primitive mind” remained for him

intrinsically different from the “developed mind” and lacked at a cultural level most rational

abilities.33 Those holding a “primitive” worldview could not be entrusted with the rights and

responsibilities of governing a modern state, for, according to one sociologist, “it was the
30 Ibid., 1-2
31 D.C. Holtom, “Modern Shintō as a State Religion”, 45; National Faith, 302
32 Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London: George Allen, 1976), 237
33 E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 80-87

mind of the primitive which, to Western observers of many kinds, was suspect above all.”34

But Holtom was not dealing with a preliterate, unreflective society that would submit

easily to classification as “primitive”. On the contrary, the Japanese government was framing

itself as secular and Western, and European powers had recognized this. The historical

narrative which Holtom expounded shows that the category of kami, like other concepts in

Japanese philosophy, had already been debated and discussed for hundreds of years, and that

shrines had just recently undergone vast changes in structure that supposedly secularized

them in the eyes of the ordinary Japanese citizen. As a polemicist, Holtom was therefore

tasked with refuting the Japanese claims of secularity by demonstrating that their shrines

were barbarous in both philosophy and execution, or in his own words, that they represented

an “old communal form of religion” which he perceived to have been marginalized in

civilized countries.

Searching for the Primitive

In searching for examples of the primitive nature of shrine culture, Holtom took

advantage of ancient and medieval treatises which collectively demonstrated the changes

which shrines and various kami had undergone throughout Japanese history. Although

Holtom praised early modern interpreters of kami discourse such as Motoori and Hirata, he

also considered the ancient records of kami to be both more “primitive” and more important

than its modern reinterpretation and insisted that the earliest interpretations had only been

covered over in folklore out of neglect, as stones are gradually covered in moss. In other

words, he denies that these symbols might change over time, as a stone is hewn into a

sculpture, and can become non-religious in function.

34 Steve Fenton, Durkheim and Modern Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1984), 134

Holtom explains that the stories in the Kojiki, a quasi-historical text which is often

used to provide a biography of enshrined kami, have their origins in “the magico-religious

ceremonies of the savage” for primitive needs such as “protecting the food supply.” One

individual example of this he gives is the kami Takemikazuchi, whom he interprets as a

mythological fire god who has been “submerged in ancestor worship” in the shrines that

honor him. All this means in practical terms is that the figure seen in the shrine is a human

being, whose hagiography has probably changed over time. However, in Holtom’s narrative

the beliefs of centuries past are more real than the present-day manifestation.35

To the Japanese themselves, such analysis is unimportant; neither the shrine keepers

nor the visiting locals have any interest in psychoanalyzing the origin of Takemikazuchi. But

recall that Holtom does not believe in allowing tradition to survive for its own sake, because

he holds Westernized cultures to the “higher” standard of monotheism. Therefore, such

disinterest is a flaw in the Japanese character. In Modern Japan, he charitably attributes this

flaw to a political climate which encourages ignorance, but in National Faith, he explains

more clinically that in “Japanese racial psychology,” “strong emotional factors operate to

subordinate objective historical data ... to the felt needs of group solidarity and continuity.”36

Sources of Authority

This condescending attitude towards participants in the culture is not limited to his

readings of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, but applies generally to his perception of shrines

under the imperial system. One way to defend Holtom’s approach to Shintō and shrine policy

would be to claim that he is simply putting the practices of the Japanese into a form that can

35 Holtom, National Faith, 94, 105; D.C. Holtom, “A New Interpretation of Japanese Mythology and Its
Bearing on the Ancestral Theory of Shintō”, The Journal of Religion 6.1 (1926)
36 Holtom, Modern Japan, 36; National Faith, 77

be easily understood by English speakers. However, much of what Holtom does is to deny

the narratives and analogies of other participants in Japanese life: Japanese Christians,

government authorities, and even American missionaries. To show that his interpretation is

superior to theirs, Holtom employs a combination of Orientalist discourse and appeals to

allegedly intrinsic transcendental symbols which might be found in shrines.

In 1942, Holtom wrote a series of articles for The Christian Century in which he

sought to reassure a general Christian audience that what they had heard from their Japanese

compatriots was false, biased information: “Many of the statements regarding this issue,

especially those from Japanese sources, Christian included, represent the propaganda

interests of the Japanese government rather than the conclusions that flow from unbiased

historical study.”37 In other words, the Japanese themselves, both Christians and scholars,

have not recognized the true nature of their shrines, their histories, or even their own

government. It is up to Holtom to both uncover the conspiracy which the Japanese could not

recognize and determine what is scientific and what is falsehood. Edward Said recognized a

similar current in Middle Eastern studies: “The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal,

phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the

Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing

the Orient could not do was to represent itself.”38

Said’s theory does not apply exactly here, because Holtom’s enemy is not all

Japanese, nor is it even all Shintō scholars. It is only those who side with the government

account whom he places in opposition to “historical study”. He gives a prominent voice to

37 D.C. Holtom, “Japanese Christianity and Shintō Nationalism”, The Christian Century, January 7, 1942, 11
38 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Penguin, 2003), 238

scholars such as Genchi Katō who regarded Shintō as the national religion of Japan, and

mystics such as the Religious Shintō leaders who regard the kami as a private source of faith.

Although their work was regarded by the Japanese government as “the private opinions of

individuals,”39 for Holtom they represent the true nature of Shintō.

It was common when discussing the shrine question to draw analogies between the

shrines and Western institutions. For example, a Japanese Christian, Toyohiko Kagawa

(1888-1960), wrote that “the shrines of state Shintō are the monuments and tombs of men

who have rendered conspicuous service for the state. In this respect they differ not at all from

the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and the Cenotaph in London.”40 Holtom acknowledges

the frequency of these analogies, but does not portray them neutrally as part of the case made

by the pro-Japanese side of the debate. Instead, he accuses their proponents of denying “the

religious warmth of the Japanese people in their faith in the divine beings of these great

shrines”.41 In this response Holtom confusingly claims to be speaking for the true beliefs of

the entire Japanese people, even though some of the authors he is attempting to refute are

themselves Japanese. At the same time, by emphasizing this sanctity to create such a

division, he also denies the “warmth” held by Westerners towards their own political

heritage. But if the reader is compelled by his arguments, then the resulting conclusion must

be that the government has mandated a state religion.

“State Shintō”

The result of this discourse defines what Holtom calls State Shintō, the “national

faith” of Japan. Holtom did not use the term “State Shintō” in his dissertation, because no

39 Arthur Morgan Young, The Rise of a Pagan State (New York: William Morrow, 1939), 136
40 Toyohiko Kagawa, Christ and Japan, trans. William Axling (New York: Friendship Press, 1934), 86
41 Holtom, Modern Japan, 48

Japanese source used it. He first published it in the 1930 Japan Christian Year Book, and

expanded on it in The National Faith of Japan. In the political history outlined in the latter

book, Holtom portrays the shrine system as a modern invention, based on ample evidence:

the prior work of the restoration movement, the novel separation of kami from Buddhas, and

so forth. However, he ignores the modern arguments of the Japanese government that these

inventions made the resulting system non-religious in nature. Instead, he employs the second

narrative of the shrine system, this one much more hypothetical and speculative, in which he

critiques it as a primitive religion. He claims that “the establishment of Shintō as the state

religion” occurred sometime “in the early part of the Meiji era”.42 In terms of official

declarations, he is simply rewriting history, because no such declaration was ever made, even

during the brief restoration era. Such a statement also conflates the equally complex periods

of the restoration campaign and the “moral” use of shrines. But when we learn what Holtom

means by State Shintō, perhaps he is right after all.

Holtom’s list of the elements of State Shintō is an almost complete list of political

institutions that gave structure to the Japanese nation. It seems to have begun with shrines

alone, but Holtom included in his 1922 dissertation some tangents on other aspects of

Japanese nationalism,43 and by 1943 his State Shintō hit list had grown to include all things

that missionaries had complaint with: the imperial portrait, the Imperial Rescript on

Education, the traditional platforms on which these two things were often housed

(kamidana), Imperial House Law, and the unscrupulous use of the classical imperial history

text Nihon Shoki in children’s history textbooks. To consider these things “State Shintō” was

42 Holtom, National Faith, 53

43 Holtom, Political Philosophy, 71-79, 182-184

solely up to Holtom, because as all later scholars have had to acknowledge, the Japanese

government had never grouped these things together under any classification.44

Conspicuously missing from this list are the Japanese flag, the national anthem, and the

symbolic use of the nation’s military forces. Additionally, Holtom explicitly rejects the idea

that national holidays were part of “State Shintō”.45 This is probably because the United

States had similar institutions.

Even in the wartime context, there was disagreement among other academics and

missionaries over whether any of these things were even religious, much less part of a unified

system called State Shintō. The issue of the imperial portrait, for example, had been resolved

decades earlier; as for the textbooks, the 1941 Japan Christian Year Book reported on a

campaign to introduce instruction in religion in Japanese schools, using the following choice

of words: “The association has been urging the importance of religion in national education,

and attacking the existing separation of religion from education.”46

Unlike the Japanologist Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850-1935), who seemed to call

Japanese patriotism “the birth of a new religion” mostly for the purpose of analogy, Holtom

was adamant that he was “not using the word ‘religion’ in a merely figurative sense” when he

talked about Japan.47 But this makes his definition of “State Shintō” bizarre to read: “The

ideals of sacred obligations of loyalty to Emperor and Fatherland are inculcated as primary

desiderata. The ethical motive of inspiring conduct conducive to good citizenship is

dominant. In all these respects we find in State Shintō differentia that are accepted as

44 Wilbur M. Fridell, “A Fresh Look at State Shintō”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 44.3
(1976), 547-561.
45 Holtom, Modern Japan, 208
46 Japan Christian Year Book, vol. 39 (Tokyo: Kyobunkwan, 1941), 270
47 Holtom, Modern Japan, 2

characteristic in classifying so-called religious data from other fields. There is no good

reason why we should make an exception in favor of State Shintō.”48 This is simply a

description of patriotism. There is nothing in this description that could not have been applied

to England or Germany during the same time period. This also applies to the Durkheimian

definition that he uses for “religion”: “a unified system of belief and practice relative to

sacred things—whether persons, objects, or beliefs.”49

Holtom did not address this argument until 1945, when he conceded the point: “It

would serve no useful purpose in our discussion to point out the extent to which these

characteristics of Japanese nationalism have their counterparts in the West ... Certainly Japan

has no monopoly of convictions of benevolent destiny ... It is certain that the whole world is

one in the urgency of overcoming the devastating influences of exclusive, irrational, pre-

scientific nationalism.” Instead of resting on this conclusion, though, he then exhorts the

Allies to repair the Japanese mind to cooperate with something called the “world-spirit” (a

secular spirit, undoubtedly): “At the same time it would be doubtful if any country will be

called upon to make as thoroughgoing changes as would be needed for Japan to qualify for

the possession of the true ‘world-spirit’.”50 Why? Because Japan must develop a religion.

Fulfilling Shintō's Destiny

Within Holtom’s teleological narrative lies a prophesied outcome for this civilizing

project, demonstrated by the unusual value he imbues in the term “Shintō”. In The National

Faith of Japan, for example, Holtom claims that official assertions of secular government

deny the “intrinsic nature of State Shintō”.51 He claims, in other words, that the government
48 Holtom, “Modern Shintō as a State Religion”, 60-61
49 Ibid., 45; National Faith, 302
50 D.C. Holtom, “Shintō in the Postwar World”, Far Eastern Survey 14.3 (February 1945), 33
51 Holtom, National Faith, 306

is failing to address some religious element which lies behind its explicit wording. But can a

government policy have an intrinsic nature behind its legal definition? How would Holtom

like to see this intrinsic nature addressed and fulfilled?

In both National Faith and Modern Japan, he seems to provide an answer to this

question. The former book contains lengthy descriptions of new religious movements such as

Tenrikyō which were categorized as religious shintō, emphasizing especially the saintly lives

of their founders and exploring the universal virtues they promote. The positive, almost

poetic tone of these descriptions is markedly different from anything Holtom has to say about

state policy. In the latter work, Holtom quotes from Tenrikyō foundress Oyasama and again

remarks, “This is Shintō at its highest ... it is part of the all-pervading fire of the human soul

and inspires the conviction that, in spite of the blighting effects of nationalism, there is still

such a thing as universal human nature.”52 This explicit avowal of a higher goodness shows

that Holtom was imagining a future in which Shintō could be moved forwards on his

teleological scale, away from the “old communal forms” and towards universality. Note that

he conflates a private religious movement with public policy in the word “Shintō”: this is

purposeful. Even if the current mandates are secular, Holtom believes that the shrine system

of the future could and should mimic the Christian message and power structure.

This is how Holtom recognizes a “religious warmth” in patriotic ceremony, and why

he regards State Shintō as possessing an “intrinsic nature”. Beyond the secularist policy,

which he sees as a “blight” or an obfuscation, lies a non-political, Western-style religion

which might be ranked alongside Christianity were it not for government interference. When

he claims that “the worth of Shintō to the world must depend on the success wherewith it is

52 Holtom, Modern Japan, 160

able to adjust itself to the demands of a true universalism”53 (emphasis added), Holtom is

asserting the truth of his theological project, and laying the ground for constructing a

“Universal Shintō” which will join the ranks of the “world religions”.

Reception of Holtom’s Work

Holtom’s entire thesis was based on a Western category, religion, that did not exist in

Japan before the Meiji Restoration, and he attempted to prove the applicability of this

category by denying Japanese narratives and imposing his own narrative. His term “State

Shintō” did not correspond to any Japanese entity, and his image of the future of shrines was

based on his positive evaluation of new religious movements. Nevertheless, because of his

unparalleled expertise and historical knowledge, he was received as an academic with insider

knowledge of Japanese culture; he was considered an unbiased and reliable historian.54 It is

probable that no other English speaker knew more about the meanings of the word “kami”

than he did, so his conclusions on the subject were taken quite seriously.

With the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Holtom’s message was

boiled down, along with that of other Japanologists, into increasingly hostile xenophobia. His

condemnation of Japan’s “old communal form of religion” became a rhetorical weapon

against the Japanese nation. In the American propaganda film “Our Enemy: The Japanese”

(1943), we have the core of Holtom’s teleological analysis of Japanese culture delivered to

us by former U.S. ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew: “The real difference is in their

minds ... Their weapons are modern, their thinking 2000 years out of date.”55

53 Holtom, National Faith, 316

54 See, for example, reviews by Saburo Yoshitake in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 10.1 (1939),
and by Paul Clyde in Far Eastern Quarterly 2.4 (1943). A 1964 review by Delmer Brown in The Journal of
Asian Studies 24.1 describes it as a “most authoritative study”.
55 “Our Enemy: The Japanese” (United States Office of War Information, 1943)

In his writings at the end of the war and afterwards, Holtom was forced to respond to

the widespread perception he had helped to create that Shintō was an evil cult that had to be

destroyed.56 In February 1945, he portrayed this opinion as follows: “Can we discover any

permanent values in Shintō? Or shall we anticipate a future for Japan in which the institution

of the Tennō—‘The Son of Heaven’—is abolished, the shrines and all they stood for

destroyed, and education divested of all traces of Shintō nationalism?” He also related that

the America mass media had advocated for bombing the shrines.57 In his answers to them,

Holtom steps back from advocating for the destruction of his “State Shintō” outright. He

points out that shrines are sacred to the Japanese people, and that their fascist use was only

one development in a long history. He even advocates to keep Yasukuni Shrine a publicly

owned institution, because he believed that privatizing it would “feed the flame of resentment

and bitterness”. Unfortunately, his advice on this matter was ignored.58

In 1945, the American Occupation forces issued the Shintō Directive, citing Holtom’s

work and employing the language of religious freedom. Yasukuni and other shrines were

privatized and the photos of the Emperor in schools were removed, but the shrines were

preserved, and they continue to be used in Japan for a rich variety of purposes. Many of

these, such as paying respects to war dead, buying good-luck charms, or praying for health

and success, continue traditions that already existed in the imperial period. While there are

individual shrine priests who aim to imitate Christian preaching, an institutional move

towards “true universalism” has not occurred in any meaningful sense. The institutions of the

56 “[Holtom’s work encouraged] the view that Shintō as a whole was merely an ersatz religion, the creation of
the Meiji government.” Stuart D.B. Picken, Sourcebook in Shintō: Selected Documents (Westport, CT:
Praeger, 2004), 241
57 Holtom, “Shintō in the Postwar World”, 29
58 Holtom, Modern Japan, 206

state, on the other hand, have been radically changed by the Shintō Directive. The Shrine

Bureau became a private religious organization, and some (although not all) priests now

consider themselves religious practitioners. However, the general population of Japan still

believes shrines to be places of public custom and ceremony.59 As a result, the Japanese

Supreme Court has been faced with perilous cases such as a lawsuit filed in 1965 by a

Communist Party leader against the city of Tsu for holding a ground-breaking ceremony

(jichinsai) that employed a shrine priest, or one filed by residents of Ehime Prefecture to

prevent its officials from sending money to Yasukuni Shrine. The court ruled for the local

government in the first case, but against it in the latter, based on a fragile interpretation of

when services become “religious” in nature and when they are purely social.60 Additionally,

several bills have been proposed to re-nationalize Yasukuni Shrine as a secular institution.

The problem of church-state separation, which was an issue mainly for Christians before the

war, has been further complicated by the privatization of shrines, which has legally alienated

the Japanese people from their own culture.

A Way Forward

The general academic result of Holtom’s work is that fascism in Japan has been called

in retrospect “State Shintō”, and has become the object of religious studies,61 whereas

fascism in Germany and Italy are considered mostly secular and are studied only in terms of

history. In Japan, there is now a journalistic “State Shintō narrative” that attributes, rightly or

wrongly, the performance of ground-breaking ceremonies, visits to Yasukuni, or money sent

to Ise shrine to the legacy of a religious system that must be eradicated from Japanese

59 Toshimaro Ama, Why Are the Japanese Non-Religious? (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005)
60 Carl F. Goodman, The Rule of Law in Japan (Fredrick, MD: Kluwer Law International, 2008), 76-78
61 For example, Hardacre’s Shintō and the State.

politics.62 In western academia, the use of the religious category has segregated European

nationalist movements from the Japanese other. The general byproduct of this has been

confusion over the meaning of Japanese nationalism, but some authors such as Walter Skya

have attempted to recast the Pacific War itself as a clash of civilizations between “ethnic-

religious nationalisms” and “Western-style secularized nationalisms”, with Imperial Japan

representing a hotbed of “fanatical” and possibly “mentally deranged” “State Shintō

ideology” pitted in unavoidable battle against the secular, rather than an ideologically and

socially complex nation which was attempting to construct its own secularism.63

However, the entire theoretical grounding of Holtom’s polemic has meanwhile been

uprooted. If examining Japan through the lens of an evolution on the path to Christianity was

somewhat questionable in the 1930s, it is practically extinct now. Durkheim himself

abandoned his unilinear theory of religious/secular evolution later in life, acknowledging that

perceived religious symbols preserve “collective sentiments” just as well in modern societies

as they do in premodern ones.64 As early as 1965, E. E. Evans-Pritchard was referring to

Durkheim’s evolutionary sociology and theories of primitive religion in general as the

“infancy” of anthropology, pointing out that the real distinction is not between primitive and

civilized but between any two different ways of thinking.65 The opportunity is ripe to

reevaluate the imperial Japanese polity.

In such reexaminations, independent-minded sociologists have found reason to

62 Sakamoto Koremaru, “Thoughts on State Shintō Research” (国家神道研究をめぐる断想), in Kinsei

Kindai Shintō Ronkō (近世・近代神道論考) (Tokyo: Kōbundō, 2007).
63 Walter Skya, Japan’s Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shintō Ultranationalism (Durham: Duke
University, 2009), 3, 7
64 Andreas Hess, Concepts of Social Stratification: European and American Models (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2001), 41
65 Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion, 5, 91

question Holtom’s picture of “State Shintō”. They claim that it distorts the religious freedom

found throughout the imperial era to a “fanatical ‘cult’ of the emperor”,66 or that it is an

essentially meaningless term that is relevant only because of the Shintō Directive and

resulting discourse.67 This more modern work implies that citing Holtom uncritically will

induce some inaccuracies into even the most well-researched study.


D.C. Holtom’s work has had lasting influence on how the categories of Japanese

politics and Japanese religion were determined in the second half of the 20th century. In fact,

insofar as we can call the idea of “Japanese religion” an invented tradition, that is to say an

idea foreign to Japan which has been given an ancient appearance,68 Holtom can be given

part of the credit for establishing this tradition in the academic world.

From an ecumenical perspective, Holtom’s intentions were just as good as any

modern religious scholar. He wanted to see a Japan that could move forward within his

teleological narrative, a nation that could someday impress the Western world with earnest

devotion to a “pure” monotheism unmarred by nationalist fervor. It is not his fault that he

lived in an age when the line between ethnography and evangelism was as blurry as has been

described here. Although we are more familiar with the problem now, our moral standards

are not that different from his, and confronting the dogmas hidden within our “secular”

ethnographies has proven no less challenging. The modern sociologist Tomoko Masuzawa

recognizes this:

66 Aiko Kojima, “Religion or Civil Religion as the Basis of Nationalism? : State Shintō Plan and National
Moral in Meiji Japan ” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association,
San Francisco, CA, Aug 14, 2004), 14
67 Susumu Shimazono, quoted in Sakamoto Koremaru, “Thoughts on State Shintō Research”.
68 Jun’ichi Isomae, “Deconstructing 'Japanese Religion'”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 32.2 (2005)

Missionaries’ views and opinions were informed and predetermined by dogmatic
Christianity, so it is said, and such religiously biased observations are palpably at
odds with the principle of scientific objectivity and impartiality. This commonplace
assessment of the missionary ethnography largely ignores, though it does not
necessarily deny, that there is a significant continuity between “prescientific”
ethnographic writings and later, academically certified anthropologists’ studies,
especially with regard to the position of the observer and the style of notation.69

We undoubtedly have an impulse in modern academia to place subjects within our

own teleological narratives. The perception of undercurrents within foreign societies that

resemble our own passions brings the Other closer to us and gives us hope for a future

reconciliation of our differences. Yet at the same time, emphasizing these perceptions at the

expense of the subject’s self-identity can cause misunderstandings in the present day. If it is

only those perceived undercurrents within a society which we find to contain a seed of

civilization, does that not mean that we have concluded the society at large to be primitive

and ignorant? Anthropologists and historians have long understood that political and social

choices which may appear primitive to us are the product of cultural history. The only way to

write a non-polemical study is to take that history into account.

We must acknowledge the influence of these narratives when studying modern social

movements that have been caught in the web of “religion”. We may want to regard this

category as neutral with respect to the concerns outlined above, but the changes it brings to

social discourse are anything but neutral. When we categorize the Hindu nationalist

movement as “religious”, as Holtom did for “State Shintō”, what sort of consequences does

that have on the way we talk about it? Does it enable people to dismiss Hindutva concerns as

the product of an “old communal form of religion”, or to characterize them as ignorant

69 Tomoko Masuzawa, “Culture”, in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. Mark C. Taylor (Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1998), 84

nationalists who know nothing about the universalist and nonpolitical essence of “their

religion”? Does it allow an American Sanskritist whose area of expertise is 8th century Indian

manuscripts to make claims about the legitimacy of a modern political movement in a

country she has never lived in, and be taken seriously? How do these things help or hinder

understanding of Indian politics within and without India, and what real consequences might

they have in terms of organizational, national, or international policy? The forces at play here

are not much different from the ones prominent in D.C. Holtom’s day.

Timothy Fitzgerald has claimed that the religious and secular are not permanent,

natural fixtures in the cultural landscape of all places and times. Instead, he argues that they

are “rhetorical categories which have proved useful for certain groups of people with

particular objectives and values at specific points in history, and ... that they therefore do not

provide an ‘objective’ account of what is in the world.”70 I believe to have demonstrated, in

close accordance with his hypothesis, that D.C. Holtom did not employ the category of

“religion” in an objective manner in his analysis of Japanese culture, but that his work rather

presents itself as an ideological use of religious studies.

70 Timothy Fitzgerald, Discourse on Civility and Barbarity (Oxford: Oxford University, 2007), 66


Ama Toshimaro. Why Are the Japanese Non-Religious? Lanham, MD: University Press of
America, 2005.
Armstrong, Robert Cornell. "The Religious Value of Shintō." In The Japan Evangelist 23.11
(November 1916), pp.429-433 .
——. "Shintō as a National Cult". In Edwin Taylor Iglehart (ed.) The Christian Movement in
the Japanese Empire ... A Year Book for 1918. Tokyo: Fukuin Printing Co., 1918.
Breen, John. "Ideologues, Bureaucrats and Priests." In Breen and Teeuwen, Shintō in History.
Breen, John and Mark Teeuwen. Shintō in History: Ways of the Kami. Honolulu: University
of Hawai’i Press, 1990.
Burns, Susan L. Before the Nation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.
Chamberlain, Basil Hall. “The Invention of a New Religion.” London: Watts and Co, 1912.
Chamberlain had claimed in an earlier book that National Teaching ended the
religious period of Japanese nationalism. But here he claims that some kind of
“religion” is resurgent. He does not define “religion” so his use of the term may have
been figurative.
Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen, 1976.
Dyke, Ken R. “Shinto: A Study Prepared by General Headquarters, SCAP, C I & E Section”.
Contemporary Religions in Japan 7.4 (1966)
Evans (?), J.D.71 The National Cult in Japan (Kobe: Japan Chronicle, 1918)
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
Fenton, Steve. Durkheim and Modern Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1984.
Fitzgerald, Timothy. The Ideology of Religious Studies. New York: Oxford U. Press, 2000.
——. Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations. London: Equinox,
——. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Goodman, Carl F. The Rule of Law in Japan. Fredrick, MD: Kluwer Law International, 2008.
Hardacre, Helen. Shintō and the State, 1868-1988. Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1989.
Haring, Douglas H. “Daniel Clarence Holtom 1884-1962”. American Anthropologist 65.4
Hess, Andreas. Concepts of Social Stratification: European and American Models. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
Holtom, Daniel Clarence. The Political Philosophy of Modern Shintō: A Study of the State
Religion of Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1922.
——. "Review: The Religions of Japan in the Hastings 'Encyclopaedia'". The Journal of
Religion 3.2 (1923).
Holtom was not the greatest fan of fellow Japanologist W.G. Aston, who saw state shrines as
non-religious. In a later book he seems to rewrite Aston’s views.
——. “A New Interpretation of Japanese Mythology and Its Bearing on the Ancestral Theory
of Shintō”. The Journal of Religion 6.1 (1926).
——. “The Christian Message and Shintō”. Japan Christian Quarterly, July 1927.
——. “The State Cult of Modern Japan”. The Journal of Religion 7.4 (1927).

71 Re-Romanized from early 20th century katakana; this is my best guess.

Although this is a complete discussion of “religiousness” with regards to the national
shrine system, the term “State Shintō” is not used; he has not invented it yet.
——. “Modern Shintō as a State Religion.” In Paul S. Mayer (ed.), The Japan Mission Year
Book, vol. 28. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan, 1930.
——. “Recent Discussion Regarding State Shintō.” In Luman J. Schafer (ed.), The Japan
Mission Year Book, vol. 29. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan, 1931.
——. “Japanese Christianity and Shintō Nationalism.” The Christian Century, January 7,
——. “Shrine Worship and the Gods.” The Christian Century, January 14, 1942.
——. “The Sacred Emperor.” The Christian Century, February 11, 1942.
——. “Shintō in the Postwar World.” Far Eastern Survey 14.3 (February 1945), 29
This article defends state shrines; an interesting change in tone.
——. “The Japanese Mind.” The New Republic, May 28, 1945.
With claims like “Buddhist pessimism accentuates primitive impersonality” and
references to “false gods”, this article seems to reflect Holtom’s missionary attitude.
This does not prevent Haring from listing it as a work of “ethnography”.
——. Modern Japan and Shintō Nationalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947.
Ion, A. Hamish. The Cross in the Dark Valley: The Canadian Protestant Missionary
Movement in Japan. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier, 1999.
Isomae Jun'ichi. “Deconstructing 'Japanese Religion'”. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
32.2 (2005).
——. “The Formative Process of State Shintō in Relation to the Westernization of Japan: the
Concept of ‘Religion’ and ‘Shintō’.” In Fitzgerald, Religion and the Secular, 2007.
Kagawa Toyohiko. Christ and Japan. William Axling (tr.) New York: Friendship Press, 1934.
——. "The Church and Present Trends." In Charles W. Iglehart (ed.), The Japan
Christian Year Book. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan, 1938.
Ketelaar, James Edward, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1990.
Ko Wŏn-Sŏp. Panminnja Choesanggi (A record of charges against the anti-nationalists).
Seoul: Paegyŏp Munhwasa, 1949.
In postwar Korea, a half-dozen ministers who believed in the non-conflict of shrine
attendance with Christianity were arrested for pro-Japanese activism, beginning in
1949. The Korean church issued a statement that “since all church leaders participated
in Shintō worship, they have to purify themselves through penitence before engaging
in church activities.” Of course, among Japanese Christians there was no such call for
penitence. Declaring the shrines an abhorrent expression of paganism was a political
move which reoriented Korean Christianity with national interests.
Kojima Aiko, “Religion or Civil Religion as the Basis of Nationalism?: State Shintō Plan and
National Moral in Meiji Japan”. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA, Aug 14, 2004.
Koremaru Sakamoto, “Thoughts on State Shintō Research” (国家神道研究をめぐる断想),
in Kinsei Kindai Shintō Ronkou (近世・近代神道論考). Tokyo: Kōbundō, 2007.
Kuroda Toshio, James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay. “Shintō in the History of Japanese
Religion”. Journal of Japanese Studies 7.1 (1981).

Lee, Kun Sam. The Christian Confrontation with Shintō Nationalism. Philadelphia:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1966.
Masuzawa Tomoko, “Culture”, in Mark C. Taylor (ed.), Critical Terms for Religious Studies.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
——. The Invention of World Religions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
McNair, Theodore N. “Modern Japan as a Mission Field.” In Arthur T. Pierson (ed.), The
Missionary Review of the World 23. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900.
Mossman, Samuel. New Japan: The Land of the Rising Sun. London: John Murray, 1873.
Nitta Hitoshi. "Shintō as a 'Non-Religion'". In Breen and Teeuwen, Shintō in History.
——. The Illusion of "Arahitogami" "Kokkashintou". Tokyo: PHP Kenkyūjo, 2003.
This is a study of the Japanese side of the debate which future research could find
extremely useful. Unfortunately because of my limited Japanese knowledge I was
only able to briefly skim its contents.
“Our Enemy: The Japanese”. United States Office of War Information, 1943.
Peters, Shawn Francis. Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of
the Rights Revolution. Lawrence, KS: University Press Of Kansas, 2000.
Picken, Stuart D.B. Sourcebook in Shintō: Selected Documents. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.
Said, Edward, Orientalism. New York: Penguin, 2003.
Sica, Morris G. “The School Flag Movement: Origin and Influence.” Social Education 54.6
(1990). pp.380-84.
A point that might be made in future studies: While the Japanese flag was distributed
by the government and poorly received in local communities in the late 19th century,
the American flag was being pressed onto Congress by a grassroots patriotic
Scott, J.W.R. The Foundations of Japan. New York: Appleton and Co., 1922.
Skya, Walter. Japan’s Holy War. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Woodard, William P. “The Foreign Missionary in Japan.” In Charles W. Iglethart (ed.), The
Japan Christian Year Book. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan, 1940.
Woodard spent much of his life preparing his 1972 book. This short submission to the
Year Book demonstrates his keen eye for detail in describing the missionary climate
in Japan on the eve of the Pacific War.
——. The Allied Occupation of Japan and Japanese Religions. New York: Brill, 1972.
Woodard refutes the idea that “State Shintō” was non-religious based on the legal
point that shrines and sects were managed by the same local bureaus, rather than
discussing the Christian shrine debate in full. But this is only an appendix to his
unbiased and complete book on the postwar situation, which I am indebted to.
Young , Arthur Morgan. The Rise of a Pagan State. New York: William Morrow, 1939.