Topics for Paper I, REL 303 Japanese Religions

Due in class, Fri., Oct 21, 2011.


1. Applying the Hollow-Centered Model

According to Kawai, Japanese mythology has a hollow-centered structure. Apply this model to two or three real-life cases as found in either the Blacker reading (description of shamaness/interrogator/musician triad; cae of NAKAYAMA Miki) or Smyer article. To what extent do these cases fit Kawai's model, and to what extent does his model not work for explaining these cases? What are the potential strengths and weaknesses of this model for understanding Japanese society?

2. Shamanism and Divine Madness

Use Unno's categories for analyzing divine madness ("Divine Madness-Exploring the Boundaries of Modern Japanese Religion") to examine the case of the NAKAYAMA Miki from Carmen Blacker's The Catalpa Bow (130-132)? To what extent does Nakayama appear to be sociologically, psychologically, and/or spiritually mad? That is, how, if at all, does society define her as mad; how does she suffer psychological instability from her own perspective; and is there a truly spiritual, creative dimension to her madness? (Important point: Sociological madness and psychological madness are very different. Sociological madness refers to the way in which society labels someone as being "mad" from the outside (objectively). Psychological madness refers to the way in which a person feels internal stress and instability (subjectively). In this sense, I am not using "psychological" as a clinical, objective term, but something someone might use to describe themselves: "I'm feeling psychologically stressed out.")

3. The Inari Deity

Discuss three ways in which the Inari deity is personalized and why this is significant in Japanese religion and culture. As part of your paper, address the question, "What is the Inari deity?"

4. Dogen and Practice as Awakening

As a young man, Dogen had a burning desire to resolve the following question: If all beings already have buddha-nature (the nature of awakening), then what need is there for practice? After three years of Zen meditation practice in China, he returned with the answer: "Practice as awakening." Find two or three passages in the "Genjokoan" chapter of Dogen's Shobogenzo that illustrate different aspects of this idea. Do you find any problems with Dogen's interpretation? Since I have provided extensive notes on this topic as well as discuss it in class, one of the challenges of this topic is to do it within the suggested page length.