The Concept of Religion in Meiji Popular Discourse

An Analysis of the Newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun

in Contributions to the History of Concepts
Makoto Harris Takao University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

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This article challenges claims that the Japanese neologism shūkyō (as a translation for “religionȍ) lacked an established nature prior to the twentieth century and had little to do with experiences of the urban masses. It accordingly problematizes the term as a largely legal concept, highlighting historical newspapers as underutilized sources that offer insight into Meiji popular discourse and attendant conceptualizations of “religion.” This article endorses a shift in both our chronological understanding of shūkyō's conceptual history as well as its sociocultural mobility. By expanding the milieu understood as being familiar with debates on a range of “religious” issues, this article thereby offers a counter-narrative in which regular use of shūkyō begins to clearly emerge from the mid-1880s, exponentially increasing with the following decades.

Contributor Notes

Makoto Harris Takao is Assistant Professor of Musicology and Affiliated Faculty with the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies and the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. ORCID: 0000-0002-6047-4254. E-mail:

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