39th Annual Loy H. Witherspoon Lecture

THE 39TH ANNUAL LOY H. WITHERSPOON LECTURE: “Difficult Subjects: Religion and Education under the US-Japan Alliance,” with at 6:00 pm, with light refreshments beginning at 5:00


PARKING: https://duboiscenter.charlotte.edu/parking

Open to the public at no charge

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Lecture Abstract: To what extent is religion a core part of national citizenship, and to what extent should religions be involved in educating juvenile citizens? Historically, this two-part question has been difficult to answer because people reasonably disagree on matters of democratic principle. But it has also been irresolvable because it hinges on an unwieldy term: religion. Adopting a supranational approach by focusing on the transpacific US-Japan Alliance, this talk tracks the fallout of the “1947 Settlement”—a moment when new Japanese legislation and groundbreaking American jurisprudence clarified that public education should not involve confessional instruction. Although the 1947 Settlement ostensibly clarified the relationship between religion and education, the “new normal” actually elicited considerable confusion, especially as Japan and the United States both embraced religiosity as one of the distinguishing features of Cold War capitalist democracy. This talk tracks how ensuing debates over patriotic ritual, moral instruction, vocational training, and sex education reflected uncertainties about the relationship between religion, democratic citizenship, and capitalist subjectivity. Along the way, it upends some conventional narratives about late twentieth-century “secularization” while also showing how religious studies offers indispensable tools for understanding some of the most vexing legal and political dilemmas of our time.

Speaker Bio: Jolyon Thomas is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (2012) and Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan (2019), which received an award for excellence from the American Academy of Religion in 2020. Thomas has published academic articles in venues such as the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Material Religion, and Nova Religio. He also has bylines at public-facing outlets such as Aeon, Dharma World, Killing the Buddha, Marginalia, Nippon.com, The Revealer, Sacred Matters, and Tricycle. Thomas serves on the editorial boards of several journals; he has been elected to the steering committee of the Japanese Religious Unit for the American Academy of Religion and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies. He is an appointed member of the Japan-US Friendship Commission and the binational US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange.