Asian Ethnology Podcast

“Religion in Contemporary Japan” and Changes Since 1991

Interviewer: Ben Dorman, co-editor Asian Ethnology

Recorded 27 February 2018, Hirakata, Japan

This episode's guest is Ian Reader, emeritus professor at The University of Manchester. Ian’s research interests include contemporary religious dynamics and popular religious practices in Japan, and religion and violence. In this interview, Ian discusses the changes in the Japanese religious scene since the publication of his book Religion in Contemporary Japan (1991).

Episode Summary

  • Intro :35

  • Religion in contemporary Japan since the publication of Religion in Contemporary Japan (1991) 4:15

  • Lack of evidence concerning “new spirituality movements”; the importance of considering decline in popularity of religion 5:45

  • Revisiting Agonshū since the death of the founder; work with religious studies scholar Erica Baffelli 11:39

  • Transformation of Agonshū founder and leader Kiriyama into “the second Buddha”; the aging of Agonshū 13:40

  • Problems with the category of Japanese “new religions” 15:15

  • Issues related to succession after the death of the founder; commemoration, veneration, and implicit nationalism in Agonshū 19:50

  • Work on Aum Shinrikyō and the impact of the Aum affair of 1995; religion and violence 25:05

  • Religions, mind control, and the “anti-cult” movement in Japan 28:08

  • Outro 28:36

Publications discussed in this episode


Ian Reader, Religion in Contemporary Japan , University of Hawai‘i Press (1991)

Ian Reader, Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyō, University of Hawai‘i Press (2000)

Erica Baffelli, Ian Reader, Birgit Staemmler, eds. Japanese Religions on the Internet: Innovation, Representation, and Authority, Routledge (2010)

Erica Baffelli and Ian Reader, Dynamism and the Ageing of a Japanese 'New' Religion: Transformations and the Founder , Bloomsbury (2018)

Music used with kind permission of the performer, shamisen master Koji Yamaguchi.

Copyright 2018 by Asian Ethnology Podcast