Wars in the Persian Gulf and Yugoslavia have given new impetus to the ongoing debate in Japan concerning its postwar constitution and related issues of national security and world order. Although often overlooked in this debate, Japanese religious groups–especially some of the New Religions–have promoted peace as a major theme of their doctrine and activities, often explicitly supporting a pacifist position. This study, undertaken in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, looks at a representative group of New Religions and explores their concepts and practices of peace. Many of the Japanese New Religions draw on a tradition that emphasizes individual moral cultivation and use of prewar terms to describe their mission. One expression, hakko ichiu (literally, “the whole world under one roof”) conveys the ideal of world unity under Japanese direction, leading to the establishment of peace. In this way it is a prime example of the prewar idea of establishing peace through the spread of Japanese civilization.
The author cites evidence pointing to the prevalence of a mistaken notion of the implications of the pacifist position, a situation that both reflects and contributes to the confusion surrounding popular debates on pacifism in Japan. Prophets of Peace is an attempt to correct that misperception by providing a critical study of the social ethic of the Japanese New Religions–a topic that has been largely ignored in research on new religious movements worldwide. Professor Kisala draws on the literature that presents their doctrine and surveys their believers to describe their approach to the question of peace. The results of this fieldwork are placed within the dual framework of Western peace studies and the modern Japanese intellectual tradition, highlighting the issues of pacifism and the cultural approach to peace in Japan. In his analysis of these results, he offers some observations on the role of religion in contemporary Japanese society and advocates a more positive engagement in the debate on Japan’s role in international security arrangements.
By offering a representative sample of New Religion groups and focusing on their doctrines, Prophets of Peace provides a different perspective for those whose primary interest is the Japanese New Religions. Although students and scholars of Japanese religion will be the book’s first audience, its accessibility and thematic approach also recommend it to readers with a broader interest in contemporary Japanese society, peace studies, and the role of religious groups in modern society.