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Keiji Nishitani
西谷 啓治
Born(1900-02-27)February 27, 1900
DiedNovember 24, 1990(1990-11-24) (aged 90)
Nationality Japanese
Alma materKyoto Imperial University
Notable work
Religion and Nothingness
EraContemporary philosophy
SchoolKyoto School
InstitutionsKyoto Imperial University
Main interests
Philosophy of religion, nihilism, nothingness, emptiness, mysticism

Keiji Nishitani (西谷 啓治, Nishitani Keiji, February 27, 1900 – November 24, 1990) was a Japanese university professor, scholar, and Kyoto School philosopher. He was a disciple of Kitarō Nishida. In 1924 Nishitani received his doctorate from Kyoto Imperial University for his dissertation "Das Ideale und das Reale bei Schelling und Bergson". He studied under Martin Heidegger in Freiburg from 1937 to 1939.


Nishitani held the principal Chair of Philosophy and Religion at Kyoto University from 1943 until becoming emeritus in 1964. He then taught philosophy and religion at Ōtani University. At various times Nishitani was a visiting professor in the United States and Europe.

According to James Heisig, after being banned from holding any public position by the United States Occupation authorities in July 1946, Nishitani refrained from drawing "practical social conscience into philosophical and religious ideas, preferring to think about the insight of the individual rather than the reform of the social order."[1]

In James Heisig's Philosophers of Nothingness Nishitani is quoted as saying "The fundamental problem of my life … has always been, to put it simply, the overcoming of nihilism through nihilism."[2]


On Heisig's reading, Nishitani's philosophy had a distinctive religious and subjective bent, drawing Nishitani close to existentialists and mystics, most notably Søren Kierkegaard and Meister Eckhart, rather than to the scholars and theologians who aimed at systematic elaborations of thought. Heisig further argues that Nishitani, "the stylistic superior of Nishida," brought Zen poetry, religion, literature, and philosophy organically together in his work to help lay the difficult foundations for a breaking free of the Japanese language, in a similar way to Blaise Pascal or Friedrich Nietzsche.[1] Heisig argues that, unlike Nishida who had supposedly focused on building a philosophical system and who towards the end of his career began to focus on political philosophy, Nishitani focused on delineating a standpoint "from which he could enlighten a broader range of topics," and wrote more on Buddhist themes towards the end of his career.[1]

In works such as Religion and Nothingness, Nishitani focuses on the Buddhist term Śūnyatā (emptiness/nothingness) and its relation to Western nihilism.[3] To contrast with the Western idea of nihility as the absence of meaning Nishitani's Śūnyatā relates to the acceptance of anatta, one of the three Right Understandings in the Noble Eightfold Path and the rejection of the ego in order to recognize the Pratītyasamutpāda, to be one with everything. Stating: "All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing."[4] However, Nishitani always wrote and understood himself as a philosopher akin in spirit to Nishida insofar as the teacher—always bent upon fundamental problems of ordinary life—sought to revive a path of life walked already by ancient predecessors, most notably in the Zen tradition. Nor can Heisig's reading of Nishitani as "existentialist" convince in the face of Nishitani's critique of existentialism—a critique that walked, in its essential orientation, in the footsteps of Nishida's "Investigation of the Good" (Zen no Kenkyū).

Among the many works authored by Nishitani in Japanese, are the following titles: Divinity and Absolute Negation (Kami to zettai Mu; 1948), Examining Aristotle (Arisutoteresu ronkō; 1948); Religion, Politics, and Culture (Shūkyō to seiji to bunka; 1949); Modern Society's Various Problems and Religion (Gendai shakai no shomondai to shūkyō; 1951); Regarding Buddhism (Bukkyō ni tsuite; 1982); Nishida Kitaro: The Man and the Thought (Nishida Kitarō, sono hito to shisō; 1985); The Standpoint of Zen (Zen no tachiba; 1986); Between Religion and Non-Religion (Shūkyō to hishūkyō no aida; 1996). His written works have been edited into a 26-volume collection Nishitani Keiji Chosakushū (1986-1995). A more exhaustive list of works is accessible on the Japanese version of the present wikipage.

Selected translated works

Nishitani Keiji. 1982. Religion and Nothingness. Translated by Jan Van Bragt. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ISBN 0-520-04946-2)
Nishitani Keiji. 1990. The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism. Translated by Graham Parkes and Aihara Setsuko. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Nishitani Keiji. 1991. Nishida Kitarō. Translated by Yamamoto Seisaku and James W. Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Nishitani Keiji. 2006. On Buddhism. Translated by Yamamoto Seisaku and Robert E. Carter. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Nishitani Keiji. 2012. The Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji 1900-1990 - Lectures on Religion and Modernity. Translated by Jonathan Morris Augustine and Yamamoto Seisaku. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press. (ISBN 0-7734-2930-1)

Nishitani Keiji. 1960. ”The Religious Situation in Present-day Japan.” Contemporary Religions in Japan, 7-24.
Nishitani Keiji. 1984. ”Standpoint of Zen.” Translated by John C. Maraldo. The Eastern Buddhist 17/1, 1–26.
Nishitani Keiji. 1989. ”Encounter with Emptiness.” In The Religious Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji (edited by Taitetsu Unno). Jain Publishing Company. 1-4.
Nishitani Keiji. 1990. "Religious-Philosophical Existence in Buddhism." Translated by Paul Shepherd. The Eastern Buddhist (New Series) 23, 1-17.
Nishitani Keiji. 2004a. ”The Awakening of Self in Buddhism.” In The Buddha Eye - An Anthology of the Kyoto School and Its Contemporaries (edited by Frederick Franck). World Wisdom: Bloomington, Indiana. 11–20.
Nishitani Keiji. 2004b. ”The I-Thou Relation in Zen Buddhism.” In The Buddha Eye - An Anthology of the Kyoto School and Its Contemporaries (edited by Frederick Franck). World Wisdom: Bloomington, Indiana. 39–53.
Nishitani Keiji. 2004c. ”Science and Zen.” In The Buddha Eye - An Anthology of the Kyoto School and Its Contemporaries (edited by Frederick Franck). World Wisdom: Bloomington, Indiana. 107–135.
Nishitani Keiji. 2008. ”My Views on ”Overcoming Modernity”." In Overcoming Modernity - Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan (translated and edited by Richard Calichman). New York: Columbia University Press. 51-63.


  1. ^ a b c James W. Heisig. Philosophers of Nothingness. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.
  2. ^ 1944-, Heisig, James W. (2001). Philosophers of nothingness : an essay on the Kyoto school. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 058546359X. OCLC 53344327.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "The abyss of Keiji Nishitani" by Eugene Thacker, Japan Times, 30 Apr. 2016.
  4. ^ 1900-1990., Nishitani, Keiji (1982). Religion and nothingness (1st paperback ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520043294. OCLC 7464711.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)