Japanese Studies

Are you abandoning Japan?”  This is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately.

Crow in Yanaka Cemetery, Photo by Jason Josephson rights reserved

Crow in Yanaka Cemetery, Photo by Jason Josephson rights reserved

I tend to hear it right after I explain that my second book–The Myth of Disenchantment–is basically European intellectual history (for a taste) and that the project following that– Absolute Disruption: The Future of Theory after Postmodernism–is an attempt to articulate new research models for Religious Studies in the wake of the collapse of poststructuralism as a guiding ethos in the Humanities.

At the moment, I’m probably best known for a monograph – The Invention of Religion in Japan – and a series of articles that explore the history of Japanese religions, science, and politics (my professional page). So it makes sense that often when I’m chatting with colleagues about work-in-progress I’m greeted with an expression of surprise. Scholars of Asian Studies in particular often tend to put it in the most intense terms and ask me if I am “deserting Japanese studies?”

So in this very short blog-post I want to provide an answer: in a word “No!”

Extended explanation below the fold for those who are curious.

It is true that I have a number of non-Japan related projects in various stages of completion and, what is more, I have no special desire to confine all of my future scholarship to Japanese studies. I love Japanese culture and have a strong personal (and family) connection to Japan and Japanese Buddhism (Sōtōshū Zen), but unfortunately I’m too intellectually restless to remain confined to one geography or period. Plus the study of Japanese religion and science was from the beginning part of an attempt to peer beyond the impasses of Euro-American conceptual categories. I’ve been working on Japan primarily in order to explore larger and more general issues with greater understanding of Japan as a secondary benefit. Put differently, I’ve been doing “Theory” first and foremost with Japan only as a primary, if nonetheless vitally important, site of inspiration.

But that said in addition to my teaching (at least one Japan course a year) and regular presentations at professional associations (like the AAS), I’m still connected to Japanese studies in a number of key ways:

First, I’m still writing review articles on monographs related to the study of Japanese religions and politics. I don’t want to give away titles in advance, but I have been commissioned to write at least two review essays in the coming months. So expect them to appear down the road.

Second, I prefer to be able to give my feedback before a book or article is done and in that way to hopefully provide useful suggestions. I think of peer reviewing as a central professional service to the field and I do a lot of it. Because it is anonymous probably a number of the people who will read this post have received feedback from me without realizing it. Just to provide a peak I have reviewed manuscripts (sometimes multiple) for the following:

  • Bloomsbury, Academic (Continuum)
  • Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet
  • History of Religions
  • Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
  • Japan Review
  • Journal of Classical Sociology
  • Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group (Asian Studies)
  • University of Chicago Press
  • University of Hawai’i Press

Not all of these reviews have been Japanese studies related. I have reviewed theory-oriented articles and monographs as well. And while I won’t comment on reviews in progress, I’ll say that I’m committed to giving back to the field of Japanese studies in this way for many years ahead.

Third, I also have a number of articles and book chapters related to Japan in the pipeline. Some (but not all) of these are posted on my webpage. So while I’ve been turning down book chapters lately for time reasons (sorry), Japanese (and Buddhist) studies folks should expect to see more in the years ahead.

Finally, I have a couple of (years out) long range monographs on Japan that will eventually reach completion. At the very least, I’ve written about ½ a monograph When Buddhism Became a Religion, which I’ve put down for the short term because I was approaching burnout. But I plan to return to down the road. Plus I have a back-burner translation/critical edition of some of Inoue Enryō’s Monsterology Lectures (妖怪学講義), that I’ll likely want to do something with. Also, in my estimation, Japanese philosophy has made some serious discoveries, so even projects that look less Japan related by their primary topic (e.g. Absolute Disruption) still discuss Japanese thinkers.

So all that is to say to fellow Japanologists, despite the fact that I’m ramping up my work on continental philosophy and European intellectual history (and hope to be joining a lot of new discussions), in the words of PJ Harvey, you’re not rid of me.” & I look forward to continuing our exciting scholarly conversations in the years ahead!

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