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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Research on Shinto
1. History (Antiquity) Research
Empirical Research
       If we adhere to the broad definition, Shintō is a religious practice or a life style and doctrine that is based in the indigenous concept of the kami. Due to the fact that the ancient Japanese ordered many aspects of their lives according to Shintō, there is a lot of overlap between research into ancient Shintō and research into the psychology of the people of that time. Kokugaku (National Learning), which developed in the early modern era and made substantial achievements regarding research into ancient things, made the pursuit of the spiritual life of the ancient people their primary purpose, illuminating many points regarding the phenomena of ancient Shintō.
       There is emprical and historical research that adopted this trend of kokugaku and also made use of modern historical research methods. This research has made a great contribution to the research into ancient Shintō history and became the most influential current of research until the present day. In 1891, History Professor at the Imperial University Kume Kunitake published an article entitled "Shintō: Ancient Custom of Worshipping the Heavens" in Shigakkai zasshi, 2.23-25. This is a commemorative article, but the systematic study of ancient Shintō from the point of view of empirical research started with the work of Miyaji Naokazu who took the post of professor of Shintō at Tokyo Imperial University that was created in 1938. The characteristics of his research are its thorough historical inquiry, as seen in "The History of Hotaka Shrine" and "Research into Suwa Shrine." Shintō-shi, published after World War Two is important because it systematized the history of ancient Shintō. This work became the foundation of research into ancient Shintō, including research into ancient thought and the construction of shrines, relations with foreign thought, the establishment of the Jingi system, the hinbutsu shūgō (unification of kami and Buddha) and historical developments in the Heian and Regency era. The reliability of these facts led to this having a great influence on later researchers doing empirical work. These have also had an enormous impact on the investigation into the Ritsuryō jingi system, and various other festivals.

Research based on historical materialism
       This research method is based on the materialist view of history, focusing on functional issue of the dominant ideology of ancient Shintō. It differs slightly from the empirical research developed by Miyaji Naokazu. With the publication of Festivals and Mythology of Ancient Kingship in 1970, Okada Seishi became the leader of this movement. With the guarantee of academic freedom post World War II and the civil rights this bought, and as the historical research associations and Japanese history associations developed and became much more active, this movement played a part in setting the research direction and also influenced researchers who may not necessarily have believed in the materialistic view of history. Okada Seishi characterized this by arguing that while the court celebrations possessed the same belief foundation as the festivals and etiquette of the commoners, the former functional veil that concealed the intrinsic quality of authority, and this was the secret key that allowed a few clans from the Kinai region to deflect the disaffection of the masses and made possible the control of the entire country. It is his view that Shintō beliefs evolved to support the ideological aspects of political control in ancient society. However, his work went beyond the framework of emprical research as he elucidated the character of the ritsuryō festivals, beginning with a close examination of the ceremony of presenting food seen in the Niiname festival and the ceremony of ascension in the Yasoshima festival. Research into the ancient history of Shintō based on a materialistic view of history seems to elucidate the structure of ancient society, using the relationship between control and the controlled as the focus of research. Based on this, this research works to clarify the festival beliefs of the upper structures of society. The Historical Research Society Conference of 1970 had as its theme, "The Pre-modern Ruling Ideology and Civil Conflict". Reports on religious regulations and jingi administrators as well as Shintō thought in the final part of the ancient era were presented, and this conference demonstrated how much Okada Seishi's methodology regarding research into ancient Shintō had become dominant In the previously noted work, Okada offered no fundamental research into what kind of function religion had in the ancient state of Japan, but his work has the distinction of being the first research to connect the structure of ancient society and the beliefs of the native religion.

Research since the materialistic view of history
       Research based on the materialistic view of history has the tendency to bury the inadequacies of the empirical method, which is represented by the work of Miyaji Naokazu, but there is also follow up research that whilst connecting the condition of ancient society with the development of Shintō as a belief system, does not directly link it to political control of the festival beliefs. Takatori Masao's Shintō no Seiritsu (The Origin of Shintō), published in 1979, viewed the belief system of Shintō as having developed from awareness of good and bad fortune and taboos, and argues that the establishment of Shintō as a religion happened as part of the separation of Shintō from Buddhism, which brought about a consciousness of it as separate. In comparison to the strong tendency of historical materialist based research to class Shintō is a dependent part of ancient political power, it is better to say that this type of research sees to explain Shintō through its intrinsic elements, arguing that religious phenomena are and seeking to elucidate its systematic character. In the world of historical studies, scholars began to take notice of the development of sociological research in Europe during the decade beginning in 1975 and scholars in Japan started to experiment with the same techniques, but while we can say that Takatori Masao's research bore fruit before the introduction of sociological research, the results of his research have turned out to be very close to the latter.
Noteworthy results of recent research on ancient Shintō include work by Okada Shōji and others who conducted exhaustive work on festival ceremonies grounding their methodology in Miyaji Naokazu's empirical method. This work was collected into the volume Heian jidai no jinja to saishi (Heian Period Shrines and Ceremonies), edited by Nijūnisha Kenkyūkai in 1986. Even in this work care has been taken to include research based on the materialistic interpretation of history, and we anticipate that the influential trend for future research on ancient Shintō will include a sociological perspective grounded in empirical research which aim to create a classification of Shintō as a belief system.

— Morita Tei
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
URL http://21coe.kokugakuin.ac.jp/
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