Secular Shrine Theory or Jinja hishūkyōron (神社非宗教論) was a religious policy and political theory that arose in Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the separation of church and state of the Meiji Government.[1] It was the idea that Shinto Shrines were secular in their nature rather than religious,[2] and that Shinto was not a religion, but rather a secular set of Japanese national traditions. This was linked to State Shinto and the idea that the state controlling and enforcing Shinto was not a violation of freedom of religion. It was subject to immense debate over this time and ultimately declined and disappeared during the Shōwa era.[3]

Linguistic debate

See also: Religio

Translating the word "religion" into Japanese has been controversial from the beginning, with some scholars arguing it was a Christian concept that did not apply to Shinto.[2]

Kozaki Hiromichi first translated the English word "religion" as shūkyō (宗教)[a][4] Before that, Yukichi Fukuzawa translated it as shūmon (宗門)[b] and shūshi (宗旨),[c][5] and Masanao Nakamura translated it as hōkyō (法教)[d][6]

According to Genchi Kato:

There is no doubt that Christianity in Japan had the idea that Christianity is the true religion in the background when they proposed the Japanese translation of the religion. In Japan, however, Buddhism, a major world religion, existed before Christianity and had a considerable number of followers. There were many high priests and great scholars among the monks. No one, not even Christians, could ignore this fact, so when the translation of the word "religion" was disseminated, there must have been some thought that Christianity was the greatest of all religions, and that Buddhism could be added to it and included in the translation of the word "religion". In other words, the translation of the word "religion" was devised only for world religions and individual religions such as Buddhism and Christianity, and not for tribal religions, national religions, or group religions in religious studies.[7]
— Genchi Kato, A Reexamination of the Shrine Question: The True Meaning of Shinto and Education in Japan

In other words, Shinto was not included in the translation of "religion".[2]

In the Taishō era (1912–1926), the origin of the word "religion" was traced back to Latin, which came from Christian studies.[8] The classical etymology of the word, traced to Cicero himself, derives it from relegere: prefix re- ("again") + lego ("read"), where lego is in the sense of "go over", "choose", or "consider carefully". Modern scholars such as Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell have argued that religio is derived from religare, as re- ("again") + ligare ("bind; connect"), which was made prominent by Augustine of Hippo, following the interpretation of Lactantius in Divinae institutiones, IV, 28.[9][10]

They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee.

The word shūkyō (宗教) comes from Buddhism, according to Buddhist scholar Hajime Nakamura . In Buddhism, it means "the teaching of the sect", that is, the "teaching" of the "sect", which means the ultimate principle or truth, and religion existed as a subordinate concept of Buddhism .[11]

Christian theologians have traditionally held that the meaning and wording of the word religion has been continued in its original meaning from Latin[need quotation to verify], which is the way it is used today.[12][verification needed] The Christian position in Japan has always been that Shinto is a religion since its introduction. In Japan, there was a deep-rooted sense of caution against foreign religions, and problems arose accordingly. Christian missionary activity, which began at the beginning of the Meiji era, was also divided into different denominations, and problems arose as a result.[13]

It is believed that the Shinto side adopted the Secular Shrine Theory in part because they argued that Shinto is different from Buddhism and Christianity, that is, it is unique to Japan.[7] On the contrary, from the Buddhist and Christian sides, the argument was that Shinto is a religion because it has an object of veneration.

Of course, during that time, the religious and non-religious nature of Shinto shrines was debated not as a legal issue but purely as a matter of religious studies. However, it never became a social or political issue that could move public opinion, because it was a debate within the realm of universities and academia, and never developed into a political movement.[14]

That said, there are modern objections to this, and P. Burger, in The Sacred Canopy.[15][16]

Since religion is a comprehensive phenomenon with diverse, complex, and multifaceted aspects, if we try to define religion by focusing on one aspect of its characteristics, other important aspects will be neglected. Therefore, if we take up one aspect of religion as a characteristic, other important aspects will be neglected. In this way, the way religion is perceived from a scientific standpoint is also divided into various views. Therefore, it should be said that there is still no single definition of religion that has been finally agreed upon by all researchers.[16]
— Peter L. Berger, Holy Canopy: Sociology of the Holy World

Meiji Constitution

The Meiji Constitution said that subjects will have freedom of religion as long as it does not inferfere with their duties as subjects,[17] this has been interpreted as making the Imperial Cult separate

On January 24, 1882, a Home Ministry notice stated that shrines were not religious (Secular Shrine Theory).[18] However, Shinto funeral rites under Prefectural shrines were allowed, and the priests of the great shrines were not considered clergy [19]

It was argued that

Shinto shrines are an inherent belief of the Japanese people that has existed inseparably from the national identity since the beginning of Japan, and are the basis of the Constitution. It is only natural that there is nothing in the articles of the Constitution that provides for shrines, and the faith of the Japanese people in shrines should not be subject to the religious freedom provisions of the Constitution. The content of the Shinto rituals is a combination of Confucian moral and Buddhist religious thought and beliefs that are unique to the nation. This is not a complete shrine system. The shrine system should be established by embracing the full range of the current situation of shrines, and in short, it should have a form unique to the empire and unrivaled in all countries, apart from the boundaries of translation law.[20]

In the "On the Relationship between Religious Bills and Shrines", which appears to have been prepared by the Home Ministry Bureau of Shrines around 1930, it was stated that:

Shrines exist institutionally for the purpose of public rituals of the state. At the same time, individual citizens can obtain objects of worship through shrines, but this is not the original purpose of shrines in the system, but only a reflexive benefit that accompanies the system of shrines. Since the state, as a matter of principle, does not interfere with the faith of individual citizens (Article 28 of the Imperial Japanese Constitution), it is not necessary to explain again that it is not the purpose of the state to run shrines institutionally that shrines become the object of faith for individual citizens. If we assume that the existence of Shinto spirits is recognized, and therefore shrines must be treated as a religion, then we can say that shrines are the religion of our country. However, since the state's own rituals of Shinto are unparalleled in all ages, it must be strictly distinguished from the so-called national religions of European countries. In short, regardless of the academic definition of religion, shrines are institutionally the rituals of our nation.[21]

Internal Shinto controversy

Originally, the Meiji government was aiming for a politics of "Unity of ritual and government" due to the "Proclamation of the Great Doctrine", but due to the conflict between the "Buddhist side" and the "Shinto side" over the teaching profession, "the joint mission of God and Buddha was prohibited". It begins with the transfer of each religious administration to the Ministry of Interior. The following is a description of the situation that led to the "separation of religious and political affairs" from the "Shinto controversy". The separation of religious and political affairs is said to have been proposed by the Shinto side, and was led by Maruyama Sakurai [ja] and others.

Following the dissolution of the Great Teaching Institute, the Bureau of Shinto Affairs was established, and in 1881, the Shinto priests of the Ise sect, Yoritsune Tanaka [ja] and others, and the priest of the Izumo sect, Senge Takatomi, argued over the ritual deity[22] This led to an imperial request to Emperor Meiji.[23] The Jōdo Shinshū side did not stand idly by and watch this chaotic situation, and following Shimaji Makurai [ja], Atsumi Chigirien [ja], Akamatsu Renjo [ja] and other theoreticians went out one after another to advise the government to cooperate.[24] It was the successor to Shimaji Makurai [ja]'s theory that Shinto is not a religion, and the political powers that be were forced to confirm it, and to forbid all religious speech, teaching, and religious acts (such as funeral rites) by priests involved in state ceremonies. This would have completely blocked the way for "Shinto as a religious belief" to become the national religion.[24]

It is not clear who the primary proponents on the Shinto side were. Originally, the word "Shūkyō (宗教)" was a translation of the English word "religion", and there is no clear definition of the concept. The Shinto side referred to Shinto as the "national religion" or "main religion", but there was no such theory that Shinto was a part of a religion. The non-religious theory of Maruyama Sakurai and others is thought to have been based on their concern about the situation in which Shinto was becoming divided due to ritual god disputes, etc., which resembled "religious theological disputes" in the new terminology of the time, and the fact that Shinto could not maintain its national status without stopping such divisions.[25]

According to Yoshio Keino of Keio University, the government did not originally present the theory of non-religious shrines, but it was actively promoted by the Buddhist side. This is because the situation at the time was that the definition of religion was "proselytizing and conducting funerals.[26]

Among them, Yamada Akiyoshi, the Minister of the Interior, adopted the theory of non-religious shrines presented by the Shinto side, including Maruyama Sakurai.[27]

Later, Senge Takatomi left the Bureau of Shinto Affairs in order to proselytize and founded the Izumo Taisha-kyo.[28]

Department of Divinities Reconstruction Movement

After the Satsuma Rebellion, the Satsuma Domain and other Shizoku began to focus on the management of Shinto shrines dedicated to their Ujigami. And with that, the Priests emerged as the Freedom and People's Rights Movement.[29]

In June 1887, Shinto priests in Kyushu organized the Saikai Rengo-kai, which appealed to Shintoists throughout the country, arousing strong sympathy and emerging as a nationwide organized movement of Shinto priests .[30] On November 17, 1887, representatives from each prefecture met at the Imperial Classic Research Institute, and each committee member formed an association of priests, and the movement to revive the Shinto priests was launched nationwide.[31]

Also, in March 1890, rumors circulated in Shinto circles that Shinto was also included as a religion in order to restore it to its original state.[32]

In order to restore Shinto to its original state, at least the state structure must be changed, the Shinto priest must be restored, and the spirit and system of "Shinto is the ritual of the state" must be restored from this base.
— Uzuhiko Ashizu [ja], [33]

And behind the nationwide movement in the 1890s to revive the Shinto priesthood was a sense of "crisis" among Shinto priests and those involved in the Shinto religion against a government that was promoting a skeletonization of the "state's suzerainty" of Shinto shrines. When rumors of the religious ordinances began to circulate, a full-scale movement was launched to restore the Shinto priesthood by returning the teaching positions of the so-called "Minsha (民社) priests" below the rank of prefectures and shrines.[34]

This movement was somewhat successful, and on April 26, 1899, the Shrine Division, which was only a division of the Bureau of Shrines and Temples of the Ministry of Home Affairs, was upgraded to the Bureau of Shrines.[35] The Bureau of Religions also being split off to deal with other religions such as Sect Shinto.[36]

On June 13, 1913, the Bureau of Religions which was run under the Home Ministry, which had jurisdiction over religions other than Shinto shrines, was transferred to the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture.[37]

The debate was whether Shinto shrines are "non-religious" or "religious". In particular, if shrines were religious, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture has jurisdiction over it, and if they were secular the Home Ministry would have had jurisdiction over them.[38] Some have also arisen as a result of policies taken by the government to bring religious organizations under the rule of law.[39]

20th century

Meiji Shrine priest and general Ichinohe Hyoe advocated categorizing Shinto as a religion[40]

The world is advancing at a rapid pace. Academic research is gradually expanding its horizons. Since the nineteenth century, civilizations in both the East and the West have made rapid progress. The study of religion has come to the point where it is no longer possible to accept the position that Shinto faith, shrine Shinto, is not a religion. .... So nowadays, even among the priests of shrines, there is no one who does not admit that shrines and Shinto shrines are religions if they look deep into their hearts.[40]


As the wartime atmosphere became more intense through the February 26 Incident, May 15 Incident, etc., discussions on secular shrine theory were silenced.[41]

After discussion and deliberation by the Religious System Research Committee established by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, a report was submitted to the legislature on the enactment of the Religious Organizations Law, with the aim of bringing religious organizations under the legal system and having them observe the rules that they have voluntarily established. However, it was repeatedly rejected by the majority.[3] However, through persistent persuasion, with the passage of the Religious Organizations Law by Law No. 77 of April 8, 1939,[42][43] the legislature legally abandoned the 'Secular Shrine Theory'. Because Sect Shinto was now required by law to be designated and approved.[3]

On November 9, 1940, the Ministry of the Interior reorganized its Bureau of Religions and established the Institute of Divinities, which was able to maintain "Secular Shrine Theory as the national religion".[44] Also, in the Penal Code of the time, the Peace Preservation Law[45][46] and Lèse-majesté to the Emperor of Japan and Jingu, especially the Special Higher Police[47] suppression of other religions existed.[48]

With this shift secular shrine theory came to be replaced by a more authoritarian form of State Shinto

See also



  1. ^ First character means "school; sect; purpose"; second character means "teaching"
  2. ^ First character means "school; sect; purpose", same as in shukyō; second character literally means "gate", also used to mean "school of thought; phylum (in biology)"
  3. ^ First character means "school; sect; purpose", same as in shukyō; second character means "principle; decree"
  4. ^ First character means "law"; second character means "teaching", same as in shukyō


  1. ^ Rots, Aike P. (2017). "Public Shrine Forests? Shinto, Immanence, and Discursive Secularization". Japan Review (30): 179–205. ISSN 0915-0986. JSTOR 44259466.
  2. ^ a b c 均, 新田 (2020-08-10). "加藤玄智の国家神道観". 宗教法研究 (in Japanese) (14): 199–230.
  3. ^ a b c 文部省 (1972-01-01). 学制百年史 (in Japanese). Vol. 第1巻:記述編. 帝国地方行政学会. pp. 第5章:学術・文化 第5節:宗教 宗教団体法の制定. ASIN B000J9MMZI.
  4. ^ Kozaki, Hiromichi; 小崎弘道 (2000). Kozaki Hiromichi zenshū (Fukkoku ed.). Tōkyō: Nihon Tosho Sentā. ISBN 4-8205-4992-8. OCLC 45717705.
  5. ^ Fukuzawa, Yukichi; 福澤諭吉 (2011). Fukuzawa Yukichi shū. Hiroaki Matsuzawa, 松沢弘陽. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-240210-9. OCLC 705869909.
  6. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  7. ^ a b 加藤玄智 (May 1933). 神社問題の再檢討 : 神道の本義と我が國の教育 (in Japanese). 雄山閣. p. 11.
  8. ^ 三上真司 (2013). "Religio 宗教の起源についての考察のために". 横浜市立大学論叢. 人文科学系列 (in Japanese). 64 (3). 横浜市立大学学術研究会: 151–187. doi:10.15015/00000206. ISSN 0911-7717.
  9. ^ In The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. Toronto. Thomas Allen, 2004. ISBN 0-88762-145-7
  10. ^ In The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers, ed. Betty Sue Flowers, New York, Anchor Books, 1991. ISBN 0-385-41886-8
  11. ^ 岩井洋 「日本宗教の理解に関する覚書」関西国際大学研究紀要第5号、2004年
  12. ^ 下野葉月 (2019). 「宗教と科学」に関する歴史的考察 (PDF). 現代宗教 (in Japanese). 国際宗教研究所 IISR: 155–175. ISSN 2188-4471. Retrieved 2021-07-20.
  13. ^ 藤代泰三 (2017-11-10). キリスト教史 (in Japanese). 講談社. pp. 469–484. ISBN 978-4-06-292471-9.
  14. ^ 神社新報社政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 改訂新版 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. pp. 191–192.
  15. ^ 場知賀礼文 (1990). 宗教の定義について 〔1〕 : 欧米の文献を中心に. 社会学研究所紀要 (in Japanese) (11). 佛教大学社会学研究所: 15–25. ISSN 0285-4015.
  16. ^ a b Berger, Peter L. (July 1979). 薗田稔 訳 (ed.). Holy Canopy: Sociology of the Holy World. 新曜社. pp. 206–207. ISBN 4788500914. NCID BN00186990.
  17. ^ "Emperial Constitution of Japan". National Archives of Japan. 1889-02-11. Retrieved 2021-04-29.
  18. ^ Sai Ken (2008-07-15). Sai Ken, Tanaka Shigeru (ed.). State and Religion --Modern and Contemporary Japan from the Perspective of Religion, Vol. 1 (in Japanese). Hozokan. pp. Part 1: " Conflicts during the Formation of the "State Shinto" 1.Formation of the State Shinto. ISBN 978-4831881700.
  19. ^ Ashizu 2006, p. 71.
  20. ^ 神社新報政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 増補改訂 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. p. 194.
  21. ^ 神社新報政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 増補改訂 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. pp. 196–197.
  22. ^ 藤井貞文 (1977-03-01). 明治国学発生史の研究 (in Japanese). 吉川弘文館. pp. 1–750.
  23. ^ 岡本雅享 (2019-11-04). 千家尊福と出雲信仰 (in Japanese). 筑摩書房. pp. 第2章. ISBN 978-4-480-07270-2.
  24. ^ a b 葦津 2006, p. 64.
  25. ^ 葦津 2006, p. 65.
  26. ^ 中村勝範編・著 (May 1989). 近代日本政治の諸相 : 時代による展開と考察 (in Japanese). 慶應義塾大学出版会. p. 147. ISBN 4766404238.
  27. ^ 葦津 2006, p. 63-75.
  28. ^ 國學院大学日本文化研究所 (1999-05-15). 縮刷版 神道事典 (in Japanese). 弘文堂. p. 20. ISBN 433516033X.
  29. ^ 澤大洋. 士族選挙権論争と自由民権運動昂揚期の選挙制度論の進展 (PDF). 日本思想史学会. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  30. ^ 葦津 2006, p. 98.
  31. ^ 神社新報政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 増補新版 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. p. 99.
  32. ^ 神社新報政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 増補改訂 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. pp. 101–102.
  33. ^ Kokka shintō towa nandattanoka. Uzuhiko Ashizu, 珍彦 葦津. Tōkyō: Jinja Shinpōsha. 2006. ISBN 4-915265-10-2. OCLC 675442862.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  34. ^ 半田竜介 (2016). 丸山作楽の神祇官論について : 雑誌『隨在天神』に注目して (PDF). 明治聖徳記念学会紀要. 復刊第53号: 170–191.
  35. ^ 國學院大学日本文化研究所 (1999-05-15). 縮刷版 神道事典 (in Japanese). 弘文堂. p. 20. ISBN 433516033X.
  36. ^ "Glossary of Shinto Names and Terms: S". Retrieved 2023-03-10.
  37. ^ 文化庁月報 平成25年9月号(No.540). 文化庁. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  38. ^ 神社新報政教研究室 (1986-12-01). 改定増補 近代神社神道史 (in Japanese). 神社新報社. pp. 187–190.
  39. ^ 葦津 2006, p. 123-125.
  40. ^ a b 新田 1995, p. 221.
  41. ^ "Culture Agency Monthly Report 2013 September 2013 issue (No.540)". Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  42. ^ 文部省 (1972-01-01). 学制百年史 (in Japanese). Vol. 第2巻:資料編. 帝国地方行政学会. pp. 第1章:詔書・勅語・教育法規等 教育法規 第13節:宗教.
  43. ^
  44. ^ A Centennial History of the School System. Vol. 1: Description. Imperial Institute of Local Administration. 1972-01-01. pp. Volume 1: The Founding and Expansion of the Modern Education System, Chapter 5: Science and Culture, Section 5: Religion. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  45. ^ "Security Law, Original Signature, 1925, Law No. 46". National Archives of Japan. Retrieved 2021-04-29.
  46. ^ Criminal Law Society (ed.). Criminal Law Association of Japan.
  47. ^ "Assembly to Enact the Security Police Law and Abolish the Political Society Law, Original Signature, Meiji 33, Law No. 36 (O04291)". National Archives of Japan. Retrieved 2021-04-29.
  48. ^ 荻野不二夫 (1991). 特高警察関係資料集成 復刻 (in Japanese). 不二出版.


葦津珍彦 (2006-11-01). 新版 国家神道とは何だったのか (in Japanese). 神社新報社. ISBN 9784915265105.

Further reading

Web pages

The following materials have been quoted, processed, and verified. Other materials have been quoted, processed, and verified from the "books, articles, and websites" listed in the Sources section (in accordance with Article 32 of the Japan Copyright Law).

Shinto Books
Shinto History Book
Buddhist books
Buddhist history books
History of Christianity
History of Education
Administrative History Book