Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Is there a central Shinto teaching authority?

Shinto’s close identification over the centuries with Japanese culture and imperial rule has sometimes made it appear that the royal administration functioned as a central religious authority. Certain regimes have made concerted efforts to encourage uniformity of traditional thinking among the Japanese people, and that has sometimes involved “official” statements about Shinto beliefs as well as attempts to centralize the organization of large numbers of shrines. In addition, training for Shinto ritual specialists in recent times has devolved on only a select few educational institutions very much associated with “national” identity. Those academic-religious organizations have set themselves the task of clarifying and, in some cases, restructuring the countless elements of ancient Shinto tradition into a coherent system. Theirs has been an increasingly “theological” enterprise in modern times. Even so, Shinto tradition has remained quite fluid and inclusive, and far less identified with definitive teaching authority than, say, Roman Catholicism. Over the centuries various centralized institutions have come and gone. The “Institute of the Great Teaching” (daikyo-in), for example, was motivated largely by the desire to root out Buddhist and Christian influences in nineteenth-century Japan. The “Bureau of Divinity” (Jingikan) sought to unify the administration of shrines and the appointment of priests. It is perhaps best to think of the centralized authority as regulating matters of practice rather than of belief, setting out detailed instructions for rituals (jinja shaishiki) and for coordinating observances nationally.


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