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Video available! "Numinous Ascents: Mountaineering, Nature, and Ethnospirituality in Modern Japan"

Caleb Carter speaking at Stanford

Japanese Buddhism Lectures

Mountain worship and mountaineering are commonly thought of as distinct activities. In Japan, mountain worship is commonly associated with tradition, piety, and cultural identity, whereas mountaineering is viewed as modern, secular, and transnational. Yet this set of divisions relies on a shaky foundation of binaries (traditional/modern, religion/sport, sacred/secular, and Japanese/foreign) ripe for reappraisal. This talk calls this framework into question through a look at a mountaineering literature at the turn of the twentieth century. As alpinism entered Japan around this time, British and Japanese alpinists searched for ways to conceptualize their new sport within the broader scope of modernity. They distinguished their activity from traditional forms of mountain worship even as they located it somewhere between the sacred and profane. Embedded in this discourse were formative ideas about how religion, spirituality, the natural world, and nationality intersected with mountaineering. As this talk will show, the writings of these alpinists reveal a window into the intellectual construction of mountaineering as a secular sport despite spiritual undercurrents that remain largely unrecognized.


Caleb Carter is an associate professor of Japanese religions and Buddhist studies in the Faculty of Humanities at Kyushu University. His research includes Japan’s mountain-based tradition of Shugendō, intersections between modern mountain worship and mountaineering, the contemporary trend of power spots (pawāsupotto) in Japan, and the realm of sacred graffiti. He is the author of A Path into the Mountains: Shugendō and Mount Togakushi (University of Hawai’i, 2022).