Faking LibertiesReligious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan

Faking LibertiesReligious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan

Jolyon Baraka Thomas

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226618791

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Americans occupying Japan at the close of World War II claimed to be bringing religious freedom to a country where it did not exist. They described Japan’s 1889 constitutional guarantee of religious freedom as false, and they claimed to be implanting “real religious freedom” in its stead. But in making such claims, the occupiers overlooked inconvenient historical facts. This book shows that Japanese people were involved in a robust debate about religious liberty for decades before the occupation began, and it demonstrates that the American occupiers were far less certain about how to define and protect religious freedom than their triumphalist rhetoric suggested. Moreover, whereas post-occupation histories have assumed that the occupiers introduced the human right of religious freedom to Japan, Faking Liberties argues that the inherently transnational circumstances of military occupation prompted a new conception of religious-freedom-as-human-right: timeless, universal, and innate. During the Occupation, the occupiers and their Japanese counterparts collaboratively constructed a new technical vocabulary about “good” and “bad” religion. Categories they developed such as "new religions" and "State Shintō" still dictate how academics, journalists, and policy makers today imagine who deserves religious freedom, which political practices infringe on religious liberty, and who bears responsibility for doing anything about it.