This article examines the political phenomenon of religious nationalism as it exists in India and Japan. The author discusses the origins and doctrines of religious nationalism in India and Japan, as well as discussing major organizations connected with each movement. Finally, the author explores notable similarities and differences between the two movements.
Hometown: Maryville, Tenn.
Major: International Studies
Senior Study Title: “Religious Nationalism in India and Japan”
Advisor: Dr. Scott Brunger
Deemed “exemplary” by the faculty of the Social Sciences last Spring, Katie Hill’s Senior Study is a model example of thorough research and superb writing at the undergraduate level.
But a quick read of her “Acknowledgements” page, where six Maryville College faculty are mentioned by name, suggests that the study may be something more: a model example of how students learn across the disciplines and are encouraged to pull information together and dig a little deeper.
Recognizing the contributions of faculty members in two academic divisions (Social Sciences and the Humanities) to her Senior Study titled “Religious Nationalism in India and Japan,” Hill credits them for broadening her understanding of nationalism, politics, history and related theories.
Picking a Senior Study topic is often daunting for students. For Hill, an international studies major, the topic seemed to present itself in several of her classes.
“I chose to examine nationalism owing to the growing – and, in some cases, resurgent – role it appears to play in the political climates of many countries around the world,” she explained.
Hindu nationalism was a topic of discussion in World Cultures 340: The Indian Subcontinent, a course taught by Dr. Brian Pennington, professor of religion. Her interest was piqued.
“This was my first exposure to the topic of religious nationalism,” she said. “My natural thirst for knowledge demanded I seek out another country so I could compare the evolution, manifestation and outcomes of religious nationalism.”
Having held an interest in Japanese history and culture for years, her mind naturally went to the East Asian country.
“Recalling the actions of Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II and the legendary bloodline linking the Japanese imperial family to the sun goddess Amaterasu, Shinto’s supreme deity, I performed some preliminary research and came across the idea of Shinto nationalism,” she said.
Hill began her written study with an introduction to the nations of India and Japan and an explanation of the political, religious and historical concepts and terms related to her research.
According to her study, nationalism “emphasizes national identity and unity. Religious nationalism is a form of nationalism which sees religious unity as an indispensable part of national identity.”
In her second chapter, Hill presented case studies of religious nationalism found in the two countries. She highlighted the actions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in promoting Hindu nationalism in India.
To illustrate Shinto nationalism, she focused on the roles of shoguns and emperors, the samurai and feudal classes, the military conscription put in place during the Meiji Period and the development of “State Shinto” by the Meiji government that sought to separate Shinto and Buddhism, which the Japanese had begun to mingle.
Hill also explained the impact General Douglas MacArthur’s “Shinto Directive” had on religious nationalism in Japan following the country’s defeat in World War II. Explaining the status of Shinto nationalism today, Hill described the importance of the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo and the views of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.
In her third and final chapter, Hill compared and contrasted characteristics of religious nationalism in India and Japan. On the advice of her Senior Study advisor, Dr. Scott Brunger, she included in this chapter an examination of how religious nationalists interact with people in the lowest tiers of Indian and Japanese society.
“One of the most surprising readings I came across concerned the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and untouchable-caste voters,” she said. “Previously, the BJP tended to cater to upper-caste Hindus; more recently, the party has begun reaching out to untouchables, the lowest caste in Indian society, as it now recognizes the political power of these voters.”
Hill said her Senior Study opened her eyes to the “pervasive nature” of religious nationalism.
“Even places you don’t usually associate with nationalism of any kind have some nationalists of a religious variety,” she said. “I realized that certain hate groups in the United States follow their own peculiar variants of religious nationalism. For example, the Ku Klux Klan pursues its own race-based version of religious nationalism. As I understand the matter, the KKK seeks to build a racially defined America based upon a narrow interpretation of Protestant Christianity.”
Hill graduated in May. She is exploring a variety of career possibilities, including translation and interpretation, language teaching and social science research.
Brunger said his advisee’s Senior Study work has prepared her for those vocations. He was impressed by many aspects of her study.
“She had to face a lot of confusing information about Asian religions. Hinduism has its distinctive concepts that are very different from Shinto Buddhism, and both differ tremendously from monotheistic religions,” he said. “I am familiar with this cultural confusion, because I have served in Christian mission in Africa, but she had to work through it with courage.”
Hill’s willingness to go the extra mile for primary sources was one of the reasons Brunger suggested her study for inclusion in the library’s permanent collection. Her list of works cited totaled six pages and was evidence that she “delved deeply into her topic,” the professor pointed out.
“Katie did part of her research reading [sources translated from] Japanese. That sparks my attention immediately,” he said. “She used Japanese and Indian sources in English, too. After many drafts she made sense out of all of them.
“I am proud to have been her advisor.”