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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Research on Shinto
3. History (Early Modern) Research
Historical studies of early modern Shinto have been undertaken from the perspectives of political history, socio-economic history, intellectual history, and the history of the ordinary people (minshūshi). Concretely this has meant a focus on four areas: (1) the policies of the Edo Bakufu on matters concerning deities; (2) the situation and practices of shrines and shrine officials (shinshoku); (3) intellectual developments such as Confucian Shinto (juka shintō) and National Learning Shinto (kokugaku shintō); (4) popular religion (what later evolved as sectarian Shinto, or kyōha shintō). Below will be a summation of the notable features of studies in these four areas.

(1) Studies of early modern Shinto from the perspective of political history
       One of the features of studies of this sort has been the effort to locate official policies concerning deities within the overall context of the religious policies of the bakufu and feudal domains (bakuhan) political system. This has served to clarify the place not only of Shinto but also of policies regarding Buddhism within the ideological system of the time. Earlier interpretations held that Zhu Zi school Confucianism was the dominant ideology of the Edo ruling class. By contrast, more recent studies have argued that the "public authority" of the bakufu-han system was sustained by an "ideological complex" centered on a "tripartite teaching" that drew from Zhu Zi Thought (Confucianism), Buddhism, and Shinto. Works that have contributed to the formulation of this latter position include: the writings of Asao Naohiro on the nature of shogunal authority ("Shōgun kenryoku no sōshutsu" [The Formation of Shogunal Authority], Rekishi Hyōron 266, etc.), Ishida Ichirō's thesis regarding an Edo ideological complex ("Zenki bakuhan taisei no ideorogii to Shushi gakuha no shisō" [The Ideology of the Early Bakuhan System and the Thought of the Zhu Xi School], in Nihon Shisō Taikei, vol. 28, on Fujiwara Seika and Hayashi Razan]), and Ōkuwa Hitoshi's hypothesis concerning the place of Buddhism within the bakuhan system ("Bukkyō shisō ron" [Buddhist Thought], in Kinsei shisō ron). These books are indispensable for the study of these movements, but we can not ignore the influence of Kuroda Toshio's study of medieval religion, Nihon chūsei no kokka to shūkyō (State and Religion in Medieval Japan).

(2) Studies of early modern Shinto from the perspective of socioeconomic history
       Researchers on this subject have focused on the organization and modes of existence of shrines and shrine officials in various local areas, paying particular attention to how these were shaped by Kami-Buddhist syncretism (shinbutsu shūgō). A representative example is the work of Takeda Choshū in Kinsei sonraku no shaji to shinbutsu shūgō [Early Modern Village Temples and Shrines and Shinto-Buddhist Syncretism], and other works. Studies of this sort have made clear how activities associated with village temple associations (teraza) and tutelary deities (ujigami) were linked to features of popular religion such as an emphasis on ancestral rites. In the years since Takeda undertook his research, the compilation of local histories and publication of the records and histories of shrines in various regions have made available substantial additional information, and we may look forward to continued progress in the investigation of specific aspects of this subject. An example of the type of study possible in this area is Inoue Tomokatsu's article "Kansei-ki ni okeru ujigami, hayarigami to chōtei ken'i" (Tutelary Deities and Popular Deities and Court Authority in the Kansei Period [1789-1801 CE]) in Nihonshi kenkyū Vol. 365. In this article Inoue makes a detailed analysis of changes in the prinicipal enshrined kami (shusaijin) in tutelary shrines in Osaka in the late eighteenth century. Takano Toshihiko's Kinsei Nihon no kokka kenryoku to shūkyō [Stated Power and Religion in Early Modern Japan] is another work that has pioneered investigation of the structure of influential local religious entities of this sort and the authority vested in the court and the bakufu and domains (bakuhan).

(3) Studies of early modern Shinto from the perspective of intellectual history
       Research in this area has been conducted primarily by specialists in the field of the history of Japanese thought. Particularly worthy of note are studies of Yamazaki Ansai and his school (Yamazaki Ansai gakuha, or Suika shintō) and of Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane and his followers (fukko shintō). Regarding Yamazaki Ansai, Takashima Motohiro's recent Yamazaki Ansai is an excellent work. In it Takashima lays out the increased ethical emphasis in Shinto expressed through the notion of "the unity of kami and human beings" (shinjin ittai). Overseas researchers such as Herman Ooms, who in his Tokugawa Ideology undertakes a hermeneutical analysis of Suika Shinto "discourse," have also contributed to advances in this area. But, considering the extent of the influence of Suika Shinto on early modern Shinto thought, many issues remain to be researched, including the nature of connections with other forms of Shinto thought and the reception of Suika ideas by shrine officials based in local areas. Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane have been studied from various angles. From the perspective of a focus on Shinto thought, the most important works include Matsumoto Sannosuke, Kokugaku seiji shisō no kenkyū [Studies in National Learning Political Thought]; Sagara Tōru, Motoori Norinaga; and Miki Shōtarō, Hirata Atsutane no kenkyū (A Study of Hirata Atsutane). Koyasu Nobukuni's Motoori Norinaga is notable as the first study to take up the structure of the "discourse" underlying Norinaga's concept of Shinto and its relationship to the outlook of modern intellectuals. Significant accomplishments have also been made in the investigation of the activities of Hirata Atsutane's followers; representative of such research is Haga Noboru's Bakumatsu kokugaku no tenkai [The Bakumatsu Development of National Learning].

4. Studies of early modern Shinto from the perspective of the history of the ordinary populace
       In the postwar era, there has been substantial progress in research in this area, which includes the various forms of popular religion that took shape in the modern period as sectarian Shinto, such as Kurozumikyō, Tenrikyō, and Konkōkyō. Murakami Shigeyoshi's Kindai minshū shūkyōshi no kenkyū (Studies in the History of Modern Popular Religion) stands as a pioneering work in this field. It was evaluated highly for showing the monotheistic aspects of the doctrines of popular religion, its human-centered character, and its focus on an internally based faith as evidence of the modern character of popular thought. The studies of popular thought that flourished thereafter, headed by works such as Yasumaru Yoshio's Nihon no kindaika to minshū shisō (Modernization in Japan and Popular Thought), further developed Murakami's perspective, focusing particularly on the formation of the consciousness of the founders of these various forms of popular religion. Among recent works, Kozawa Hiroshi's Ikigami no shisōshi (Living Deities: An Intellectual History) represents a continuation of this approach. As opposed to an evaluation of these types of popular religion in terms of their degree of modernity, other recent research has emphasized instead their links with other types of popular belief. Research from this latter perspective includes Kanda Nobuo, Nyoraikyō no shisō to shinkō [Thought and Belief in Nyoraikyō] and Katsurajima Nobuhiro, Bakumatsu minshū shisō no kenkyū [Studies Popular Thought at the end of the Edo Period].
Apart from the four types of study mentioned above, historical research on early modern Shinto has drawn as well from the findings of works in the fields of ethnography, ethics, and Shinto studies, but it cannot be said that such materials have as yet been employed fully. It may be hoped that future research in this area will engage in greater interaction with other academic fields as well as attempt a comprehensive approach that brings together the four perspectives outlined here.

— Katsurajima Nobuhiro
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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