The Making of Representations of the Religious Adherent Engaged in Politics


  • Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen University of London



issues of representation, political participation, religion and politics, Soka Gakkai-Komeito, youth in Japan


In this paper, I present two ethnographic examples of young Japanese who as members of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai in Japan support the political party Komeito. I highlight that concord about interpretations of meaning between the anthropologist and the interlocutors makes for different understanding of motivation and subsequently for different representations. While the anthropologist’s work in most cases remains an ethnographic account written by the researcher, fieldwork and personal interaction with people who are regarded as interlocutors rather than subjects of study help to make the subject community, not the observer, the people who set the criteria for representation. This does not exclude a critical approach to the social phenomenon researched, but a closer understanding of the paradigmatic position of the people whom one writes about can, with careful reflection, help to overcome the particular biases of structural objectivism. While this position may have its own biases, the starting point is the participation of the anthropologist in inter-cultural discourse with the people studied, rather than an authority who has the last say on the matter. This is looking at social phenomena from the level of meaning, aiming to understand social tendencies to action rather than from a position that asks questions about facticity from a deductive approach about an abstract empirical reality.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen, University of London

Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen, PhD(SOAS), is a Teaching Fellow at SOAS, University of London. She has written a book entitled Young Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito: Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan (Japan Anthropology Series; Routledge, forthcoming), which is based on her PhD thesis. Her interests are in Japanese politics and Japanese new religious movements, anthropology of politics, religion, and civil society, and social theory.


Abe Hitoshi, Muneyuki Shindo, and Sadafumi Kawato. 1994. The Government and Politics of Japan. Trans. James W. White. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

Battaglia, Deborah. 1999. “Toward an Ethics of the Open Subject: Writing Cultures in Good Conscience,” in Henrietta L. Moore ed. Anthropological Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 114–50.

Burton, John W. 1983. “Answers and Questions: Evans-Prichard on Neuer Religion,” Journal of Religion in Africa, 14.3, 167–86. doi:10.1163/157006683X00068

Christensen, Ray. 2000. Ending the LDP Hegemony: Party Cooperation in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Curtis, Gerald. 1988. The Japanese Way of Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Davis, Winston. 1991. “Fundamentalism in Japan: Religious and Political,” in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby eds. Fundamentalism Observed. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 782–813.

Earhart, H. Byron. 1984. Religions of Japan. New York: Harper & Row.

Eto, Shunsuke, and Wajo Hichiri. 2003. Jiminto - Soka Gakkai – Komeito: Kokumin Fuzai no Renritsu Seiken Hishi [LDP – Soka Gakkai – Komeito: The Secret History of Coalition Government without the People]. Gakushunotomo Press.

Fisker-Nielsen, A. M. Forthcoming. Young Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito: Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan. Japan Anthropology Series; Routledge.

Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridon. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Gellner, David N., and Eric Hirsch. 2001. Inside Organizations: Anthropologists at Work. Oxford: Berg.

Goodman, Roger, and Kirsten Refsing. 1992. Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan. London: Routledge.

Hardacre, Helen. 2003. “After Aum: Religion and Civil Society in Japan,” in Frank J. Schwartz and Susan J. Pharr eds. The State of Civil Society in Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 135–53.

Hardacre, Helen. 2004. “Religion and Civil Society in Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 31.2, 390–415.

Hardacre, Helen. 2005. “Constitutional Revision and Japanese Religions,” Japanese Studies, 25.3 (December), 234–47.

Hoye, Timothy. 1999. Japanese Politics: Fixed and Floating Worlds. New Jersey: Texas Women’s University.

Inoguchi, Takashi. 2009. “Political Culture,” in Yoshio Sugimoto ed. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 166–81.

Inoue, Nobutaka, et al. 1996. Shinsh?ky? ky?dan, jinbutsu jiten. Tokyo: K?dansha.

Ishii, Kenji. 2000. “Nihonjin no ‘sh?ky? dantain’ ni tai suru ishiki to jittai ni tsuite” [Japanese Attitudes towards Religious Organizations], Ch?? ch?sah?, 510.4, 1-4.

Johnson, Chalmers. 1995. Japan: Who Governs? The Rise of the Developmental State. New York: W. W. Norton.

Kisala, Robert. 1999. Prophets of Peace: Pacifism and Cultural Identity in Japan’s New Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Kobayashi, M. 2001. Gakky? saisei [The Rejuvenation of the Classroom]. Tokyo: K?dansha.

Kotani, Satoshi. 2004. “Why Are Japanese Youth Today So Passive?” in Gordon Mathews and Bruce White eds. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? London: RoutledgeCurzon, 31–45.

Kunin, Seth. 2006. “The Dialectical Relationship between Theory and Ethnography,” Diskus , 7.

Lasswell, Harold Dwight. 1950. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: Peter Smith.

Lipson, Leslie. 1993. The Great Issues of Politics: An Introduction to Political Science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

LoBreglio, John. 1997. “Revisions to the Religions Corporations Law: An Introduction and Annotated Translation,” Japanese Religions, 22.1, 38–59.

Mathews, Gordon, and Bruce White. 2004. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203316627

McVeigh, Brian J. 1998. The Nature of the Japanese State: Rationality and Rituality. London, New York: Routledge.

Metraux, Daniel A. 1999. Aum Shinrikyo and Japanese Youth. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Mur?, Tadashi. 2000. “Shirarezaru Ky?sei Kaish? meguru k?bo” [The Vicissitudes of Forcible Conversions], Tsukuru, 333.3, 136–47.

Nakamaki, Hirochika. 2003. Japanese Religions at Home and Abroad: Anthropological Perspectives. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon.

Nakane, Chie. 1998 [1970]. Japanese Society. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Nakano, Lynne, and Moeke Wagatsuma. 2004. “Mothers and their Unmarried Daughters,” in Gordon Mathews and Bruce White eds. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? London: RoutledgeCurzon, 137–54.

Ouroussoff, Alexandra. 2001. “What is an Ethnographic Study?” in David N. Gellner and Eric Hirsch eds. Inside Organizations: Anthropologists at Work. Oxford, New York: BERG, 157–82.

Reader, Ian, and George Tanabe. 1998. Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Reader, Ian. 2005. “Historical, New, and New Religions,” in Jennifer Robertson ed. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan. Malden, USA, and Oxford, UK: Blackwells, 431–51.

Roberts, Glenda S. 2005. “Shifting Contours of Class and Status,” in Jennifer Robertson ed. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan. Malden (USA), Oxford (UK) and Victoria (Australia): Blackwell Publishing, 104–24.

Sado, Hirano. 2005. Komeito – Soka Gakkai Shinjitsu [The Truth about Komeito - Soka Gakkai]. Kodansha.

Sakurai, Tetsuo. 2004. “The Generation Gap in Japanese Society since the 1960s,” in Gordon Mathews and Bruce White eds. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? London: RoutledgeCurzon, 15–30.

Schaede, Ulrike. 1995. “The Old-boy Network and Government-Business Relations in Japan,” Journal of Japanese Studies, 21 (Summer), 293–317. doi:10.2307/133010

Scheiner, Ethan. 2006. Democracy without Competition in Japan: Opposition Failure in a One-Party Dominant State. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Scholte, Bob. 1980. “Anthropological Traditions: Their Definitions,” in Stanley Diamond ed. Anthropology: Ancestors and Heirs. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 53–87.

Shimazono, Susumu. 2004. From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan. Victoria, Australia: Trans Pacific Press.

Smart, Richard, “Looking East as British System goes South,” Japan Times on line, 25 May, 2010

Stockwin, J. A. A. 2008. Governing Japan: Divided Politics in a Resurgent Economy. Australia: Blackwell, 4th edn.

Van Bremen, Jan. 1995. “Introduction: The Myth of the Secularization of Industrialized Societies,” in Jan van Bremen and D. P. Martinez eds. Ceremony and Ritual in Japan. London: Routledge.

Van Wolferen, Karel. 1989.The Enigma of Japanese Power. London: Macmillan.

White, Bruce. 2004. “The Local Roots of Global Citizenship: Generational Change in a Kyushu Hamlet,” in Gordon Mathews and Bruce White eds. Japan’s Changing Generations; Are Young People Creating a New Society? London: RoutledgeCurzon, ch. 3.

White, James. 1970. The S?kagakkai and Mass Society. Stanford; Stanford University Press.

Yamada, Naoki. 2004. Soka Gakkai to ha Nanika [What is the Soka Gakkai?]. Shinkosha Press.

Yuki, Hideo. 1997. “Problems with the Revisions to the Religious Corporations Law,” Japanese Religions, 22.1.



How to Cite

Fisker-Nielsen, A. (2011). The Making of Representations of the Religious Adherent Engaged in Politics. Fieldwork in Religion, 5(2), 162–179.