New Book by Steven Heine Explores Japanese Religious Life

Steven Heine, professor and director of Asian Studies and associate director of the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International Universty, has published an exciting new book on the role of Buddhist temples and the cult of funerary religion in contemporary Tokyo seen in relation to Shinto shrines. In Sacred High City, Sacred Low City, Heine argues that lived religion in Japan functions as an integral part of daily life; any apparent lack of interest masks a fundamental commitment to participating regularly in diverse, though diffused, religious practices. The book uses case studies of Buddhist and Shinto religious sites at two representative but contrasting Tokyo neighborhoods — Akasaka and Inaricho — as a basis for reflecting on this apparently contradictory quality. In what ways does Japan continue to carry on and adapt tradition, and to what extent has modern secular society lost touch with the traditional elements of religion? Or does Japanese religiosity reflect another, possibly postmodern, alternative beyond the dichotomy of sacred and secular, in which religious differences as well as a seeming indifference to religion are encompassed as part of a contemporary lifestyle?

According to John Tucker, professor of History and University Historian at East Carolina University, "Steven Heine offers a provocative paradigm for understanding Japanese religion, one adding to the 'Born Shinto, Die Buddhist' dichotomy by foregrounding the crucial 'Live Inari' dimension. Heine also suggests that the 'benefits' so often cited as impetus for religious practice are sometimes of an 'impractical yet this worldly' (genze hi-ryaku) variety, meeting needs for consolation, refuge, and respect for historical memory. A must-read for students of Tokyo religiosity." Christopher Ives, author of Imperial-Way Zen writes, "Through his exploration of sacred spaces in two Tokyo neighborhoods, Heine offers a nuanced critique of dominant notions about Japanese religious life. Paying careful attention to institutional structures and religious motivations in specific contexts, he opens up new perspectives on the complex religious landscape of Japan. Anyone interested in Buddhism, Shinto, ritual, and tradition will benefit from this groundbreaking book." Pamela D. Winfield of Elon University and founding co-chair, of the Sacred Space in Asia Group at the American Academy of Religion, suggests that "Heine's clear prose and engaging style reveals the historic and contemporary richness of Tokyo's most renowned-as well as often overlooked-ritual spaces. For anyone interested in the continued relevance and survival of religious institutions in today's global, post-modern and hyper-urbanized world, this is a must-read."

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