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The Concept of Religion in Meiji Popular Discourse

An Analysis of the Newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun

Makoto Harris Takao

Abstract

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.