Bernard Faure: "Giving the gods their due: Looking back at Japanese religion"
Paradoxically enough, the study of Japanese religion has recently neglected what should have been a key theme: its gods. A number of factors may explain that paradox. First, there is a lingering Durkheimian notion that religion is not primarily about the gods. Second, the notion that Buddhism is a religion without gods persists. Lastly, since the Meiji Restoration, there has been a widespread view that Buddhism and Shinto are the sole two Japanese religions, with the gods (kami) being the province of Shinto only.
Needless to say, these conceptions are, at best, simplistic, and at worst, utterly misleading. Buddhism is replete with gods of all kinds, and the spectrum of Japanese religion includes much more than some monolithic Buddhism and Shinto. By examining a few deities that do not fall neatly into the "Buddhist" or "Shinto" categories, I will try to show that, far from being "moot" deities, they were, through most of Japanese history, part of the living reality of Japanese religion.
Bernard Faure holds a Ph. D. from Paris University. He is emeritus professor of Stanford University and currently Kao Professor of Japanese Religion at Columbia University. He has published a number of books in French and English on Buddhism and Japanese Religion. His English publications include:
The Rhetoric of Immediacy (1991); Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism (1996); The Red Thread: Approaches to Buddhist Sexuality (1998); The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity and Gender (2003); and Unmasking Buddhism (2010)
He just completed two books on Medieval Japanese gods, entitled, respectively: The Fluid Pantheon, and Predators and Protectors (University of Hawaii Press, 2015), and is currently working on a book on the East Asian Lives of the Buddha.