A Report on the 72nd Annual Conference of the JARS
by the International Connections Committee
The 72nd annual conference of the JARS took place in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, during September 6-8, 2013. The Faculty of Shinto Studies of Kokugakuin University hosted the conference on its Shibuya campus. There were nearly 700 participants in total and we owe the success of the conference to the conference organizers, above all the chief organizer Prof. Nobutaka Inoue, who is also the current president of the JARS.
The organizers of Kokugakuin University selected “The Networking of Religious Studies” as the theme of this year’s opening symposium. Whereas the symposium for the 70th as well as the 71st conference had directly addressed public concerns about certain social issues raised following the 2011 Great Earthquake, the 72nd conference organizers geared the symposium to a purely scientific orientation, with a focus on the recent academic trends in cognitive science and evolutionist biology. According to the organizers, “Since the 1990s the rapid development of brain science (or neuroscience) has started exerting influence upon the study of religion. In addition, scientific fields which were previously thought to be little related to the study of religion, namely, evolutionist biology, computer science, cognitive philosophy and the like, have begun shedding new light on fundamental questions such as why human beings came to be in need of religion, how the idea of god or spirit was born, and what the mechanism of conversion is.” The organizers argued that this situation would urge Japanese scholars of religion to discuss the prospects of the new research movements.
For the purpose of enhancing new scholarly networks, the organizers invited two non-members as guest speakers of the symposium, one from outside Japan and the other from a field other than religious studies. The first was Prof. Michael Witzel, a mythologist from Harvard University, and the second was Prof. Mariko Hasegawa, a biological anthropologist. The third speaker was Prof. Sadamichi Ashina, who specializes in the philosophy of religion and had recently co-edited a book on brain science and religion. Prof. Witzel presented the outline of his thesis on the African origin of mythologies, as published in The Origins of the World’s Mythologies (Oxford U. P., 2013) and introduced his innovative historical and comparative approach. Prof. Hasegawa applied a brain science approach to investigating the origins of 1) the religious quest for the causal explanations of the universe, 2) moral judgment, 3) belief in the afterlife and other-worldly salvation, 4) the function of religion in social cohesion. Finally, Prof. Ashina argued, from a standpoint of a philosopher of Christian thought, philosophical reflections could play a new role in our attempt to overcome the long-standing contention between science and religion since Darwinism and to reestablish scholarly linkages between the natural sciences and religious studies.
The regular program consisted of 22 panels and 284 individual papers, which were organized into 14 sessions. The panel on Ise Shrine was held inside the campus museum, surrounded by an exhibition on the local histories of Japanese deities. On the third day the International Connections Committee held a session on the 2015 IAHR World Congress in Erfurt, which aimed to promote the participation of young scholars in the congress.
Speakers at the opening Symposium and their papers:
Michael Witzel (Harvard University), Out of Africa: Tracing Early Mythologies by a New Approach, Historical Comparative Mythology
Mariko Hasegawa (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies), The Mental Basis for Religious Concepts, from the Perspective of Evolutionary Biology
Sadamichi Ashina (Kyoto University), The Problems of Religious Studies in the Context of Contemporary Thought: Brain Science, Kokoro, and Religion
For regular panel and individual paper titles, please click here. (English titles appear on pp.492-510 on the pdf file.)
(The proceedings [in Japanese] of the annual convention of the JARS are available on-line in a pdf file from the year 2014.)