Religious Beliefs

Is it appropriate to call Shinto a religious tradition?

Religious studies scholars have increasingly come to appreciate the genuinely religious qualities of Shinto. Every now and then criticism still surfaces that Shinto is so much a part of ordinary Japanese life that it is really a set of cultural beliefs and practices rather than a religious tradition. Some critics base their conclusion on polls of the Japanese public that seem to suggest widespread apathy about religious issues. Decreasing numbers of people are willing to identify themselves as adherents of any religious tradition, including Shinto. Other critics note that that even Japanese who do consider themselves active participants in a Shinto-based community are likely to claim that they are Buddhist as well. Doesn’t that suggest that Shinto is less than authentically religious? If it were, some argue, it hardly would tolerate multiple religious allegiances, would it? Some point to Shinto’s concern with the ordinary, the everyday, the natural world that surrounds us, and its lack of interest in transcendent mystery. Shouldn’t a religious tradition be more invested in turning people’s attention to a world beyond this one?

In fact, these and other distinctive aspects of Shinto are among its strengths and the basis for its unique contributions to our world. Shinto offers arresting insights into the inherent divine quality of the simplest things, of the beauty hidden away in life’s nooks and crannies. Shinto tradition discerns innumerable causes for profound gratitude to the powers beyond the merely human that make life itself possible. Shinto may not be celebrated for producing sophisticated schools of theological speculation, but it undoubtedly possesses many characteristics that identify it as a religious tradition.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App