Darwin, Dharma, and the DivineEvolutionary Theory and Religion in Modern Japan

Darwin, Dharma, and the DivineEvolutionary Theory and Religion in Modern Japan

G. Clinton Godart

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780824858513

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract

Darwin, Dharma, and the Divine demonstrates that evolutionary theory was never passively accepted, but played active and controversial roles in modern Japanese thought. Evolutionary theory was controversial and of a major concern to Japanese Buddhist, Shintō, Confucian, and Christian thinkers, who actively debated and contested the theory. As the Japanese redefined their relation to the world, to nature, and built a modern nation-state, evolutionary theory also became an intellectual battleground, and Japanese state ideology became increasingly hostile to evolutionary theory. Japanese intellectuals and religious thinkers actively and constructively, and often critically, appropriated evolutionary theory for a wide variety of ends, but the religious reception of evolution in Japan was dominated by a long and continuous fear of the idea of nature and society as a cold, materialist, world, governed by a mindless “struggle for survival.” This aversion engendered many religious thinkers, philosophers, and biologists, to find goodness, beauty, and the divine within nature and evolution itself. It was this drive that shaped much of Japan’s modern intellectual history, and changed Japanese understandings of nature, society, and the sacred.