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Japanese New Religions: Continuity and Change


Admission requirements

No requirements.


What are “new religions”? What sets them apart from other religions in Japan? What is the role of popular movements in the shaping of new religions? And, what is their relationship to cults? This course will address these and many more questions by exploring the history, doctrines, and practices of new religions—examining them as lenses for understanding diverse religious experiences in Japanese society. Inherently introductory, this course will describe the central issues at the core of Japan’s modern religiosity, focusing on the influential religious organizations. Beginning with the millenarianism of early-modern Japan, we will follow a rough chronology, analyzing the formation of religiosity through new Shinto- and Buddhism-based religions in the 19th and 20th centuries, the impact of New Age in the 1970s, and the crisis of religion in the 1990s, ending with the conceptual and legal reformulations of religion in the 21st century. Throughout the course, we will discuss the different methodologies and theories that are prominent in Religious Studies and commonly used in the study of new religions in Japan. The course aims for students to understand new religions not as marginal and peripheral movements, but rather as integral parts and transformative agents in the history of Japanese society.

Course objectives

Concise description of the course objectives formulated in terms of knowledge, insight and skills students will have acquired at the end of the course. The relationship between these objectives and achievement levels for the programme should be evident.
1) Articulate basic concepts and problems that are central to New Religions in Japan: their core ideas, founders, doctrines, practices, and cultural traditions.
2) Identify important components of Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity, and New Age within New Religions, and recognize the commonalities and divergences among religious organizations.
3) Analyze the current methodologies, practices and theoretical debates that make up the study of New Religions.
4) Challenge preconceived notions and prejudices concerning New Religions.
5) Develop skills to think critically and synthesize different materials on which to base cogent argumentation.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Attendance & Participation, assesed every class
Weekly Discussion Posts, every week
Multiple Choice Exam, at the end of block three.
Oral Presentations, during the last two weeks of block four.


Attendance & Participation (10%)
Weekly Discussion Posts (10%)
Multiple Choice Exam (30%)
Oral Presentations (15%)
Final Paper (35%)


Resit of the multiple choice exam, weekly discussion posts, and the final paper are possible and consist of the same type as the first possibility. There is no resit possibility for attendance and participation or the oral presentation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Readings will be uploaded as PDFs files to Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof