Position title: A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (2014-2015)
Religious Studies, UW-Madison
Japan’s Preoccupation with Religious Freedom: The Crucial Role of an East Asian Nation in the Construction of a Universal “Human Right”
Recent—and controversial—Supreme Court decisions in the United States and the equally contentious prospect of constitutional revision in Japan reveal that definitions of religious freedom are neither universal nor settled. Based on my abiding interest in the limits of freedom, how the category of religion is defined by competing interest groups, and changing conceptions of the human, my book manuscript examines the politics of religious freedom in twentieth century Japan and in U.S.-Japan relations. The project traces shifting interpretations of religious freedom within Japan and demonstrates that interactions between Japan and the United States during the Pacific War (1941–1945) and the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–1952) played a crucial role in the postwar construction of religious freedom as a human right. Along the way, the manuscript also interrogates the political ramifications of religious studies and questions the seemingly innocuous ideal of spreading religious freedom worldwide.
Jolyon Thomas received his Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University in 2014; he holds M.A. degrees in Religion from Princeton (2011) and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (2008) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Grinnell College (2001). His current research focuses on the politics of religious freedom in twentieth century Japan. The project examines contentious domestic debates over religious freedom during the time that Japan’s first modern constitution was in effect (1890–1947) and tracks the emergence of substantive changes in international interpretations of religious freedom during World War II and the postwar Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–1952). He has also published extensively on relationships between popular media, fan culture, and religion in contemporary Japan. His 2012 book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan, is available from University of Hawai‘i Press. He is at work on a book manuscript, entitled “Japan’s Preoccupation with Religious Freedom: The Crucial Role of an East Asian Nation in the Construction of a Universal ‘Human Right.'”